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:
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.
“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.”
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
Earl ‘Joaquin‘ Murphey (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.
Ace 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 likea 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
Though 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
[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).
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.”
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, TheBig 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 Murrey “Buddy” Harman: Drums Bill Pursell: Percussion Fed Carter, Harold Bradley & Kelso Herston: Guitar Hargus “Pig” Robbins: Piano Charlie McCoy: Harmonica
Discogs made a mistake: Tom Bradshaw himself confirmed via email that he, in fact, was not sitting in the producer’s chair for 1964’s The Big Steel Guitar.
“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.'”
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. .
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
Dec. 1964 – Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville
Mar. 1965 – Music City Recording, Nashville
The Cherokee Cowboys – 1965 [photo courtesy Buddy Emmons.com]
(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).
“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 Moises “Blondie” Calderon, 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.
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:
Note: 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?.
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?
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 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).
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?
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
Can 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 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:
This week we said goodbye to Buddy Emmons, one of the world’s great musicians and subject ofthree prior Zero to 180 pieces. Here is but a*45-second livedemonstration (beginning to end) of Buddy Emmons’ singular genius with the pedal steel guitar:
Billboard‘sApril 4, 1960 editionawarded three stars (i.e., “good sales potential”) to the original Decca 45 release and praised “Four Wheel Drive,” an original composition,for itsuniquenessof 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)Discogsand45Catare both bereft of entries for Emmons’ outstanding sole Decca single [link toPragueFrank‘s session info]. This gaping historical hole is in stark contrast to the high regard in which Emmons is widely held:
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).
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.
That same year – in a fascinating historical side note, courtesy of a news item published in theMay 30, 1964 issueof Music Business – we learn that Emmons’ wife was also part of the music industry:
A. Halsey Cowan, international attorney for Nashville’sPamper Music, conducted a seminar on copyrights for publishing firms at theLibrary of CongressMay 15  attended by pubbery reps from a wide area. Other speakers included … Mrs. Buddie Emmons and Walter Haynes,Moss Rosepubbery …
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.
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 inThe Nashville Scenethat talks about some of Buddy’s pedal steel technical innovations, such as extra strings and pedals that raise the fretboard.
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’sTexas Troubadoursthe 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.
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 Materialas ahidden trackduet 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.”
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’sVol. 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.”
“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’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).