Rusty York’s Cincinnati Indie

Billboard, in their January 8, 1972 edition, reported this quirky news item in the Cincinnati division of their “From the Music Capitals Around the World” column:

Rusty York, who heads up the Jewel Recording Studio[s] here, learned last week that the new ‘Smash-Up Derby’ commercial [for Cincinnati-based Kenner Products], which he created and did all the instrumental work, has been entered into the Hollywood Film Festival as an entry to select the best film commercial of the year.  The commercial is currently being spotted on all three major networks.”

Kenner SSP Smash-Up Derby TV Commercial   =  Music by Rusty York

Rusty York’s Jewel Recording Studio – in Mt. Healthy, just north of Cincinnati – would begin releasing 45s in 1961 and would once host The Grateful Dead, believe it or not, according to Cliff Radel’s obituary for York in the Cincinnati Enquirer‘s February 4, 2014 edition.

You can survey Rusty York’s musical legacy in three ways:

Discogs also allows you to browse LP & 45 releases that were recorded at Jewel Recording Studio, including Lonnie Mack‘s Whatever’s Right 1969 LP for Elektra (engineered by Gene Lawson) and Paul Dixon‘s Paul Baby 1973 album (on which Dixon is accompanied by former King recording artist Bonnie Lou).

Two memorable song titles that can only be found on the Jewel label:

Baby You Can Scratch My Egg” – vintage 1967 San Francisco-style psych blues – and “Don’t Munkey with the Funky Skunky” – “post 60’s garage/proto punk” from 1974 that features maniacal drumming and laughing choruses that are strategically interrupted by a softly-spoken catch phrase intended to win over the Pre-K crowd.

Jewel Records featured 45 #1

egg

Jewel Records featured 45 #2

“Don’t Munkey with the Funky Skunky”     Dry Ice     1974

From Billboard‘s ‘Music Capitals of the World – Cincinnati’ column = Oct. 14, 1972 edition:

Mike Reid, defensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals [previously celebrated here], and Dee Felice [musical associate of James Brown] and his group set for early recording dates at Rusty York‘s Jewel studios.  Felice recently cut two sides at Jewel.  Sonny Simmons, Cleveland gospel promoter, in town recently to produce an album for the gospel-singing Monarchs at Jewel studios.  Others in recently at Jewel to do gospel albums were Judy Cody of Akron; The Crossmen of Lansing, Mich.; and the Cooke Duet of Wise, Va.

Mad Lydia Wood, accompanied by Cincinnati Joe, did the warbling on six commercial spots on Wiedemann Beer for the Campbell-Mithun Agency of Minneapolis at Jewel last week.  Mad Lydia and Joe have held forth at various locations here for the last several years.”

Based on Rusty York’s cameo appearance in a recent piece, no doubt you will not be surprised to learn that Albert Washington was a Jewel recording artist, as was/were Jimmie SkinnerThe Russell BrothersJ.D. Jarvis, Linda Webb, and Dale Miller [let’s not forget 1969’s Sharon Lee and the Moonrockers, not to mention that same year’s The Funnie Papers, and most especially of all, Jade, whose 1970 album, recorded at Jewel, would include the jaw-dropping sonic wonder of “My Mary“).

Rusty York at Jewel = courtesy of Randy McNutt’s Home of the Hits

Click on image above for ultra-high resolution

Ω                      Ω                      Ω                      Ω

Did You Know?
Rusty York/King Records Trivia From Randy McNutt’s website:

Rusty York, a former King rockabilly and country singer, bought some of King’s echo equipment and microphones for his own Jewel Recording Studios in suburban Mt. Healthy, Ohio.  He even bought Nathan’s desk chair.  “The Neumann tube mics cost $300 new in the early ’60s,” he said.  “I just sold one for $2,800.  Like King, quality doesn’t go out of style.”

Bonus Jewel 45 for steel guitar fans!  1977‘s “Rose City Chimes” by Chubby Howard

According to Linda J. York (who has the booklet Dick Clark hawked at the show), Rusty York opened the first Rock and Roll show at the Hollywood Bowl for Dick Clark!

Excerpt from Zero to 180’s Facebook Page

“Zero to 180’s latest piece pays tribute to a former King recording artist – Rusty York – whose kind and gentle nature and lack of ego may have accidentally conspired to obscure his legacy as an accomplished musician (who “could play any tune in any style“) as well as recording studio founder/engineer, whose Jewel recordings run the gamut of musical sounds and genres, not unlike King (and Fraternity and Counterpart).”

Friendly reminder:  For optimal presentation, view Zero to 180 on a computer screen

Joaquin = Jazz + Steel Guitar

EarlJoaquinMurphey (who co-wrote yesterday’s featured song “Steel Guitar Jubilee“) is held in very high esteem among steel guitarists, with one performance in particular — “Oklahoma Stomp” by Spade Cooley’s Orchestra — almost single-handedly cementing his reputation (Bob Dunn, notwithstanding) as the first “sophisticated jazz steel guitar player,” as Texas Steel Guitar Hall of famer Tom Morrell would eulogize in The Independent‘s 1999 obituary of Murphey.

Spade Cooley 78Ace music historian Rich Kienzle – in Southwest Shuffle – points out:

“Murphey’s abilities to combine complex chordal work with remarkably fluid, expressive single-string soloing set him apart from any other steel guitarist in the country” while the aforementioned “Oklahoma Stomp,” is a “Murphey tour de force that’s lost none of his power in the nearly six decades since he recorded it.”

Kevin Rainey’s 2001 tribute to the great steel guitarist for The Journal of Country Music, “Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey:  Steel Man Extraordinaire,” notes that Murphey was very much a musician’s musician — “Joaquin is my idol,” the almighty Speedy West once declared.  One-time Bob Wills musician, Herb Remington, would witness Murphey’s performing with Tex Williams‘ group and remark to Rainey:

“I thought it was a clarinet playing.  I couldn’t find him in the band.  I went up to the bandstand and I couldn’t find the steel guitar.  He was playing a little lap steel way back in the back of the bandstand.  And when he played, it was like hearing a good clarinet solo.  A jazz solo, which is what he listened to.  And it just dumbfounded me.  I’d never heard a steel guitar like that before.”

In fact, if you listen to “Oklahoma Stomp,” Murphey’s guitar actually sounds like a clarinet around the 1:20 mark in the song — must be heard to be believed.

Not a lot of pictures of Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey out there

Joaquin MurpheyThough he would initially make his mark with the Spade Cooley Orchestra, Murphey would depart soon after.  Rainey informs:

“In 1946, Murphey and accordionist George Bamby left the Cooley band to join Andy Parker and the Plainsmen (themselves a Cooley spin-off, having formed from a nucleus in the band led by Cooley bassist and vocalist, Deuce Spriggens).  The band worked Pappy Cheshire’s show on KMPC, did the Saturday night Hollywood Barn Dance, recorded for the Coast label, and appeared in some of Eddie Dean‘s westerns.  Murphey’s performance of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ on Coast remains one of his most revered performances, though it has yet to be reissued on CD.”

How curious that the ever-dependable PragueFrank does not affirm Murphey’s musical presence on Andy Parker and the Plainsmen‘s version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” – a performance that historians and music enthusiasts concede to be Joaquin and no other:

“Sweet Georgia Brown”     Andy Parker and the Plainsmen     1946

Musical question mark[Eagerly awaiting the return of streaming audio]

Wait a minute, I swear I listened to “Sweet Georgia Brown” on YouTube about a week ago … and now I can’t find hide nor hair of it!   Was that just a dream – or did it really happen?  Today’s blog piece hinged on “Sweet Georgia Brown” being the featured song.  Now what?

Plan B:  “Let’s Go Sparkin‘” by Eddie Dean & The Plainsmen, with Murphey on steel:

Q:  Is it possible that Freddie Roulette is paying tribute to Murphey on his unusually expressive (and previously-celebrated) composition “Joaquin”?

L-to-R top row: George Bamby (accordion), Paul ‘Clem’ Smith & Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey.
Bottom row: Charlie Morgan (far L), Eddie Dean (black hat) & Andy Parker (white hat).

Andy Parker and the Plainsmen

Kudos to B-Westerns.com for this photo of Andy Parker & the Plainsmen

What’s in a Nickname?

Most of us have long wondered, was ‘Joaquin’ Murphey of mixed Irish-Latin descent?  Actually, no:  Murphey, according to Rich Kienzle, earned this sobriquet from country disc jockey, Bert “Foreman” Phillips, “in honor of California’s San Joaquin Valley.”

“Steel Guitar Jubilee”: Jubilant

I can’t get over how relaxed and appealing the kick drum sounds on this recording – almost threatens to steal the show:

 “Steel Guitar Jubilee”     Lloyd Green     1964

I admit, it’s hard to completely tune out the immaculate musicianship of the others who are supporting Lloyd Green on his 1964 debut LP, The Big Steel Guitar. released on Bob Shad’s Time Records —  a label whose roster would include Gordon Jenkins, Al Caiola, Hugh Montenegro, and (somehow) Ray Charles for a couple of (possibly “dodgy“) 45s.

Buddy Killen:  Bass
MurreyBuddyHarman:  Drums
Bill Pursell:  Percussion
Fed Carter, Harold Bradley & Kelso Herston:  Guitar
HargusPigRobbins:  Piano
Charlie McCoy:  Harmonica

Lloyd Green debut LP-bDiscogs made a mistakeTom Bradshaw himself confirmed via email that he, in fact, was not sitting in the producer’s chair for 1964’s The Big Steel Guitar.

Remember SESAC from Zero to 180’s previous piece on Hank Garland’s “lost album” from 1960?   According to Sandra Brennan in the All Music Guide to Country, SESAC would play a pivotal role in the development of Lloyd Green as one of the top session players working the Nashville scene:

“In 1964 [Lloyd Green] began working as a part-time assistant at the SESAC office for Roy Drusky.  Although the pay was low, the job did give Green the opportunity to make demos and do session work.  He remained with SESAC for three years, and soon was earning $50,000 a year from session work.  Green worked with pop musicians as well, including Dame Vera Lynn, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr, as well as on the Byrds’ seminal Sweetheart at the Rodeo.  He had just a handful of solo chart hits, including instrumental versions of ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’ in the early 70s.  He also made the charts singing ‘You and Me.'”

Big Steel Guitar would also be reissued as Steel Guitar Record Club No. 4 in 1975 – courtesy of Tom Bradshaw (referenced above).

Lloyd Green debut LP-bbHistorical note:  “Steel Guitar Jubilee” – penned by ‘Joaquin’ Murphey & Smokey Rogers – was originally released by Smokey and His Western Caravan in February, 1951.

Can you believe it has only been one year since we last checked in with Lloyd Green?

Lloyd Green’s Secret Hawaiian Album of 1964

1964 would see the release of a second (though unnamed) Lloyd Green full-length album, Hawaiian Enchantment, albeit on a different label — Modern Sound Records.  Thank you to LP Discography and El Rancho for confirming the album’s existence.   .

Lloyd Green Hawaiian LP-bLink to 2002 interview with Lloyd Green, courtesy of Chart Records Appreciation Site.

Cherokee Cowboys: Proven Band

Thanks to the late, great Charlie Coleman for singling out Ray Price’s redoubtable backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys and their 1965 Columbia debut (and sole) solo release – check out Buddy Emmons’ hot jazz steel guitar solo on “Devil’s Dream,” the kick-off tune from Western Strings:

“Devil’s Dream”     The Cherokee Cowboys     1965

Ray Price: guitar & vocal
Grady Martin & Pete Wade:  lead guitar
Jack Pruett & Charlie Harris:  rhythm guitar
Buddy Emmons & Jimmy Day:  steel guitar
Tommy Jackson, Francis Coleman & Wade Ray:  fiddle
Floyd Cramer:  piano
Harold Bradley:  bass guitar
Pete Burke & Buddy Killen:  bass
Buddy Harman:  drums
Johnny Bush:  drums & vocal

Recorded:
Dec. 1964 – Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville
Mar. 1965 – Music City Recording, Nashville

The Cherokee Cowboys – 1965
[photo courtesy Buddy Emmons.com]

Cherokee Cowboys - 1965(Top Row) Pete Burke, Wade Ray, Buddy Emmons
(Bottom Row) Charlie Harris, Johnny Bush, Keith Coleman

Western Strings would shoot to the Top 20 of the Country charts the first week of release, according to Billboard’s July 17, 1965 edition. and remain there the following week (while Dick Curless and his Tombstone Every Mile album quietly jumped ahead two spaces during that same time period to the #17 slot – just above Western Strings).

Cherokee Cowboys LP-a

Rich Kienzle would include Price and the Cherokee Cowboys in Southwest Shuffle:  Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing & Country Jazz:

“It was no small paradox that as Price continued weighing changes in 1964, he hired two legendary swing fiddlers.  Wade Ray had made his name on the West Coast as a bandleader and singer; Keith Coleman, one of the finest improvisers in western swing, had worked with both the Texas Playboys and Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys.  Despite the changes, Price retained a steadfast pride in the Cowboys.  With Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours making their own records, Price talked Don Law into recording a Cowboys album with Grady Martin and Tommy Jackson present along with Harold Bradley.

At the first session for Western Strings album in December of ’64, this capable group of musicians, who’d worked together continually for years, were so nervous about recording on their own that, after 45 minutes of musical inhibition, a frustrated Price sent a studio handyman out to buy some Wild Turkey.  He literally ordered everyone to get drunk to loosen them up; it worked.  Emmons, Ray, and Coleman played brilliantly.  “Grady and I ended up drunk, and a lot of the other guys were in good shape, too,” Emmons laughed.  “And when I heard [the song played] back I couldn’t believe how together it was for the condition we were in.”  Because recording costs came out of Price’s royalties, the album included the original ‘Crazy Arms,’ and Price took credit for the arrangements to make back any money lost.”

1977 would see the release of a Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys album on ABC-Dot entitled Reunited, a Top 50 Top Country album and one that would yield a Top 30 single — “Different Kind of Flower” b/w “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (as well as their take on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”).  Recording the album in Nashville would be Price, along with MoisesBlondieCalderon, Buddy Emmons, Pete Wade, Tommy Jackson, Harold Bradley, and the two Buddys – Harman & Spicher.

Saving Country Music has a nice piece of history – “The Ray Price Cherokee Cowboys Proving Ground” – that pays tribute to the musical personnel that have passed through the ranks of Ray Price, who took over Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys before putting together his own ensemble.

Cherokee Cowboys LP promo

(Please Not) “Steel Guitar Rag”

Just when you thought you couldn’t take another version of “Steel Guitar Rag,” this 1959 version by The Dynatones, surprisingly (despite the absence of a steel guitar) swaggers:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     The Dynatones     1959

Here’s a great swing boogie version by Rudi Wairata & His Hawaiian Boys that brings to mind the radical rockabilly sounds produced by the Brothers Tielman, featuring Andy and his 10-string electric guitar:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Rudi Wairata & His Hawaiian Boys     1963

Roy Smeck‘s manic, rapid-fire arrangement from 1938 still amazes and amuses more than seven decades later:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Roy Smeck     1938

Buck Owens & the Buckaroos, as you would expect, play “Steel Guitar Rag” Bakersfield-style in an arrangement that spotlights the sophisticated steel guitar stylings of Tom Brumley:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Buck Owens & the Buckaroos     1965

If you’re curious to hear “Steel Guitar Rag” as a sax instrumental led by King Curtis, then I have good news: :

“Steel Guitar Rag”     King Curtis    1957

Check out Hardrock Gunter‘s version from 1972, with Merle Travis-style multi-track guitars that sound recorded at half-speed for that ‘Alvin & Chipmunk-style’ tinkly effect when played back at regular speed:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Hardrock Gunter     1972

Click here to enjoy an immaculately-recorded western swing version by Kelso Herston & the Funky Guitar Band from 1971 — likewise from Noel Boggs, whose version from 1961 kicks off with bongo drums.  Jerry Byrd bequeaths to all of humanity a(n) Hawaiian-flavored version from 1950, while Chet Atkins whips up a crisp country pop arrangement from 1962John Fahey, unsurprisingly, would arrange his own bottleneck acoustic version, while Barbara Mandrell would do a cracking country jazz version on Johnny Cash’s 1976 Christmas Special.

The (fabulous) Ventures would imbue the song with their own inimitable spirit in 1963, as The Sgro Brothers (Dom & Tony) would record a toe-tappin’ harmonica version in 1975 with the great Johnny Gimble (possibly) on fiddle.  Curious to hear a Finnish rockabilly version from The Cosh Boys?  Or the astounding Junior Brown playing a tastefully restrained live version?  Don’t forget Hank Thompson & the Brazos Valley Boysbrash and brassy, Vegas-styled version from country music’s supposed first live album, 1961’s At the Golden Nugget.  That same year, Danny & the Zeltones would feed their lead instrument (guitar? keyboard?) through a rotating Leslie speaker on a shuffle version that annoys with its oddly brittle sound.

King Curtis King 45Note:  Many versions of “Steel Guitar Rag” list three composers – McAuliffe, Merle Travis, Cliff Stone – versus the lone songwriting credit for McAuliffe, who first recorded the song with Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys in 1936 on Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive (I assume it’s safe to disregard Rudi Wairata, who would also put in his own songwriting claim in 1963).  Song publishers, music historians — what sayeth ye?.

Versions of “Steel Guitar Rag” that I hope to hear some day include the one by Don & Donna & the Gennessee Country Boys, as well as by New Zealand’s own guitar army, The Multiple Guitars of Peter Posa.

Alvino Rey’s Rag of Steel

Sadly, too many people are unaware that, before Les Paul and his electronic wizardry, steel guitarist bandleader, Alvino Rey, had already developed the prototype for the first modern electric guitar and created the “Sono-Vox,” a precursor to the “talk box,” as I learned this past August.

Check out the multi-tracked steel guitar parts on Alvino Rey’s fresh arrangement of the Leon McAuliffe standard, “Steel Guitar Rag” that includes some fun call-and-response between steel guitar and orchestra:

“Steel Guitar Rag”     Alvino Rey     1961

[*Earnestly hoping this 1961 arrangement will once again be posted]

Dramatic ending — glissando effect immediately makes one think of Rey’s work with Juan Garcia Esquivel.  Since streaming audio of this recording is not currently available, “Idaho” (from the same 1961 album of “re-recordings” disguised by Dot as an anthology) is another classic demonstration of Rey’s smooth glissando technique:

“Idaho”     Alvino Rey     1961

Alvino Rey:  Musically Futuristic Coda II

As MetaFilter points out, this scene from the film Jam Session is “possibly the best available demonstration of Alvino Rey as a bandleader, showman and soloist.  Includes both the volume/tone technique and the full singing guitar treatment.  Stringy, the talking steel guitar, wins a cutting contest with clarinetist, Skeets Herfurt.”

“St. Louis Blues”     Alvino Rey + Stringy the Talking Steel Guitar     1942?

Stringy, The Talking Steel Guitar Puppet!

Stringy-b

Leon’s “Steel Guitar Chimes”

Zero to 180 couldn’t take it any more, so it added a new category – steel guitar – and instantly populated a set of 25 pieces from the past three years that feature many of the world’s foremost steel guitarists, including today’s post, which is the first to highlight the work of Leon McAuliffe, one of the first players to use multi-neck steel guitars (as well as different tunings on each neck, according to Brad’s Pages of Steel).

Nice to see that the Texas State Historical Association has a biographical profile of the famed steel guitarist bandleader and one-time Bob Wills sideman, Leon McAuliffe, for whom Wills coined the famous phrase, “Take it away, Leon!”  Good ol’ PragueFrank confirms that the gently rockin’ “Steel Guitar Chimes” was recorded in either 1958 or 1960, possibly in Dallas, TX:

“Steel Guitar Chimes”     Leon McAuliff(e)     1958?

[link no longer active = awaiting replacement audio]

“Steel Guitar Chimes” would actually be included on a different Starday LP – Mister Western Swing, released 1962 – than the one pictured in the video clip above

Leon McAuliff Starday LP-aaBillboard would review Mister Western Swing in its June 23, 1962 “Music Week” column:

“Leon McAuliff and His Cimarron Boys turn in a fine flock of performances here on such Western classics as ‘Steel Guitar Rag,’ ‘Panhandle Rag,’ ‘Waterbaby Boogie,’ ‘Steel Guitar Chimes,’ and ‘Cimarron Rag.’  McAuliff infuses them with his inimitable Western dance band beat. featuring sock steel guitar work.  A solid set for Western fans and one that could grab plenty of pop action as well.”

“Steel Guitar Chimes” originally began life as a 78 released in 1938 by Roy Acuff And His Crazy Tennesseans, featuring the dobro work of Cousin Jody (née, James Clell Summey).

Link to 7-minute video documentary, The Steel Guitar Rag Story with Leon McAuliffe. about the origins of Leon’s classic steel guitar instrumental.

One question that will likely never get settled:  is Leon’s surname spelled “McAuliff” (as it says on the album cover for Starday LP Swingin’ Western Strings of Leon McAuliff) or “McAuliffe” like it says most everywhere else?

Alvino Rey: Steel Guitarist Bandleader

Thanks to Andy Volk of the Steel Guitar Forum for pointing me to Anne Miller’s fascinating profile of steel guitarist bandleader Alvino Rey for the Smithsonian in which we learn Rey, as a consultant for Gibson in the 1930s, helped develop the prototype for the ES-150 (made famous by Charlie Christian), the first modern electric guitar.  Alvino Rey, therefore, is an un(der)-acknowledged “father of the electric guitar.”

Alvino Rey:  musical bat advocate

Alvino Rey - bat fanCan you name any other pop bandleaders who played the steel guitar besides Alvino Rey? I didn’t think so.

In this TV clip, Lawrence Welk informs his audience that Alvino Rey is(was) a Capitol recording artist whose latest album is Ping Pong — and then insists that Rey play a song not even on the album!   Rey’s musicianship in this performance is masterful:

“Hindustan”     Alvino Rey on The Lawrence Welk Show     1959?

The Smithsonian article also pointed out the reason for the facial resemblance between Alvino Rey and Win (& Will) Butler of Arcade Fire:  it’s genetic.  Rey is the Butler brothers’ grandfather – a fact that becomes quite clear when you look at the photo that accompanies this tribute page from the Gibson Guitars website:

“Built by Alvino Rey and John Kutilek as a test bed for their new pickup, the instrument pictured here (below) comprises a simple frame to which a vestigial ‘body’, fingerboard and headstock – all of which are fabricated from sheet brass – are attached.  Hardware includes a brass nut and bridge, inexpensive tuners and a basic trapeze tailpiece.  The pickup itself consists of two magnets with the strings running between the top magnet and a coil of wire.  The pickup was hardwired with no jack socket or controls.”

Alvino Rey with gibson es-150 prototype in 1997     (gibson guitars website)

Alvino Rey with ES-150 Prototype

Alvino Rey:  A Futuristic Musical Coda

Alvino Rey would pass in 2004, and the following year, Arcade Fire would release a split single, with a 1940 radio broadcast of the Alvino Rey Orchestra used for the flip side.  This performance of the song, “My Buddy,” would also feature Win & Will Butler’s grandmother, Luise King Rey (of The King Sisters) on the Sono-Vox, a 1930s electronic precursor to the “talk box” that Rey himself pioneered and was “rediscovered” in the 1960s & 70s by the two Petes:  Drake & Frampton.

“My Buddy” (live)     Alvino Rey Orchestra     1940

Lucille Ball would use a Sono-Vox to emulate the sound of a freight train whistle in this fascinating Pathe newsreel snippet:

1960 Capitol LP

Alvino Rey LP

Zero to Infinity: Buddy Emmons

This week we said goodbye to Buddy Emmons, one of the world’s great musicians and subject of three prior Zero to 180 piecesHere is but a *45-second live demonstration (beginning to end) of Buddy Emmons’ singular genius with the pedal steel guitar:

Four Wheel Drive” (live)     Buddy Emmons     1965

Still image from (deleted) video clip
[courtesy Steel Guitar Forum]

[*Earnestly hoping this stunning live clip returns one day to YouTube]

“Four Wheel Drive” (studio recording)     Buddy Emmons     1959     

*

Billboard‘s April 4, 1960 edition awarded three stars (i.e., “good sales potential”) to the original Decca 45 release and praised “Four Wheel Drive,” an original composition, for its uniqueness of sound:

“Four Wheel Drive” — A swinging instrumental, has a country and jazz quality.  Ununsual item for jocks.

“Blue Wind” — This one with a Hawaiian flavor plus a touch of blues orientation.

Only image of this 45 I can find online — scary

*

It is disappointing that (as of 2021) Discogs and 45Cat are both bereft of entries for Emmons’ outstanding sole Decca single [link to PragueFrank‘s session info].  This gaping historical hole is in stark contrast to the high regard in which Emmons is widely held:

“… world’s foremost steel guitarist” (Rolling Stone)
“… steel guitar innovator” (The Tennessean)
“… fabled steel guitarist” (CMT)
“… influential pedal steel guitarist” (Reuters)

Three years prior to Emmons’ stint with Decca, Cash Box had seen fit to review “Silver Bell” b/w “Border Serenade” in their May 25, 1957 edition (two years after a head-on collision with a truck), the second of two singles recorded for Columbia as “Buddie” Emmons:

“Silver Bell” [grade: B] — The Buddie Emmons outfit takes hold of the delectable evergreen and wraps it up in a happy-go-lucky, quick beat instrumental fashion.  Bright side for deejay programming.

“Border Serenade” [grade: B] — Flip features more top-flight, light-hearted instrumental wax by Emmons and the crew.  An enticing melody and Latin beat rounds out a dandy coupler.

Music Reporter ad — Nov. 2, 1963 — Name Checks 1963 CUTTING-EDGE ALBUM

According to Rich Kienzle’s notes for Amazing Steel Guitar: The Buddy Emmons Collection, Emmons, who was a native of Mishawaka, Indiana (hometown of fellow steel wiz, Herb Remington), had been playing a lap steel for four years when he ordered his first pedal steel guitar — a triple-neck Bigsby — in 1952 when he was just fifteen, “a pure custom job, complete with an onboard ashtray, cigarette lighter and Buddy’s name emblazoned across the front.”     

Three years later in 1955, Emmons made a big splash with the addition of his Bigsby to the trademark twin lead guitar sound of Jimmy Dickens as a member of his backing band, The Country Boys, points out Kienzle, who got the opportunity to display their considerable musicality at Nashville’s Music City Recording Studio in January, 1956 on such blazing instrumentals as “Country Boy Bounce,” “Raisin’ the Dickens,” and “Red Wing.”

A partnership with Shot Jackson led to the founding in 1957 (possibly 1955) of Sho-Bud Guitars, a top name in pedal steel, especially after Bigsby stopped their steel production.  Emmons left the running of the company to Jackson in the late 1950s so that he could join one of country’s finest backing bands, The Texas Troubadours, an experience that led to the oddly ambiguous recording session with Owen Bradley on October 5, 1959 that produced the extraordinary “Four Wheel Drive” and “Blue Wind” 45 for Decca (plus two unissued tracks).

Kienzle notes a tragic missed opportunity to work with legendary jazz figure, Quincy Jones, on 1963 landmark album, Steel Guitar Jazz, where Emmons collaborated with Jerome Richardson (saxophone), Charlie Persip (drums), Art Davis (bass), and Bobby Scott (piano):

Emmons stayed with [Ernest] Tubb until 1962, when he made two major changes:  leaving the Troubadours and, after disagreements with Shot Jackson, leaving Sho-Bud.  He and North Carolina inventor Ron Lashley formed the Emmons Guitar Company shortly after that, creating a steel that included many of Emmons’ design ideas that Shot had rejected.  Early that year, when Jimmy Day left Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys, Emmons replaced him in the band.  Again, Buddy was working with one of the premier country road bands.

Off the road, he often played jazz with other musicians around Nashville.  When Ernest Tubb’s son Justin, a successful singer in his own right, heard Buddy at one of these jam sessions in 1963, he suggested that Emmons try an all-jazz steel guitar album and soon interested Mercury Records in the concept.  Jazz arranger, Quincy Jones, working as head of pop A&R at Mercury, suggested some tunes, and was originally set to produce the session.  Jones couldn’t do it, but Buddy, who’d wanted to record in Nashville, was set to record in New York on July 22, 1963 with a jazz rhythm section.

Record World‘s November 21, 1964 report on the 1964 Country Music Association convention (the one where Dizzy Dean was made an honorary member of the Grand Ole Opry and receiving a standing ovation) rhetorically asked, “Who can ever forget the jam sessions held in the Sho-Bud room or the Emmons Guitar room?”

That same year – in a fascinating historical side note, courtesy of a news item published in the May 30, 1964 issue of Music Business – we learn that Emmons’ wife was also part of the music industry:

A. Halsey Cowan, international attorney for Nashville’s Pamper Music, conducted a seminar on copyrights for publishing firms at the Library of Congress May 15 [1964] attended by pubbery reps from a wide area.  Other speakers included … Mrs. Buddie Emmons and Walter Haynes, Moss Rose pubbery … 

Emmons’ tenure with Ray Price’s backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys, was an artistically fertile time – with frequent jam sessions on the tour bus, says Kienzle – that peaked with the recording of the Western Strings LP for Columbia in 1965.  Price would subsequently make a conscious effort to de-emphasize the country elements in his live band, however, a move that impelled Emmons to join Roger Miller (himself an ex-Cherokee Cowboy) in relocating to the West Coast, where he began playing steel as a session player.  

Buddy Emmons-aBuddy Emmons-bBuddy Emmons-c

How cool that my all-time favorite steel guitarist played with one of my top groups (NRBQ) and guitarists (Duane Eddy).  Steel Guitar Forum, no surprise, already has a thread devoted to Buddy’s memory, while Edd Hurt penned a nice tribute to Emmons in The Nashville Scene that talks about some of Buddy’s pedal steel technical innovations, such as extra strings and pedals that raise the fretboard.

Two essential/must-have Buddy Emmons recordings – Amazing Steel Guitar: The Buddy Emmons Collection & Danny Gatton’s Redneck Jazz Explosion – are both commanding high prices on Amazon, unfortunately.

Buddy Emmons-1Buddy Emmons-2

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Steel Guitar Great Buddy Emmons Dies
Pedal steel player backed up artists from Ernest Tubb to Linda Rondstat
By Stephen L. Betts – Rolling Stone – July 30, 2015

Musician Buddy Emmons, widely regarded as the world’s foremost steel guitarist, hailed for his unique playing style and innovations with regard to tuning, has died at age 78.

Born Buddie Gene Emmons in Mishawaka, Indiana, and nicknamed “the Big E,” his guitar work was heard on countless recordings by acts ranging from Ray Price and Ernest Tubb, to Linda Ronstadt and the Carpenters.

At 11 years old, Emmons studied on lap steel guitar at the Hawaiian Conservatory of Music in South Bend, Indiana, learning to play country music by listening to the radio.  As a teenager, he joined his first bands, relocating to Illinois then to Detroit, before moving to Nashville in 1955 to join Grand Ole Opry star Little Jimmy Dickens’ band at 18 years old.  Christened the Country Boys, Dickens’ band recorded several instrumentals, including three of Emmons’ original compositions.  After Dickens dissolved his band in 1956, Emmons and fellow guitarist Shot Jackson formed the Sho-Bud Company, which designed and built steel guitars.  Emmons also began extensive Nashville studio work, and joined Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours the following year, remaining with Tubb until 1958.

Four years later, Emmons became a member of Ray Price’s band the Cherokee Cowboys.  By 1967, he was living in California, and after joining Roger Miller’s band, landed more high-profile studio work in Los Angeles, appearing on records by Nancy Sinatra, Gram Parsons, John Sebastian and others.

A 1974 return to Nashville continued his studio work, on LPs by George Strait, Mel Tillis, Gene Watson, June Carter Cash, Ricky Skaggs and many more.  Emmons was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981.  He toured with the Everly Brothers in the Nineties and would later be heard occasionally on radio’s A Prairie Home Companion.

part of all-star ensemble on Katz Kobayashi‘s undated one-off album

Emmons retired in 2007 after the sudden death of his wife Peggy.  In 2013, a tribute LP was released.  The Big E:  A Salute to Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons, featured Willie Nelson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, and several steel players including Randle Currie, from Brad Paisley’s band.  A rare bit of Emmons songwriting, “Are You Sure,” also appears on Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material as a hidden track duet with Willie Nelson.  As the story goes, he and Nelson penned the 1965 song together after a confrontation with a bar patron.

Fellow steel player Steve Fishell, who cites “The Big E” as a chief inspiration and is currently on the road with Emmylou Harris, summed up Emmons’ death to Rolling Stone Country as nothing short of a tragedy:  “It’s a towering loss in the pedal steel community and to music lovers everywhere.”

1964 SINGLE — “With Buddy Emmons & the Nuggeteers”

Buddy Emmons 45s & LP Discography

— song titles in boldface link to streaming audio

The Country Boys     “Country Boy Bounce”     1956

Buddie Emmons     “Cold Rolled Steel”     1956

Faron Young     “Sweet Dreams”     1956

June Carter     “Strange Woman”     1956

∞ “Little Jimmy Dickens     “Me And My Big Mouth”     1958

Ernest Tubb     “Half a Mind”     1958

Buddy Emmons     “Four Wheel Drive”     1959

Buddy Emmons     “Rose City Chimes”     1961

Duane Eddy     “Fireball Mail”     1962

Shot Jackson & Buddy Emmons   Singing Strings of Steel Guitar & Dobro   1963

Buddie Emmons     Steel Guitar Jazz     1963

Ray Price     “Night Life”     1963

Dolores Smiley     “Leaving By Request”     1964

Skeeter Davis     Blueberry Hill And Other Favorites     1965

Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys     Western Strings     1965

Buddy Emmons     “B. Bowman Hop” (recorded live with George Jones)    1965

Johnny Paycheck     “Heartbreak Tennessee”     1965

Willie Nelson     “One In a Row”     1966

Nancy Sinatra     Country My Way     1967

Gary Burton     Tennessee Firebird     1967

The Dillards     The Wheatstraw Suite     1968

Judy Collins     “I Pity the Poor Immigrant”     1968

The Fifth Avenue Band     “Good Lady of Toronto”     1969

Buddy Emmons    “Witches Brew”     1969

Buddy Emmons     Emmons Guitar Inc.     1970

Roger Miller     A Trip In the Country     1970

John Phillips     John, The Wolf King of L.A.     1970

Denny Doherty     Watcha Gonna Do     1970

Dewey Martin & Medicine Ball     Dewey Martin & Medicine Ball     1970

Longbranch/Pennywhistle     Longbranch/Pennywhistle     1970

∞ John Hartford     Iron Mountain Depot     1970

∞ John Sebastian     “Rainbows All Over Your Blues”     1970

Michael Parks     “Lonely and Blue”     1970

Buck Owen & the Buckaroos     “Cajun Steel Guitar”     1970

Buddy Emmons    “Wichita Lineman”     1970

Ray Charles     “Wichita Lineman”     1971

Sandy Denny     “Crazy Lady Blues”     1971

69ers     “The Christian Life”     1971

∞ John Stewart     “The Road Shines Bright”     1971

∞ Jimmy Wakely     “Detour”     1971

Russ Giguere     Hexagram 16     1971

Paul Siebel     Jack-Knife Gypsy     1971

Rosebud     Rosebud     1971

Larry Murray     Sweet Country Suite     1971

Shot Jackson & Buddy Emmons     Famous Sho-Bud Guitars     1971

Rowan Brothers     Rowan Brothers     1972

Everly Brothers     Stories We Could Tell     1972

∞ John Stewart     Sunstorm     1972

∞ Jim Pulte     Out the Window     1972

Nev Nicholls & the Country Playboys     “Take My Heart”     1972

Odyssey     Country Tune     1972

Linda Ronstadt     “In My Reply”     1972

Roger McGuinn     “Water Is Wide”     1973

The Carpenters      “Top of the World”     1973

Gram Parsons     GP     1973

Doug Dillard     Duelin’ Banjo     1973

Judee Sill     Heart Food     1973

Phil Everly     Star Spangled Springer     1973

Don Everly     Sunset Towers     1974

The Cats     The Love in Your Eyes     1974

The Carpenters     Now and Then     1974

Henry Mancini Orchestra     Country Gentleman     1974

Johnny Bush    “Home in San Antone[Curly Chalker on 2nd steel]    1974

Brewer & Shipley     “It Did Me In”     1974

Kenny O’Dell     “Soulful Woman”     1974

Sheepskin Pat     From Nashville     1975

Ronee Blakley     Welcome     1975

Dottie West     Carolina Cousins     1975

Benny Martin     Tennessee Jubilee     1975

Bobby Bare     Hard Time Hungrys     1975

Buddy Emmons     Steel Guitar     1975

Billy Walker     “Don’t Stop In My World”     1975

Jeanne Pruett     “Honey On His Hands”     1975

Jackie DeShannon     “Bette Davis Eyes”    1975

Mayf Nutter     “Goin’ Skinny Dippin’”     1976

Marty Robbins     “Among My Souvenirs”     1976

Connie Smith     I Don’t Wanna Talk It Over Anymore     1976

Rosemary Clooney     Look My Way     1976

Roy Head     A Head of His Time     1976

John Hartford     Nobody Knows What You Do     1976

David Allan Coe     Longhaired Redneck     1976

Kenny Valeck     “Country Lady” b/w “Trailer Full of Love”     1976

Hargus “Pig” Robbins     Country Instrumentalist of the Year     1977

John Hughey     On and Off Stage     1977

Merle Haggard     My Farewell to Elvis     1977

Mickey Newbury     Rusty Tracks     1977

Dennis Weaver     Dennis Weaver     1977

Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys     Reunited     1977

The Capitals     The Capitals     1977

The Osborne Brothers     From Rocky Top to Muddy Bottom     1977

Dillard/Hartford/Dillard    Glitter Grass from the Nashwood Hollyville Strings    1977

Russ Hicks & Jimmy Crawford     Chicken Pickin’ Good     1977

∞ Buddy Emmons & Buddy Spicher     Buddies     1977

Nashville Bar Association     Nashville Bar Association     1977

Pat Garrett      “A Little Something On the Side”     1977

∞ Gove Scrivenor     “Sugar Bear”     1978

Ian Tyson     “Turning Thirty”     1978

Bobby Hicks     “Panhandle Rag”     1978

Marcia Ball     Circuit Queen     1978

Bryn Haworth     Grand Arrival     1978

Larry Gatlin     Oh! Brother     1978

Guy Clark     Guy Clark     1978

Steve Young     No Place to Fall     1978

Danny Gatton     Redneck Jazz Explosion [“Rock Candy“]    1978 [1995*]

Buddy Emmons with Lenny Breau     Minors Aloud     1978

Margo Smith     Don’t Break the Heart That Loves You     1978

Donna Darlene     Girl on the Cover     1979

Mel Tillis     Are You SincereMr. Entertainer   1979

Ricky Skaggs     Sweet Temptation     1979

Thumbs Carllile     Guitar WizardJazz Carllile Style    1979

Nashville Superpickers     Killer Joe” (live)     1979

George Jones with Waylon Jennings    “Night Life”     1979

John Hartford/Pat Burton/Benny Martin   “Slumberin on the Cumberland”   1979

Denny Laine with Paul McCartney     “Send Me the Heart”     1980

John Starling     “Long Time Gone”     1980

Levon Helm     American Son     1980

Sonny Curtis      Love Is All Around     1980

John Hartford     You And Me at Home     1980

∞ Willie Nelson & Ray Price     San Antonio Rose     1980

Curtis Potter with Darrell McCall & Ray Sanders   Texas Dance Hall   1980

The Ozark Mountain Daredevils     Ozark Mountain Daredevils     1980

Tammy Wynette     You Brought Me Back     1981

John Anderson     I Just Came Home Today to Count the Memories     1981

Tompall And the Glaser Brothers     Lovin’ Her Was Easier     1981

J.J. Cale     Grasshopper     1982

Lenny Breau     When Lightn’ Strikes     1982

Razzy Bailey     The Midnight Hour     1983

Arthur Blanch     What Do Lonely People Do     1983

John Cody Carter     When It Rains It Pours     1984

Ray Pennington & Buddy Emmons     Swingin’ From the 40s – 80s     1984

Ray Charles     Do I Ever Cross Your Mind     1984

Skeeter Davis & NRBQ     She Sings, They Play     1985

Scott Mohoric     Pancho Y Lefty’s     198?

Billy Apollo     “Coast Guard Blues”     1986

Gary Burton     “Faded Love”     1987

Buddy Emmons     Christmas Sounds of the Steel Guitar     1987

Ray Price     The Heart of Country Music     1987

John Anderson     10     1988

∞ k.d. lang     “Shadowland”     1988

The Geezinslaws     The Geezinslaws     1989

∞ Ray Pennington & Buddy Emmons     Swingin’ Our Way     1990

∞ Ray Price & Faron Young     Memories That Last     1991

∞ Lionel Cartwright     “Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine”     1991 

∞ Randy Travis     “Allergic to the Blues”     1991

Trisha Yearwood     “For Reasons I’ve Forgotten”     1992

∞ George Jones & Willie Nelson     “I Gotta Get Drunk”     1992

∞ George Strait     Pure Country (soundtrack album) + Holding My Own   1992

∞ Carlene Carter     Little Love Letters     1993

∞ George Strait     Lead On     1994

Jill Sobule     “(Theme From) The Girl in the Affair”     1995

Michael Ballew     You Better Hold On     1995

∞ Gene Watson     The Good Ole Days     1996

∞ Larry Carlton     The Gift     1996

∞ Ray PenningtonBuddy Emmons     Goin’ Out Swingin’     1997

Manhattan Transfer     “I Know Why And So Do You”     1997

The Bishops     “A Satisfied Mind”     1997

Tammy McRae     Tammy McRae     1997

Steve Wariner     Burnin’ the Roadhouse Down     1998

Jimmie Crawford     Steel Crazy     1998

Mark Chesnutt     I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing     1999

John Prine & Melba Montgomery     “Milwaukee Here I Come”     1999

Ingela Söderlund     Vågar Jag Fråga     1999

Josh Graves     Sultan of Slide     2000

∞ Gene Watson     From the Heart     2001

∞ Ray Price     Time     2002

Memarie     Memarie     2003

∞ Albert Lee     Heartbreak Hill     2003  

∞ Albert Lee     Road Runner     2006

∞ Vince Gill     “This New Heartache”     2006

George Jones & Friends     God’s Country     2006

∞ Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard/Ray Price     Last of the Breed     2007

Emmons steel guitars

Rare Solo Buddy Emmons!
YouTube audio clip (posted Dec. 2019) that features these early recordings

Song List:
【00:00】- “Four Wheel Drive” (1959)
【01:54】- “Red Wing” (1956)
【03:54】- “Raisin’ the Dickens” (1956)
【05:55】- “Cajun Steel Guitar” (1962 or 63)
【07:46】- “Silver Bells” (1957)
【09:59】- “Border Serenade” (1957)
【12:35】- “Cold Rolled Steel” (1956)
【14:40】- “Flint Hill Special” (1956)
【16:35】- “Blue Wind” (1959)
【19:15】- Buddie’s Boogie” (1956)
【21:39】- “Lily Dale” (1962 or 63)
【24:14】- “Country Boy Bounce” (1956)
【26:17】- “Rose City Chimes” (1961)

Great Value for the Money:
“Cold Rolled Steel” & Friends

1992 CD compilation Movin’ Country Instrumentals kicks off with “Cold Rolled Steel” — Buddy Emmons’ debut Columbia 45 from 1956 — along with other elusive tracks from some of country music’s finest pickers, including Joe Maphis (“Fire on the Strings“), Herby Remington (“Remington Ride“), Harold Bradley (“Sugarfoot Rag”), Charlie McCoy (“Orange Blossom Special“), Grady Martin (“El Paso“), Jerry Reed (“I’m Movin’ On“), Jerry Byrd (“Memories of Maria“), Carl Perkins (“Spanish Harlem”), and Arthur Smith (“Guitar Boogie“), the last song listed — originally recorded in 1946 while stationed in Washington with the Navy — renowned as part of a select group of candidates for “first rock ‘n’ roll recording.”

Did You Know?

Buddy Emmons was one of the featured musicians (along with Hank Garland and The Jordanaires) who performed on an LP of jingles –Ballantine Presents Music to Sell Ballantine Beer By — issued in 1960.

Link to Zero to 180 pieces tagged as Music in advertising

Hop Wilson’s Steel Guitar Blues

Rolling Stone released two compendiums of Record Reviews in the early 70s, back when Lenny Kaye, John Mendelsohn, Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Bud Scoppa, Ed Ward, Richard Meltzer, Al Kooper, Ralph J. Gleason, Paul Gambaccini, Stephen Davis, Jon Landau, Jann Wenner, and (occasionally) Nick Tosches, and even Peter Townshend (Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy album) were writing reviews for the (formerly) underground ‘rock’ publication.  Tip of the hat to Record Review’s Vol. II for pointing out Hop Wilson‘s distinctive steel guitar-driven rockin’ blues sound, as on masterpiece, “Chicken Stuff:

“Chicken Stuff”     Hop Wilson & His Chickens     1958

As Peter Guralnick would write in the Rolling Stone Record Review:

“Especially enterprising but a little further afield is Chicken Stuff:  Houston Ghetto Blues, an English album available on Flyright.  This is made up of six cuts by Hop Wilson from his legendary Ivory sessions and a side of live recordings.  Wilson, one of the few bluemen to master steel guitar, employs a driving bottleneck-style technique which shows traces of Robert Nighthawk and Elmore James.  With his deep brooding voice, stunning guitar work, and the overwhelming power of his blues, he is a singer who deserves much wider recognition.”

Sadly, too few recordings feature Hop Wilson (who also went by “Poppa Hop” and also “Poppy Hop”).  John Broven, thankfully, provides some helpful historical background in South to Louisiana: The Music of the Cajun Bayous

“As word spread that there was a recording studio in Lake Charles, a few blues artists, mainly from Texas, started arriving at Goldband.  Hop Wilson was easily the best.  His first recording, ‘Chicken Stuff’ in 1958, was a startling instrumental that had all the bounce of an old country dance number … At the time Hop was touring Texas and Louisiana with Ivory Semien’s band.  He had a second Goldband release, the stark ‘Broke and Hungry,’ before recording three impressive singles for Ivory Records in the early 60s.”

Goldband’s Eddie Shuler would note how “[“Chicken Stuff”] is unique in the blues field” in that “he played a Hawaiian guitar — six strings of blues soul.”

Hop Wilson & Steel Guitar     1963

Hop Wilson on steel guitarHop WIlson’s soulful steel-based blues sound would set the stage for ground-breaking album, Sweet Funky Steel, released by Freddie Roulette (pictured below), coincidentally enough, around the time of this Rolling Stone Record Review‘s publication (as featured previously on Zero to 180).

Freddie Roulette & pipe