Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Danny Gatton & Buddy Emmons: Kings of Steel

DC Week (actually, fortnight) concludes its special run with a joyous instrumental romp from the Federal City’s formidable guitarslinger, Danny Gatton, joined by pioneering pedal steel virtuoso, Buddy Emmons, from their short-lived incendiary partnership, The Redneck Jazz Explosion:

Raisin’ the Dickens

Redneck Jazz Explosion (1978)

This performance of Buddy Emmons‘ composition “Raisin’ the Dickens” was recorded live at DC’s legendary Cellar Door between the years straddling 1978-79 (i.e., New Year’s Eve showain’t I a stinker?) with bassist, Steve Wolf, and drummer, Scott Taylor, rounding out the rhythm section.

Redneck Jazz Explosion - Live

The roots of The Redneck Jazz Explosion were laid in Nashville where the Danny Gatton Band went to record in 1977 and were joined by Emmons in the studio for “Rock Candy” – inspired by Brother Jack McDuff’s 1963 recording featuring a young George Benson on guitar.  The inclusion of this one track on Gatton’s subsequent 1978 LP, Redneck Jazz, garnered strong word-of-mouth from players and fans alike, as well as enthusiastic praise from the likes of Guitar Player magazine and The Washington Post, who would write in their review, “In sheer technical terms, Gatton has few peers on the electric guitar … in good company, he is asserting his position as the preeminent guitarist of the post-World War II generation.”


NRG Records

Danny and Buddy reunited for two nights in Nashville at Randy Wood’s Old Time Pickin’ Parlor on July 28-29, 1978 joined by Buddy Spicher on fiddle, Bucky Barrett on guitar, Dick Heintze on keys, and Steve Wolf and Dave Palamar on bass and drums, respectively.

Emmons  +  Spicher  +  Palamar  +  Wolf  +  Gatton

Redneck Jazz Explosion

As Steve Wolf recounts in “Some Gatton History” on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website —

The Redneck Jazz Explosion quartet traveled the East Coast from Boston & New York, to Atlanta and consequently attracted the interest of Atlantic Records. A serious offer was made by Atlantic, but for his own reasons Danny chose not to accept it. Those negotiations in part, prevented the release of the live Cellar Door sessions at the time.  A trio version of the band, minus Buddy, also performed regularly around the DC/Baltimore area.

New York Times critic, John Rockwell, wrote in his February 6, 1979 review —

Sunday night Mr. Gatton was at the Lone Star Cafe for a single evening and drew a big crowd.  Partly that’s because his latest band … includes Buddy Emmons, the pedal street guitarist who’s something of a cult figure at the Lone Star.  But Mr. Gatton deserves his own cult.

As Brawner Smoot (Gatton’s manager/booking agent) details in the CD liner notes of the Cellar Door concert —

Carol Posnick [booking agent for DC’s sadly-defunct Cellar Door], a devoted Gatton supporter, always graciously scheduled the band for a three-to-five-day stay (unusual as most artists made a one- or two-day appearance there).  She also allowed me to add the guitar duo of the aforementioned Tom Principato and another hometown picker, Pete Kennedy to share the bill as the opening act.  The combination created cohesive and magical evenings showcasing the area’s finest guitar talents.

The title track of the Redneck Jazz album, it bears pointing out, was written by vocalist/guitarist, Evan Johns, who coined the term and was joined in the Danny Gatton Band by John Previti on bass and Dave Elliott on drums.

Danny Gatton  +  Evan Johns

Danny Gatton & Evan Johns II


Redneck Jazz Explosion

Live at DC’s Cellar Door

A Tribute

Few recordings can match the immediacy, the exhilaration, and the untamed virtuosity heard on this disc. Danny Gatton was a relatively unknown guitar master comfortable with myriad styles when he first hooked up with steel guitar force Buddy Emmons in 1977.  Emmons, like Gatton a musical omnivore, had for two decades been one of Nashville’s premier musicians, and when the two joined forces for the first time, the synergy was amazing and the compatibility was magical.  After a few occasional gigs throughout 1978, the pair finally toured as the Redneck Jazz Explosion, a group that melded the jazz sensibility with country, blues, bluegrass, rock, and more, thereby moving beyond any simple categorization.  This remarkable set comes from a New Year’s Eve 1978 show in Gatton’s native D.C., and it finds two incredibly talented men playing in an uninhibited but focused fashion.  In terms of sheer technical prowess, Gatton and Emmons had few peers on their respective instruments, but what sets this collaboration apart is how speed and agility balances so nicely with feeling and creativity.  The short-lived Explosion stands as one of the great instrumental ensembles, a lightning-in-a-bottle partnership that thankfully is documented on this essential recording.

Marc Greilsamer*

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