January 18, 2016 – Glenn Frey was born on Nov. 6, 1948 in Detroit and was raised in nearby Royal Oak. He grew up on both the Motown sounds and harder-edged rock of his hometown. He played in a succession of local bands in the city and first connected with Bob Seger when Frey’s band, the Mushrooms, convinced Seger to write a song for them. Frey can also be heard singing extremely loud backing vocals (particularly on the first chorus) on Seger’s first hit and Frey’s first recorded appearance, 1968’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.”
But it wasn’t long before warmer climes called and Frey followed then-girlfriend Joan Silwin to Los Angeles. Her sister Alexandra was a member of Honey Ltd., a girl group associated with Nancy Sinatra producer Lee Hazelwood, and she introduced Frey to her friend John David Souther.
October 3, 2015 – Singer Billy Joe Royal, best known for his pop hit “Down in the Boondocks” and a string of country singles in the 1980s,was born April 3, 1942 in Valdosta, Georgia.
As a young man he performed on the radio program “Georgia Jubilee,” which is where he met artists like Jerry Reed and Joe South. It was fellow Georgian Joe South who penned Mr. Royal’s 1965 breakout single, “Down in the Boondocks,” which peaked at No. 9. Royal would also find success with his follow-up single: another South-penned song, called “I Knew You When.”
March 15, 2015 – MikePorcaro (Toto) was born in Los Angeles on May 29, 1955 and was the middle brother of Jeff Porcaro and Steve Porcaro. Their father was jazz drummer-percussionist Joe Porcaro.
Porcaro worked as a session bass player before replacing Toto original bass player David Hungate in 1982 shortly after the band completed recording the award-winning Toto IV album. Porcaro played cello on a track for the album and subsequently appeared in the band’s videos and performed as a full band member on the world tour in support of the album.
January 10, 2015 –Tim Drummond was born on April 20, 1940 in Canton Illinois. Journeyman bassist Tim Drummond, who performed with Neil Young, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Bob Dylan among many more rock legends, passed away January 10th, 2015 the St. Louis County, Missouri coroner’s office confirmed to Rolling Stone. No cause of death was given but investigators revealed there was no trauma.
In his early years Drummond performed and recorded with country and R&B stars in the 1960s in South Carolina, Illinois and, later in the decade, Cincinnati, Ohio. He played rockabilly with Conway Twitty, funk with James Brown and vintage R&B with Hank Ballard before moving to Nashville where he played on sessions with Joe Simon, Fenton Robinson, Jimmy Buffett and Charlie Daniels, among others.
January 3, 2014 –Phil Everly was born on January 19th 1939in Chicago, Illinois, into a musical family. His father, Ike who was also a musician had a show on KMA and KFNF in Shenandoah, Iowa, in the 1940s, with his wife Margaret and their two young sons, Don and Phil.
Singing on the show gave the brothers their first exposure to the music industry. The family sang together and lived and traveled in the area singing as the Everly Family. The Everly Brothers grew up from ages 5 and 7, through early high school, in Shenandoah before moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, where the brothers attended Knox West High School, continuing their musical development. The boys caught the attention of Chet Atkins who became an early champion.
September 5, 2012 – Joe South, aka Joseph Alfred Souter was an American singer-songwriter and guitarist born in Atlanta, Georgia on February 28, 1940. He started his pop career in July 1958 writing the novelty hit “The Purple People Eater Meets the Witch Doctor”. In 1959, he wrote 2 songs which were recorded by Gene Vincent: “I Might Have Known” and “Gone Gone Gone”. He began his recording career with the National Recording Corporation, where he was staff guitarist along with other NRC artists Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed.
He was also a prominent sideman, playing guitar on the likes of Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”, Tommy Roe’s “Sheila”, and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde album.
His 1969 “Games People Play”, a hit on both sides of the Atlantic was accompanied by a lush string sound, organ, and brass, the production won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Song and the Grammy Award for Song of the Year.
His compositions have been recorded by many artists, including Billy Joe Royal’s songs “Down in the Boondocks”, “I Knew You When”, “Yo-Yo”, later a hit for the Osmonds, and “Hush” later a hit for Deep Purple and Kula Shaker. Joe’s most commercially successful composition was Lynn Anderson’s 1971 monster hit “(I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden”, which was a hit in 16 countries and translated into many languages. Anderson won a Grammy Award for her vocals, and Joe won a Grammy Award for writing the song.
Joe was inducted into Georgia Music Hall of Fame. On September 5, 2012 he died from heart failure.
February 14, 2010 – Doug Fieger (The Knack) was born on August 20th 1952 and raised in Oak Park, Michigan, a northern suburb of Detroit, and attended Oak Park High School. While still at school he sang lead and played bass in the group Sky, eventually recording two albums in 1970 and 1971. Doug also played bass guitar in the German progressive rock band Triumvirat for a short period in 1974. After which he founded the New Wave rock quartet The Knack based in Los Angeles that rose to fame with their first single, “My Sharona”, an international No.1 hit.
With a six-week run at No. 1, “My Sharona” was the inescapable hit of the summer of 1979, and it became a staple of high school dance parties for years to come. Built on a simple riff that was as perky as it was sexy, the song, by Mr. Fieger and the band’s lead guitarist, Berton Averre, celebrated teenage lust in unabashed terms. “When you gonna give it to me?” Mr. Fieger sang in the impatient whine that was his hallmark.
The song, written about a 17-year-old high school student who had caught the eye of the 26-year-old Mr. Fieger, displaced Chic’s disco anthem “Good Times” on Billboard’s singles chart and came to symbolize the commercial arrival of new wave, the poppier, snazzier-dressed cousin of punk rock. (That girl, Sharona Alperin, became a high-end real estate agent in Los Angeles.) With a carefully executed marketing plan, the members of the Knack seemed to position themselves as a new Beatles, adopting a uniform of white shirts and skinny black ties, even recreating a group pose from the film “A Hard Day’s Night” for the back cover of their debut album, “Get the Knack”. “My Sharona,” Fieger once said, had been written in 15 minutes. Billboard listed it as the No. 1 song of 1979.
The follow-up hit was “Good Girls Don’t” which stopped one notch short of the Top 10 – peaking at No.11, and Get The Knack spent five straight weeks at No.1 and eventually sold 3 million copies in the United States – 6 million globally. In addition to performing, Doug also produced the Rubber City Rebels debut album for Capitol Records and another album for the Los Angeles-based band, Mystery Pop
He died on 14 February 2010 from lung cancer on Feb. 14, 2010 at the age of 57.
August 12, 2009 – Les Paul( birth name Lester William Polfus) was born on June 9th 1915 in in Waukesha, Wisconsin.
By at least one account, Paul’s early musical ability wasn’t superb. “Your boy, Lester, will never learn music,” one teacher wrote his mother. But nobody could dissuade him from trying, and as a young boy he taught himself the harmonica, guitar and banjo.
By his teen years, Paul was playing in country bands around the Midwest. He also played live on St. Louis radio stations, calling himself the Rhubarb Red.
Coupled with Paul’s interest in playing instruments was a love for modifying them. At the age of nine he built his first crystal radio. At 10 he built a harmonica holder out of a coat hanger, and then later constructed his own amplified guitar. Continue reading Les Paul 8/2009
June 24, 2009 –Tim Krekel (Jimmy Buffett) was born on October 10, 1950 in Louisville, Kentucky. He became interested in music early and his first lessons were on the drums. He began taking guitar lessons at age 10 or 11, when it dawned on him that “the guitar player was up front getting all the attention, like Rick Nelson”. He was singing and playing his guitar for audiences by the time he was 12, gigging in Lebanon, Kentucky, at places like The Golden Horseshoe and Club 68. He began to write his own songs in high school, although he was reluctant to share them with anyone for a few years.
March 25, 2009 – England Dan was born Danny Wayland Seals on February 8th 1948.
He was the younger brother of Jim Seals from the duo Seals & Crofts. Dan joined with fellow W.W. Samuell High School classmate and longtime friend John Ford Coley to perform first as part of Dallas pop/psych group Southwest”Freight on Board”/” F.O.B“, before going under the name of England Dan, and forming the soft rock duo England Dan & John Ford Coley in 1970.
March 8, 2009 – Hank Locklin was born on February 15th 1918 in McLellan in the Florida Panhandle.
His pop hits, the only reason why he shows up on this listing, include “Send Me the Pillow That You Dream On”, “Geisha Girl”, and “Please Help Me I’m Falling”, which went to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop music chart. Billboard Magazine’s 100th Anniversary issue also listed it as the second most successful country single of the Rock and Roll era.
As a songwriter, many of his songs were covered by by many other artists, including Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Roy Rogers, Dwight Yoakam and even Dean Martin.
Hank had a strong following in Europe, and Ireland, so much so that in 1963 he recorded an album called Irish Songs Country Style, which includes the beautiful song Wild Irish Rose. Also he has a fanclub situated in Langeli, Norway.
January 31, 2009 – Dewey Martin , (Buffalo Springfield) born Walter Milton Dwayne Midkiff in Chesterville, Ontario, Canada on September 30, 1940 was best known for his work with the notoriously volatile country rock band, Buffalo Springfield.
Dewey started playing drums when he was 13 years old and joined a high school band The Jive Rockets, but was soon playing with more professional rockabilly bands, including Bernie Early & The Early Birds. After his army discharge, he moved to Nashville in 1961 where he became an in-demand session drummer, playing and recording with the likes of Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Patsy Cline, Everly Brothers, Faron Young and Roy Orbison among others.
January 6, 2007 – Sneaky Pete Kleinow was born on August 20th 1934 inSouth Bend, Indiana. He became intrigued by the steel guitar, particularly the Hawaiian stylings of Jerry Byrd, and he took up the instrument when he was 17. He worked repairing roads, but he would play in club bands at night. One band decided that everyone should have nicknames and, for Kleinow, “Sneaky” stuck.
In 1960, he moved to Los Angeles and wrote jingles, and worked as a special effects artist and stop motion animator for movies and television, including the Gumby and Davey and Goliath series. He did special effects for the film The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962) and the cult TV show The Outer Limits.
His first date as a session musician was on the Ventures‘ “Blue Star” in 1965. He played in clubs around Los Angeles and sat in with Bakersfield Sound-oriented combos and early country-rock aggregations playing the pedal steel guitar. This is where he became acquainted with Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons of The Byrds, helping the group to replicate their newly country-oriented sound onstage with banjoist Doug Dillard and, early in 1968, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons told him of their plans to relaunch the rock band the Byrds in a country music setting.
October 14, 2006 – Freddy Fender was born Baldemar Huerta on June 4th 1937 was the first and biggest pioneer in Tex Mex music, and one of the most important musicians in Tejano Music History. He is documented as The First American Hispanic and Hispanic Rock & Roll Recording Artist In Anglo Latino Musical History.
He actually made himself a guitar at the age of six and at 10 he was singing on local radio stations and winning talent competitions. Then at 16, he joined the Marines for three years. After his discharge, he started playing Texas honky tonks and dance halls. His big break came with Falcon Records in 1957, when he recorded Spanish versions of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel” and Harry Belafonte’s “Jamaica Farewell.”
The recordings both reached No.1 slots in Mexico and South America. He signed with Imperial Records in 1959, renaming himself “Fender” after the brand of his electric guitar, and “Freddy”, well.. because it sounded good with Fender.
September 12, 2003 – J.R. “Johnny” Cash was born February 26, 1932 and became one of the most imposing and influential figures in post-World War II country music. With his deep, baritone and spare, percussive guitar, he had a basic, distinctive sound.
Although primarily remembered as a country music icon, his genre-spanning songs and sound embraced rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel. This crossover appeal won Cash the rare honor of multiple inductions in the Country Music, Rock and Roll and Gospel Music Halls of Fame.
Born in Kingsland, Arkansas, he was given the name “J.R.” because his parents could not agree on a name, only on initials. When he enlisted in the US Air Force, the military would not accept initials as his name, so he adopted John R. Cash as his legal name. Continue reading Johnny Cash 9/2003
April 22, 2003 – Felice Bryant was born Matilda Genevieve Scaduto on August 7, 1925. One half of the wife and husband country/pop music songwriting team who were also at the forefront of the evolution of pop music.
With her husband, Boudleaux, the two wrote numerous Everly Brothers’ hits including the autobiographical “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “Bye Bye Love”. Their prolific and quality compositions would produce hit records for many stars from a variety of musical genres including Tony Bennett, Bob Moore, Simon and Garfunkel, Sonny James, Eddy Arnold, Charley Pride, Nazareth, Jim Reeves, Leo Sayer, Sarah Vaughan, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, the Grateful Dead, Elvis Costello, Count Basie, Dean Martin, Ray Charles, Bob Dylan among many others. They formed one of the most potent songwriting teams in country pop history.
February 13, 2002 – WaylonJennings was born June 15th 1937. Jennings began playing guitar at 8 and began performing at 12 on KVOW radio. His first band was The Texas Longhorns. Jennings worked as a D.J. on KVOW, KDAV, KYTI, and KLLL. In 1958, Buddy Holly arranged Jennings’s first recording session, of “Jole Blon” and “When Sin Stops (Love Begins)”. Holly hired him to play bass.
He rose to early prominence as a bassist for Buddy Holly following the break-up of The Crickets. He escaped death in the February 3, 1959, plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, when he gave up his seat to Richardson who had been sick with the flu. In Clear Lake, Iowa, Jennings gave up his seat on the ill-fated flight that crashed and killed Holly, J. P. Richardson, Ritchie Valens, and pilot Roger Peterson.
December 16, 1997 – Nicolette Larson was born on July 17th 1952 in Helena, Montana. Her father’s employment with the U.S. Treasury Department forced frequent relocation on Larson’s family, not an easy task for a family of eight. The Larsons moved every couple of years and the young Nicolette was exposed to every genre of music from soul to pop via country. She especially liked Hank Williams and her singing was undoubtedly influenced by Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, but her peripatetic childhood and varied taste would later be reflected in albums containing Tamla Motown material alongside songs by Sam Cooke, Burt Bacharah and Jackson Browne.
June 16, 1997 – John Christian Wolters was born on April 28th 1945 in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey.
He became part of the already established country rock band Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show in 1973, when Jay David left the band, and stayed until 1985, when the band split up.
The band had a global smash with “Sylvia’s Mother” and a top-10 hit with “The Cover of the Rolling Stone” before Wolters replaced their original drummer on Fried Face (1974). In 1976 Dr. Hook (by then they had dropped the rest of their moniker) had a top-10 hit with a cover of Sam Cooke‘s “Only Sixteen” and a #11 hit with the title track of A Little Bit More.
Dr. Hook had several more hits including, the top-10 singles “Sharing the Night Together” (1978) and “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” (1979) as well as the top-five “Sexy Eyes” (1980).
The band had more than 35 gold and platinum LPs in Australia and Scandinavia, where they toured to large crowds until their 1985 split.
He died at age 52 of liver cancer in San Francisco, California on June 16, 1997.
January 1, 1997 –John Townes Van Zandt better known as Townes Van Zandt was born on March 7, 1944 in Fort Worth into a wealthy family. He was a third-great-grandson of Isaac Van Zandt (a prominent leader of the Republic of Texas) and a second great-grandson of Khleber Miller Van Zandt (a Confederate Major and one of the founders of Fort Worth). Van Zandt County in east Texas was named after his family in 1848. Townes’ parents were Harris Williams Van Zandt (1913–1966) and Dorothy Townes (1919–1983). He had two siblings, Bill and Donna. Harris was a corporate lawyer, and his career required the family to move several times during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1952 the family transplanted from Fort Worth to Midland, Texas, for six months before moving to Billings, Montana.
At Christmas in 1956, Townes’s father gave him a guitar, which he practiced while wandering the countryside. He would later tell an interviewer that “watching Elvis Presley’s October 28, 1956, performance on The Ed Sullivan Show was the starting point for me becoming a guitar player… I just thought that Elvis had all the money in the world, all the Cadillacs and all the girls, and all he did was play the guitar and sing. That made a big impression on me.” In 1958 the family moved to Boulder, Colorado. Van Zandt would remember his time in Colorado fondly and would often visit as an adult. He would later refer to Colorado in “My Proud Mountains”, “Colorado Girl”, and “Snowin’ On Raton”. Townes was a good student and active in team sports. In grade school, he received a high IQ score and his parents began grooming him to become a lawyer or senator.
The University of Colorado at Boulder accepted Van Zandt as a student in 1962. In the spring of his second year, his parents flew to Boulder to bring Townes back to Houston, apparently worried about his binge drinking and episodes of depression. They admitted him to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he was diagnosed with manic depression. He received three months of insulin shock therapy, which erased much of his long-term memory. Later, his mother claimed her “biggest regret in life was that she had allowed that treatment to occur”. In 1965 he was accepted into the University of Houston’s pre-law program. Soon after he attempted to join the Air Force, but was rejected due to a doctor’s diagnosis that labelled him “an acute manic-depressive who has made minimal adjustments to life”. He quit school around 1967, having been inspired by his singer-songwriter heroes to pursue a career in playing music.
His music doesn’t jump up and down, wear fancy clothes, or beat around the bush. Whether he was singing a quiet, introspective country-folk song or a driving, hungry blues, Van Zandt’s lyrics and melodies were filled with the kind of haunting truth and beauty that you knew instinctively. His music came straight from his soul by way of a kind heart, an honest mind, and a keen ear for the gentle blend of words and melody. He could bring you down to a place so sad that you felt like you were scraping bottom, but just as quickly he could lift your spirits and make you smile at the sparkle of a summer morning or a loved one’s eyes — or raise a chuckle with a quick and funny talking blues. The magic of his songs is that they never leave you alone.
Despite his warm, dusty-sweet voice, as a singer Van Zandt never had anything resembling a hit in his nearly 30-year recording career — he had a hard enough time simply keeping his records in print. Nonetheless, he was widely respected and admired as one of the greatest country and folk artists of his generation. The long list of singers who’ve covered his songs includes Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson (who had a number one country hit with “Pancho and Lefty” in 1983), Emmylou Harris, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Nanci Griffith, Hoyt Axton, Bobby Bare, the Tindersticks, and the Cowboy Junkies.
Van Zandt was a Texan by birth and a traveler by nature. His father was in the oil business, and the family moved around a lot — Montana, Colorado, Minnesota, Illinois, among other places — which accounted for his sometimes vague answers to questions of where he “came from.” Van Zandt spent a couple years in a military academy and a bit more time in college in Colorado before dropping out to become a folksinger. (Van Zandt often returned to Colorado in subsequent years, spending entire summers, he said, alone in the mountains on horseback.)
Van Zandt moved to Houston and got his first paying gigs on the folk music circuit there in the mid-’60s. He played clubs like Sand Mountain and the Old Quarter (where in 1973 he recorded one of his finest albums, Live at the Old Quarter, released four years later), and he met singers such as Guy Clark (who became a lifelong friend and frequent road partner), Jerry Jeff Walker, and blues legend Lightnin’ Hopkins, who had a large influence on Van Zandt’s guitar playing in particular.
Another Texas songwriter, Mickey Newbury, saw Van Zandt in Houston one night and soon had him set up with a recording gig in Nashville (with Jack Clement producing). The sessions became Van Zandt’s debut album, For the Sake of the Song, released in 1968 by Poppy Records. The next five years were the most prolific ofVan Zandt’s career, as Poppy released the albums Our Mother the Mountain, Townes Van Zandt, Delta Momma Blues, High, Low and in Between, and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. These included such gems as “For the Sake of the Song,” “To Live’s to Fly,” “Tecumseh Valley,” “Pancho and Lefty,” and many more that have made him a legend in American and European songwriting circles.
Van Zandt moved to Nashville in 1976 at the urging of his new manager, John Lomax III. He signed a new deal with Tomato Records and in 1977 released Live at the Old Quarter, a double album — and the first of several live recordings — that contained many of his finest songs. In 1978 Tomato released Flyin’ Shoes; the long list of players on that album included Chips Moman and Spooner Oldham.
Van Zandt didn’t record again for nearly a decade, but he continued to tour. He moved back to Texas briefly, returning again to Nashville in the mid-’80s. During the early ’80s, both “If I Needed You” and “Pancho and Lefty” became country radio hits. In 1987, Van Zandt was back in business with his eighth studio album, At My Window, which came out on his new label, Sugar Hill. By this time, Van Zandt’s voice had dropped to a lower register, but the weathered, somewhat road-weary edge to it was as pure and expressive as ever. Two years later, Sugar Hill released Live & Obscure(recorded in a Nashville club in 1985), and two more live albums (Rain on a Conga Drum and Rear View Mirror) appeared on European labels in the early ’90s. In 1990, Van Zandt toured with the Cowboy Junkies, and he wrote a song for them, “Cowboy Junkies Lament,” which appeared on the group’s Black Eyed Man album (along with a song the Junkies wrote for him, “Townes Blues”).
Sugar Hill released Roadsongs in 1994, on which Van Zandt covered songs by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and others, all recorded off the soundboard during recent concerts. At the end of that same year, Sugar Hill released No Deeper Blue, Van Zandt’s first studio album since 1987. Van Zandt recorded it in Ireland with a group of Irish musicians. Van Zandt sang every song but only played guitar on one.
Van Zandt continued writing and performing through the 1990s, though his output slowed noticeably as time went on. He had enjoyed some sobriety during the early 1990s, but was actively abusing alcohol during the final years of his life. In 1994 he was admitted to the hospital to detox, during which time a doctor told Jeanene Van Zandt that trying to detox Townes again could potentially kill him. A year and a half after the release of No Deeper Blue,Van Zandt died unexpectedly on January 1, 1997; he was 52 years old. Posthumous releases included collections like Last Rights: The Life & Times of Townes Van Zandt and Anthology: 1968-1979, as well as albums like 1998’s Abnormal and the following year’s Far Cry From Dead, which featured previously unreleased songs.
Townes Van Zandt was 52 years 9 months 25 days old when he died on 1 January 1997. Cause; lifelong alcohol abuse.
The early 2000s saw a resurgence of interest in Van Zandt’s music and enigmatic life; three book projects and two films entered production, and features on the musician appeared in such tastemaking rags as Mojo. But perhaps the greatest gem was the discovery of a collection of Van Zandt demos dating from 1966, a full two years before his proper debut. The ten previously unreleased recordings were issued by the Houston imprint Compadre in April 2003 as In the Beginning…. Included in the release were liner notes written by John Lomax III.
July 29, 1988 – Pete Drake was born Roddis Franklin Drake October 8th 1932 in Augusta, Georgia. The son of a Pentecostal minister, Drake began his music career with his siblings in the Drake Brothers band. His bother Jack went on to join Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadors for 25 years. Inspired by the Opry’s steel great Jerry Byrd he saved and bought himself a steel guitar for $38 in a pawn shop.
Drake’s melodic steel guitar playing made him one of Atlanta’s top young instrumentalists. He joined with future stars Jerry Reed, Doug Kershaw, Roger Miller and Joe South, in a mid-’50s band. Although this group failed to record, it provided Drake with the impetus to move to Nashville in 1959.
He recorded first for Starday before signing up to the new Mercury based Smash label. He played on many Nashville country/pop sessions for the likes of Don Gibson, The Everly Brothers and Marty Robbins. Pete had a pop Top 30 hit, “Forever” in 1964 (credited to “Pete Drake and his Talking Steel Guitar”), and recorded albums of country covers, his own tunes and experimental styles like his “talking guitar”. More often his trademark mellow toned steel guitar was used to strengthen albums by other artists.
He played on many crossover country/pop hits such as Lynn Anderson’s (I Never Promised You A) Rose Garden, Charlie Rich’s Behind Closed Doors, and Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man. He became a cult name in the modern rock era by playing on sessions for Bob Dylan ( John Wesley Harding , Nashville Skyline & Self Portrait)), Ringo Starr (Beaucoups Of Blues, produced by Pete) and George Harrison (All Things Must Pass)
Interview with Pete Drake
Nashville pedal steel guitarist Pete Drake is truly a phenomenon. Not only has he been the man behind hundreds of country music hits, but through his recordings with Elvis Presley, George Harrison and Bob Dylan, is singlehandedly responsible for opening the entire pop and rock field to the sounds of the pedal steel.
Pete was born in Georgia forty years ago, but it wasn’t until he was eighteen that he began playing steel guitar. Like so many before and since, Drake was inspired by the sounds of Jerry Byrd at the Grand Ole Opry. Pete then spotted a lap steel guitar in an Atlanta pawn shop, saved his money and bought it for the vast sum of $38.00.
What kind was it?
A Supro; a little, single-neck like you hold in your lap. I tried to play like Jerry Byrd. I guess most of the steel players today started off the same way. He has really been fantastically influential. So I fooled around with that thing for six months or a year, and got a chance to do a couple of fill-in things on an Atlanta TV station when somebody’d be sick. Did you have any formal training on steel?
I took one lesson, but I’d get records and sit around playing to them. That’s how I really got started. This was around ’49 or ’50. Then when Bud Isaacs came out with a pedal guitar on “Slowly” by Webb Pierce, that shocked everybody, wondering how he got that sound. I guess I was the first one around Atlanta to get a pedal guitar: I had one pedal on a four-neck steel. It really looked funny. I made it myself, and it was huge, really too big to carry on the road or anything. I was playing in clubs all around Atlanta, then right after that I formed my first band. What kind of group was that?
I had some pretty big stars working with me back then: Jerry Reed, Joe South, Doug Kershaw was playing fiddle, Roger Miller was playing fiddle with me, and country singer Jack Greene was playing drums. And we got fired because we weren’t any good! I was on television in Atlanta for three and a half years, but we kind of wore ourselves out, so I decided to move to Nashville. Why Nashville?
Roger Miller had come on to Nashville, and I had a brother there, Jack, who played bass with Ernest Tubb for 24 years. Jack died last year. At first Jack didn’t want me to come, because the steel guitar was kind of dead then, in 1959. Everybody was trying to go pop. They was putting strings and horns on Webb Pierce records, and nobody was using steel guitar. So I starved to death the first year and a half. Then I worked with Don Gibson a while, then Marty Robbins.
When did you begin getting record session work?
I guess what really got me in was the “Pete Drake style” on the C6th tuning. When I first came up here everybody thought it was square, so I quit playing like that and started playing like everybody else. Then one night on the Opry, just for kicks, I went back to my own style for one tune behind Carl and Pearl Butler. Roy Drusky was on Decca then, and he come up to me and said, “Hey, you’ve come up with a new style. I’m recording tomorrow, and I want you with me.” So I cut this session with him, and the word kind of got out that I had this new style (actually, it was the same thing I’d been playing for years in Atlanta, but it was new in Nashville). That month I did 24 sessions, and it’s been like that ever since. That was in the middle of 1960, and that first record was “I Don’t Believe You Love Me Any More,” a number one record. Then I recorded “Before This Day Ends” with George Hamilton, and it, too, became number one. I just couldn’t do anything wrong there for a long time. How did your “Talking Guitar” thing come about?
Well, everybody wanted this style of mine, but I sort of got tired of it. I’d say, “Hey, let me try and come up with something new,” and they’d say, “Naw, I want you to do what you did on So-and-so’s record.” Now, I’d been trying to make something for people who couldn’t talk, who’d lost their voice. I had some neighbors who were deaf and dumb, and I thought it would be nice if they could talk. So I saw this old Kay Kayser movie, and Alvino Rey was playing the talking guitar. I thought, “Man, if he can make a guitar talk, surely I can make people talk.” So I worked on it for about five years, and it was so simple that I went all around it, you know, like we usually do. How did the talking guitar work?
You play the notes on the guitar and it goes through the amplifier. I have a driver system so that you disconnect the speakers and the sound goes through the driver into a plastic tube. You put the tube in the side of your mouth then form the words with your mouth as you play them. You don’t actually say a word: The guitar is your vocal chords, and your mouth is the amplifier. It’s amplified by a microphone.
When did you first use it on records?
With Roger Miller. He had a record called “Lock, Stock And Teardrops,” on RCA Victor, but it didn’t hit. Then I used it on Jim Reeves’ “I’ve Enjoyed As Much Of This As I Can Stand.” I really thought I’d used the gimmick up by the time Shelby Singleton and Jerry Kennedy of Mercury Records wanted to record me. I had already recorded for Starday [a Mercury label] some straight steel things like “For Pete’s Sake,” but I went ahead and cut a song called “Forever” on the talking thing. It came out, and for about two months didn’t do a thing; then, all of a sudden, it cut loose and sold a million. So then I was known as the “Talking Steel Guitar Man,” and did several albums for Smash, which is a subsidiary of Mercury. Do you still use the Talking Guitar?
Now I’m back into producing a lot of records, and not using it much. I’ve been so busy recording everybody else, I haven’t had time to record myself.
Tell us about your experiences getting into the pop field with the pedal steel.
You know, the steel wasn’t accepted in pop music until I had cut with people like Elvis Presley and Joan Baez. But the kids, themselves, didn’t accept it until I cut with Bob Dylan. After that I guess they figured steel was all right. I did the John Wesley Harding album, then Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait. Bob Dylan really helped me an awful lot. I mean, by having me play on those records he just opened the door for the pedal steel guitar, because then everybody wanted to use one. I was getting calls from all over the world. One day my secretary buzzed me and said, “George Harrison wants you on the phone.” And I said, “Well, where’s he from?” She said, “London.” And I said: “Well, what company’s he with?” She said, “The Beatles.” The name, you know, just didn’t ring any bells-well, I’m just a hillbilly, you know (laughter). Anyway, I ended up going to London for a week where we did the album All Things Must Pass. Is that how Ringo came into it?
Ringo Starr asked me to produce him, so I told him I would if he’d come to Nashville, so he did and cut a country album which was really fantastic. It was good for Nashville, and, you know, I really wanted Nashville to get credit for it. Those guys, Ringo and George Harrison, really dig country music. And they’re fine people, too, just out of sight.
What kind of instrument do you play now?
Since I came to Nashville I have been playing Sho-Bud guitars and Standel amplifiers. I have some Sho-Bud amps, too. I’ve got four different guitars that I use with different artists. I try to change my sound around so it doesn’t seem like the same musicians on each record. I was looking in the trades the other day, and found that I was on 59 of the top 75 records in “Billboard.” How about different tunings?
Yeah, I change a little. All my guitars have a little bit different pedals, enough to keep me confused. I, and just about everybody in Nashville, use basically the E9th with the chromatic strings and the C6th with a high G string. But everybody has their own pedal setups. I’ve got one pedal I call my Tammy Wynette pedal that I use with her; and I cut a hit with Johnny Rodriguez recently, “Pass Me By,” so I got me a Johnny Rodriguez pedal, too (laughter). If something hits big I try to save that for that particular artist. Is your equipment modified?
My amps are just stock. As for my steels, I get Shot Jackson [of Sho-Bud in Nashville] to fix them up for me. If I want to raise or lower a string, I’ll go to him and say, “Can you do this?,” and he’ll say, “No,” then go ahead and do it. We did my Tammy Wynette pedal that way: I showed him how we could make it work with open strings, so he fixed it, and it was the most beautiful sound I every heard. So the next day we cut “I Don’t Wanna Play House” with Tammy, and it became a number one record. You mentioned Jerry Byrd as a great inspiration, Whom else do you enjoy?
Well, there’s so many of them now, Lordy. I look at it kind of differently: There’s the recording musician and the everyday picker. They’re really not the same. A guy that’s really great on a show may not be any good at all on a session, or vice versa. For recording, I think Lloyd Green, Weldon Myrick, Bill West and Ben Keith are fantastic. They know how to come up with that little extra lick that you need to make a song. Hal Rugg is also a good recording steel man. For really technical playing, Buddy Emmons is a fantastic musician. Curley Chalker is my favorite jazz steel player, but in the studio I’d have to go with the commercial thing because I’m trying to make a dollar.
You know, you can play over country people’s heads, and I don’t think they’re ready for the jazz thing. I mean I like to listen to it, but it’s “musicians’ music,” and musicians don’t buy records (laughter). What do you think is the future of the steel guitar and country music?
Right now something is happening that I’ve wanted to happen for a long time: Music’s coming together. It’s not country music, it’s not pop music, it’s music. Somebody said there’s only two kinds of music-good and bad. I like a little bit of it all.
Pete produced albums for hundreds of musicians, and founded Stop Records and First Generation Records. In 1970 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Walkway of Stars and the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1987
He lost a 3 year battle with emphysema on July 29, 1988 at the age of 56.
March 7, 1985 – Gordon Huntley (Southern Comfort) was born in 1930. Nicknamed The Governor, he played steel pedal with the Hawaiian Serenaders on a triple neck Fender lap steel. In 1959 he progressed on to ‘pedal’ steel by adding a pedal to his guitar made out of a tractor accelerator pedal and bicycle brake cable.
He started his long career out on the road with Felix Mendelssohn & his Hawaiian Serenaders, and by the late 50’s before pedals were standard in the UK, Gordon was playing a triple-neck Fender non-pedal guitar.
Later he took over from Jeff Newman in his band ‘The Westernaires’, made up of U.S. Servicemen when Jeff returned to the States in 1963. By this time he had built himself one pedal onto his steel! Soon after he got himself his first model, a six pedal. Around this time Gordon also teamed up with Nigel Dennis (a Newbury solicitor) to manufacture Denley steel guitars (DENnis-huntLEY) however they were not without problems when Gordon lent on it at a gig and a leg sheared off!
By 1970 Gordon had joined to Ian Mathews’ Southern Comfort and was able to buy his first ZB Custom from friend Eric Snowball of ‘The Steel Mill’ in Maidstone, Kent, using the royalties from the single ‘Woodstock’ (which reached N0 1 in the UK charts that year). The group debuted with Frog City, in 1971, which was followed up by self-titled release and Stir Don’t Shake in 1972. Gordon played on all Southern Comforts albums and singles.
The beautiful velvet tones of his steel on their No.1 hit ‘Woodstock’ was probably an introduction and inspiration to many guitarists and future pedal steel guitarists.
From then on his steel sound could be heard on recordings by names such as Iain Matthews, Elton John, Southern Comfort, Rod Stewart, Clodagh Rogers, Barbara Dickson, The Pretty Things, Pilot,Marc Ellington, Bridget Saint Paul, Cliff Richard, Pete Green, Demis Roussos, John Renbourn, Al Jones, Fairport Convention and many others. Gordon was known as the Father of British Pedal Steel guitaring.As well as all the bands he has been a member of he became a much in-demand session player in both the studio and out on the road, which he preferred,
Gordon died at the age of 55 on March 7, 1985 from complications of cancer.