Jeremy Wakefield: SpongeBob’s Stellar Steel Support

Biller & Wakefield sound like a modern-day Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant on 1999 album, The Hot Guitars.of Biller & Wakefield:

“Martian Guts”     Biller & Wakefield     1999

Coincidentally or not, 1999 would also be the year SpongeBob Squarepants would make its television debut.  And just as Los Straitjackets would spearhead a movement to revitalize the instrumental, Jeremy Wakefield – virtuoso musician – would similarly use Nickelodeon’s broad commercial platform to reintroduce the gloriously warm sound of the (pre-pedal) steel guitar to the millennial generation and beyond.   Wakefield, along with the other musicians and SpongeBob Music Director, Andy Paley, have done an outstanding job of incorporating western swing, hillbilly boogie, surf & spy guitar, Hawaiian steel music, and Hot Club-era gypsy jazz into the show’s soundtrack in all manner of ways.

1999 would also find Jeremy Wakefield and Dave Biller playing their respective guitars on Wayne Hancock’s Wild, Free & Reckless album, while Wakefield would peel off that same year to play steel guitar with Smith’s Ranch Boys on More Barnyard Favorites.  The year prior, Wakefield would also play his Bigsby steel guitar on (future Los Straitjackets collaborator) Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-FonicsNumber One Hit Record!.

Wakefield’s musical contributions to the SpongeBob television show have earned him a reputation for upholding an older analog “vintage” sound, thus it is especially intriguing to learn that some of Wakefield’s earliest album credits would include digital keyboard sequencing for The Style Council, of all people, on 1985’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” EP.  Wakefield would continue to work with The Style Council over the next 20 years or so.

other Albums on which Jeremy Wakefield plays steel guitar

  • Wayne Hancock     A-Town Blues     2001
  • The Lucky Stars     Stay Out with The Lucky Stars     2005
  • The Bonebrake Syncopators     That Da Da Strain     2008

Tracks on which Jeremy Wakefield plays steel guitar

“Hawaiian Blues”     music used in 2 episodes “Jellyfish Jam” & “SB-129”

Link to incidental SpongeBob steel guitar music clip posted on YouTube.

Freddie Roulette’s Sweet, Funky Steel

Freddie Roulette coaxes all manner of sweet, funky feeling out of his doubleneck lap steel guitar on the track “Joaquin” from his debut solo album:

“Joaquin”     Freddie Roulette     1973

Steel Guitar:  Freddie Roulette
Bass, Acoustic Guitar:  Victor Conte
Drums:  Paul Lagos
Guitar:  Coleman Head
Saxophone:  Richard Aplanap
Mixed by Fred Breitberg
Produced by Harvey Mandel
Recorded by Baker Bigsby

Prior to Sweet Funky Steel, Roulette had played with Charlie Musselwhite and the Chicago Blue Stars, whose 1969 debut LP kicks off with the “Fred Roulette” composition, “I Need Your Loving.”

Freddie Roulette

Billboard included this album as an “Also Recommended” pick (under ‘jazz’) in its September 29, 1973 issue with these words of praise:

Title is a perfect description of a truly charming, contemporary jazz-blues session on talking steel guitar.  Best cut:  “Smoked Fish

How fascinating (and sad) that Freddie Roulette would release his groundbreaking album Sweet Funky Steel in 1973 — and then issue no other recordings for over 20 years.  One gets the sense that this album may have been a bit ahead of its time and had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

With the release of Psychedelic Guitar Circus (1994), Back in Chicago (1996), Spirit of Steel (1999), Man of Steel (2006) and Jamming with Friends (2012), it would seem that the artist and his audience have, at last, found each other.

Photos of esteemed “guitar client” Freddie Roulette can be found at Berkeley’s renowned Subway Guitars.

Sweet Funky Steel LP

It’s True: Noel Boggs Once Played on a King Record

Hank Penny‘s first recording session for King Records took place at the Wurlitzer Music Company in Cincinnati sometime mid-1944.  Roy Lanham – pioneering guitarist who was too “hillbilly” for the jazz crowd and too “jazzy” for country fans – would play on this session, as well as Louis Innis, it’s worth noting.  Penny’s next session for King would be recorded in Hollywood a year later and yield five songs – including “Steel Guitar Stomp:

“Steel Guitar Stomp”     Hank Penny (featuring Noel Boggs & Merle Travis)    1945

Penny’s steel guitarist, Noel Boggs would soon get the call up from legendary bandleader, Bob Wills and then later, Spade Cooley.  This “Dean of the Steel Guitar,” according to Brad’s Pages of Steel, “appeared on some 2,000 recordings as a soloist, with Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, Jimmy Wakely, Hank Penny, Bill Boyd, Sheb Wooley, Les Anderson, Merle Travis and the Cass County Boys.”  Boggs, backed by the Day Sleepers, would go on to release a couple singles on almighty Columbia under his own name, as well as a couple recordings as “The Noel Boggs Quintet” on the Shasta label.

Noel Boggs singleNoel Boggs album

Check out all the cool sounds that Noel Boggs coaxes out of his (pre-pedal) steel guitar in this driving version of “Alabamy Bound:

Extra Credit:  Name That Guitar

Q:  What guitar is Noel Boggs playing in this clip of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ‘performing’ the song “Ida Red” in the 1945 western talkie, Blazing the Western Trail — that’s the question posed a few years back on the Steel Guitar Forum.

Answer:  Epiphone “Rocco” 7/8-string doubleneck steel guitar – thanks to Jody Carver (of Hot Club of America fame) for providing an autographed photo of this impressive and stylish guitar being held by its namesake, Anthony Rocco, about which too little is known.  Says Mark Heller, “Rocco was one of the earliest electric steel guitar players, and he carved out a career for himself in the New York City area, playing Hawaiian-style steel guitar with big bands and orchestras around the city.  In addition, Rocco befriended Epi Stathopoulo, who manufactured Epiphone guitars, and Rocco came on board as advisor to the company.  Based on Rocco’s designs and inventions, Epiphone began manufacturing a whole line of Rocco devices in 1937, including a Rocco double-neck steel guitar, a Rocco signature steel bar, and the innovative Rocco Tonexpressor, a combination volume and tone pedal.”

Anthony Rocco

Lloyd Green: “Mr. Nashville Sound”

When we last checked in with Nashville All-Star and pedal steel guitarist extraordinaire, Lloyd Green, he had signed with Aubrey Mayhew & Johnny Paycheck’s label, Little Darlin’.  However, Green would be ready to switch labels just two years later to go with another indie, Chart.

1968’s Mr. Nashville Sound would be his first of three albums for Chart Records and one that would climb all the way to the #37 position on the Country chart.

Lloyd Green IS Mr. Nashville SoundThe flurry of notes in crisp staccato fashion that open the track “Promises Promises” are characteristic of the late 1960s country steel sound, particularly of the truck-driving variety (“Wave Bye Bye to the Man” – is that you, Lloyd Green?).   I still hold out hope that today’s steel players will rediscover this commanding approach and supremely rocking sound:

“Promises Promises”     Lloyd Green     1968

Steel Guitar:  Lloyd Green
Electric Guitar:  Wayne Moss
Bass:  Jr. Huskey
Drums:  Buddy Harman
Piano:  Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins
Vocals:  Anita Kerr, Hurshel Wigenton, The Nashville Edition
Arranged by Lloyd Green
Produced by Joe Gibson & Slim Williamson
Mastered by John Eberle

As it turns out, “Promises Promises” would be a near instrumental cover of the top 10 country hit by labelmate, Lynn Anderson — I can only presume Green played on that version, as well.  According to Walter Stettner, proprietor of the Lloyd Green Tribute website, it is.  Says Stettner, “Lloyd was the session leader on almost all of the Chart recordings. I only know very few recordings where Pete Drake got to play; otherwise if you hear something on Chart or Little Darlin, it is most likely Lloyd.”

As this chart alphabetically illustrates, Lloyd Green played steel on an astounding 116 number-one hit recordings.  Of course, you may not be surprised to know that Green would release a baker’s dozen or so singles under his own name, including a cover of Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Sally G” (on which he originally played).  But you might be flabbergasted to learn, as I was, that this tireless, upright master of the steel would join the rogue’s gallery of artists who made the dubious decision to release a backwards b-side!  That’s right, just before he signed to Chart, Green would release a one-off 45 on Big A:  “Panic (A Trip)” as the A-side with “Cinap (Pirt A)” as the flip(ped out) side:

Oh, Lloyd – why’d you do it?

Chart Records:  Property of Gusto

As Jon Hartley Fox points out in King of the Queen City:  The Story of King Records,   “Moe Lytle bought the King and Starday companies in 1975 and has now owned King Records for longer than [Syd] Nathan did.”  In 1978 Lytle would launch Gusto Records, a budget label that issued albums, tapes, and (later) compact discs, and go on to acquire a number of other labels for the purpose of reissuing their back catalogs.  As Gusto’s website indicates in its banner, Lytle’s enterprise – GML – owns the catalogs of all the King-related labels (except for James Brown’s recordings), Scepter and subsidiary, Wand (except for Dionne Warwicke’s recordings), Starday, Musicor – and Chart Records, not to mention Little Darlin’.

Chart Records ad

“Mountain Mambo”: Latinbilly

Joe Goldmark is not only a musician but also a scholar, whose International Steel Guitar and Dobro Discography – “a resource book that attempts to list every steel guitar and Dobro instrumental ever recorded” – is a fascinating reference tool for those interested in Syd Nathan’s King Records legacy.

Jerry Byrd – one-time steel guitarist for Hank Williams – recorded four songs at Cincinnati’s King Records studio on October 29, 1954 as part of The Country Cats (with Al Myers on guitar).  “Mountain Mambo,” is the A-side of a King 45 that playfully incorporates Latin elements within a hillbilly jazz framework:

“Mountain Mambo”     The Country Cats (featuring Jerry Byrd)     1954

Audio clip includes excellent B-side, “Hot Strings.”

Thanks to The Jerry Byrd Fan Club website, I now know that “during the 1950s, Jerry Byrd upgraded to a seven-string, pre-war model of the same Rickenbacker Bakelite steel guitar (as pictured below).  He was playing this fine instrument while on WLW radio in Cincinnati, Ohio, and recorded his popular Decca album, Hi-Fi Guitar, using this guitar.”

Jerry Byrd - 1950sJerry Byrd - Hi Fi Guitar LP

Steel Guitarists – and the Music Historians Who Love Them

Listed below are the other King/Federal/Deluxe/Audio Lab recordings referenced in The International Steel Guitar & Dobro Discography, with the names of the featured steel guitarists – where known and/or applicable – indicated in parentheses:

New!   Streaming audio for many of the recordings below:

Paul Blunt & His Islanders
              Golden Goodies of Old Hawaii   1960   [King LP]

The Buckeye Pals
              "Buckeye Boogie"   1952?   [Deluxe 78 & 45]

The Country Cats (featuring Jerry Byrd) 
              "Mountain Mambo" / "Hot Strings"  [King 78 & 45]
              "Sun Shadows" / "Hop Scotch"  [King 45]

Eddie Chamblee Orchestra
              "Blue Steel"   1950?   [(leased) Federal 78]
  
Cowboy Copas (featuring Slim Idaho)
              "Jamboree"   January, 1948   [King 78]

Mel Cox (featuring Lefty Perkins)
              "Guitar Jump" / "No Suh"   1950   [King 78]

King Curtis
              "Steel Guitar Rag"   1962   [King & DeLuxe 45s]

Andy Iona & His Islanders
              Hawaiian Interlude   1950   [King EP]

The Kiddie Ka-Dees 
              "Remington Ride"   1959   [King 45]

Freddie King 
              "Remington Ride"   1965   [King LP]

Krazy Kris (featuring Floyd Smith)   [rec. October, 1956 in NYC] 
              "Floyd’s Guitar Blues" / "Wishy Washy"   [King 45]

Eddie Martin & His King Serenaders
               Echoes of Hawaii   c. December, 1946   [King EP]
              "Pineapple Polka"   November, 1947   [King 78]

Leon McAuliffe (featuring Leon McAuliffe)
              "Faded Love" / "Panhandle Rag"  [Starday-King 45]

Hank Penny & His Radio Cowboys 
  ~ featuring Noel Boggs (c. early 1946): 
              "Steel Guitar Stomp" / "Counting the Days"  [King 45]
              "Steel Guitar Stomp" / "Merle’s Buck Dance" [King 45]
  ~ featuring Bobby Koefer (1947):
              "Hillbilly Jump" / "Kentucky"   [King 78]
  ~ featuring Ralph Miele (October, 1946): 
              "Penny Blows His Top" / "Locked Out"   [King 78]
              "Steel Guitar Polka" / "Won’t You Ride..?"  [King 78]
  ~ featuring Herb Remington (March, 1950):  
              "Jersey Bounce" / "Wham! Bam!"   [King 78]
              "Remington Ride" / "Have My Picture Took"  [King 78]
  ~ featuring Speedy West (March, 1949): 
              "Hillbilly Bebop" / [b-side from 1947*]  [King 78]

Webb Pierce (featuring Shot Jackson)
              "New Panhandle Rag"   1960   [King 45]

Charlie Ryan (featuring Neil Livingston)
              Hot Rod King LP - includes 1960 track "Steel Rock"

Cecil Surratt & Smitty Smith
              "Liza Jane" / "The Words You Say"   1960   [King 45]

T. Texas Tyler  (featuring Noel Boggs)
              "Tell Your Lies to the Man in the Moon"  1946 [King LP]
     
Jimmie Widener (featuring Earl "Joaquin" Murphy)
              "Jimmie’s Jump" / "She’s Left Me"   1948   [King 78]

King-a-Paul Blunt LPKing-b-Charlie Ryan LPt-texas-tyler-lp-amoon-mullican-lp-a

“Lothario in A”: Red Rhodes on the Elektra Label

It was a bit of a sea change, prestige-wise, for Red Rhodes to go from “lowly” Crown (and I say that with affection) to Jac Holzman’s esteemed Elektra label.  Aside from 1970’s supergroup experiment with Red Rhodes, Buddy Emmons, Sneaky Pete, Jay Dee Maness & Rusty Young – Suite Steel:  The Pedal Steel Guitar Album – Red released his first proper solo album in 1973, Velvet Hammer in a Cowboy Band, on Elektra imprint, Countryside (a Mike Nesmith enterprise, as it turns out).  Red gets a wonderful shimmering effect on his steel guitar in the soaring instrumental, “Lothario in A:

Thanks to Discogs for the musician credits:

Producer:  Michael Nesmith
Arranger & Steel Guitar:  Red Rhodes
Acoustic Guitar:  Dr. Robert K. Warford
Electric Guitar:  Jay Lacy
Bass:  Bill Graham, Colin Camero & Jim Stallings
Drums:  Danny Lane
Piano & Liner Notes:  David Barry
Art Direction & Design:  Dean O. Torrence (of Jan & Dean)

Red Rhodes Elektra LP

According to Jac Holzman’s memoir, Becoming Elektra:

“Mike Nesmith’s Countryside label was an intriguing venture based, in part, on the premise that Nesmith thought it possible to develop a label in California based upon a Western take on country music, and he cited Buck Owens as a model.  Holzman thought it worth exploring the idea of a small ancillary label working a potent vein of American music, separate from Elektra’s offices.

‘Nesmith could bring unusual talented people together and create a supportive environment,’ says Holzman.  “He was whip-smart and a pro in the studio.  Countryside was an effort to develop a different kind of country music, where country and cowboy and folk merges.  We built Michael his own studio around the same analogue mixing console that recorded L.A. Woman.  Unfortunately, Countryside was the first thing David Geffen dismantled when he took over [as head of newly-merged Elektra/Asylum].’

Only two albums appeared:  Garland Frady’s splendid Pure Country and one by Nesmith’s renowned steel guitarist, Red Rhodes, Velvet Hammer in a Cowboy Band.”

At the time of Geffen’s big deal, Jac would be appointed senior VP and Chief Technology Officer for Warner Brothers-Elektra-Atlantic — an emerging giant now challenging Columbia for supremacy.  Important to note that by 1970 Jac’s label, Elektra, had already been sold for $11 million to the Kinney Corporation.

This album, interestingly enough, was also released as volume 10 in the Steel Guitar Record Club series — other steel guitarists profiled in this series include Speedy West, Jerry Byrd, Buddy Charleton, Buddy Emmons, Herb Remington, Alvino Rey, Lloyd Green, Curly Chalker, Tom Brumley, Hal Rugg, Jimmy Day, Jay Dee Maness & Bobby Black, among others.

“Pony Tail”: Red Rhodes on the Crown Label

How inspiring to see that Orville J. “RedRhodes – the legendary steel guitarist who, by the late 1960s, was one of the most in-demand session musicians on the West Coast – got his start on Crown.

           Once a day – 1961                blue blue day – 1962           Steel Guitar Rag – 1963

Red Rhodes - Crown aRed Rhodes - Crown bRed Rhodes - Crown c

Pony Tail,” from 1965’s Guitars Go Country LP, sounds – most intriguingly – like some long-lost Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant number:

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to play ”Pony Tail'” by Red Rhodes.]

Red Rhodes - Crown LP

Red Rhodes would go on to release a live album on indie label, Happy Tiger, in 1969 — Red Rhodes & the Detours + Live at the Palomino — and his backup band, interestingly, would include Jerry Cole, another Crown alumnus.

Everyone Loves Red:  A Selected Red Rhodes Sessionography*

The Ventures in Space – The Ventures – 1964
Begin – The Millennium – 1968
Notorious Byrd Brothers – The Byrds – 1968
The Wichita Train Whistle Sings – Michael Nesmith – 1968
Bubble Gum, Lemonade & Something for Mama – Cass Elliot – 1969
Instant Replay – The Monkees – 1969
It’s Not Killing Me – Mike Bloomfield – 1969
John Phillips – John Phillips – 1969
Hand Sown, Home Grown – Linda Ronstadt – 1969
Nancy – Nancy Sinatra – 1969
Weeds – Brewer & Shipley – 1969
The Blue Marble – Sagittarius – 1969
Magnetic South – Michael Nesmith – 1970
Loose Salute – Michael Nesmith – 1970
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor – 1970
Tom Rush – Tom Rush – 1970
Nevada Fighter – Michael Nesmith – 1971
Possum – Possum – 1971
Lead Free – B. W. Stevenson – 1972
One Man Dog – James Taylor – 1972
Rhymes and Reasons – Carole King – 1972
Son of Schmilsson – Harry Nilsson – 1972
A Song for You – The Carpenters – 1972
Summer Breeze – Seals & Crofts – 1972
Tantamount to Treason – Michael Nesmith – 1972
And the Hits Just Keep on Comin’ – Michael Nesmith – 1972
Willis Alan Ramsey – Willis Alan Ramsey – 1972
Five & Dime, 1973 – David Ackles – 1973
Pure Country, 1973 – Garland Frady – 1973
Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash – Michael Nesmith – 1973
Valley Hi – Ian Matthews – 1973
Calabasas – B. W. Stevenson – 1974
L.A. Turnaround – Bert Jansch – 1974
Black Bach – Lamont Dozier – 1974
The Prison – Michael Nesmith – 1974
Diamonds & Rust – Joan Baez – 1975
Marriott – Steve Marriott – 1975
Midnight on the Water – David Bromberg – 1975
Sweet America – Buffy Sainte-Marie – 1976
Frolicking in the Myth – Steven Fromholz – 1977
Road Songs – Hoyt Axton – 1977
The Way I Am – Billy Preston – 1981
Tropical Campfires – Michael Nesmith – 1992

*Proof of popularity courtesy of Wikipedia

“Killer Joe”: Nashville Super Pickers in Austin

In this 1979 performance from TV’s Austin City Limits, Buddy Emmons (steel guitar) and Phil Baugh (electric guitar) take The Nashville Super Pickers for a test drive using the Benny Golson jazz standard, “Killer Joe,” as their vehicle:

Buddy Emmons:  Steel Guitar & Vocals
Phil Baugh:  Lead Guitar
Russ Hicks:  Rhythm Guitar & Steel Guitar
Johnny Gimble:  Fiddle & Vocals
Charlie McCoy:  Harmonica & Vocals
Henry Strzelecki:  Bass & Vocals
Buddy Harmon:  Drums
Hargus Robbins:  Piano

Nashville Super Pickers at ACL

This television soundtrack album was originally released in 1979 on Flying Fish, home of Buddy Emmons, Vassar Clements, John Hartford, Mason Williams, Peter Rowan, Bright Morning Star, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and New Grass Revival, among others. .

Buddy Emmons flanked by Phil Baugh (left) and Russ Hicks (right)

Buddy at Austin City Limits

From the liner notes on the back cover —

Buddy was recently voted best steel guitarist in a reader’s poll, and he has done more for the instrument, technically and musically, than any other player.  As a studio musician, he has graced the records of Ray Charles, Judy Collins, and John Hartford, among many others.  His own Flying Fish records include Steel Guitar, Buddy Emmons Sings Bob Wills, Buddies (with Buddy Spicher), and Minors Aloud (with Lenny Breau).

“BluEmmons”: Landmark Steel Guitar Jazz

Just as Louis Jordan’s pairing of jump blues with country-style steel guitar was seen as a radical move in 1947, Buddy Emmons‘ decision to feature his masterful steel guitar stylings within a modern jazz context was considered equally bold in 1963 when Mercury released groundbreaking album, Steel Guitar Jazz.  “BluEmmons” – a Buddy Emmons original – is the album’s kick-off track:

“Bluemmons”     Buddy Emmons     1963

Buddy Emmons wasn’t the first musician to be featured playing a pedal steel guitar in a jazz setting, but it is unlikely that anyone else recorded an entire date playing one prior to this 1963 session.  Although both he and the instrument are indelibly associated with country music, Emmons makes it work for several reasons.  He’s surrounded by some top players, including Bobby Scott, Jerome Richardson, Art Davis, and Charlie Persip;  he also interacts with the band rather than overdoing the special effects available to him, especially the horn-like sounds obtained from his use of the slide.  Emmons also chose an intriguing mix of material.  Obvious highlights are the loping treatment of “Where or When,” featuring Richardson’s delicious soprano sax trading off with the leader, and Emmons’ hot playing of “(Back Home Again In) Indiana.”  Equally rewarding are the jazz classics:  Ray Brown’s soulful “Gravy Waltz,” an intricate romp through Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” and Horace Silver’s toe-tapping “The Preacher.”  This was pretty much a one-time affair for Emmons, who returned to country music, though he did record some additional jazz with guitarist Lenny Breau during the 1970s.  Although the instrument never really caught on in jazz, this highly recommended album, which was finally reissued on CD in 2003, is well worth checking out.

Ken Dryden, All Music

*

Buddy vs. Buddie?   Only his mother knows.

Steel Guitar Jazz LP

“C Jam Blues”: From the Father of Hillbilly Jazz

I had a nice laugh when I realized that this fiery little instrumental in the key of C was, indeed, not the world’s first waltz to be played outside of 3/4 time but instead an error in the track listing on the album jacket.  Thus, despite this song being listed as “Gravy Waltz,” I’m pretty certain this is actually the next track in the album’s running order — the jazz standard, “C Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington:

Track comes from 1974’s double album, Hillbilly Jazz, by the “Father of Hillbilly Jazz” himself, Vassar Clements – who first appeared on the Grand Old Opry in 1949 fiddling with Bill Monroe – joined by D.J. Fontana on drums, Doug Jernigan on steel guitar, David Bromberg on guitar, and other musical friends.

Hillbilly Jazz LP

Vassar Clements:  Fiddle, Viola & Vocals
D.J. Fontana:  Drums
Doug Jernigan:  Steel Guitar, Resonator Guitar
David Bromberg:  Guitar
Michael Melford:  Guitar, Mandolin & Piano
Ellis Padgett:  String Bass
Kenneth Smith:  Electric Bass
Benny Kennerson:  Piano
Gordon Terry:  Vocals

Hillbilly Jazz was issued on Flying Fish.  While Clements’ music mostly enjoyed release on independent, folk-oriented labels (Rounder, Old Homestead, Mind Dust, Flying Fish), Vassar did manage to release a few 45s on a couple major labels of note:

Vassar Mercury 45 IVassar Mercury 45 IIVassar MCA 45aVassar MCA 45b