Resume: Stonewall Jackson, Wade Jackson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Red Sovine, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Johnny Russell, Johnny Bush, Darrell McCall, Bobby Bare, Hank Thompson, Roni Stoneman, Little David Wilkins, Narvel Felts, Susan Raye, Wade Kimes, Dave Dudley, Bill Mack, Red Simpson, David Houston, Willie Nelson, Porter Wagoner, Melba Montgomery, Wynn Stewart, the old white guy from "Chico and the Man", Cal Smith, Carl Smith, Connie Smith, Jack Green, Leona Williams, Bonnie Owens, Tanya Tucker, Leda Ray, Tommy Collins, Weldon Myrick, Buddy Emmons, Ferlin Husky, Wanda Jackson, Mandy Barnett and a couple more singers to be named later. Email: steelycal at gmail dot com
The blog is now an ebook. "Steel Guitar Insanity" available at Smashwords and Amazon.
"Sweet Dreams" with Faron Young
I’ve been playing steel guitar since 1972 and designing web sites since 1995. I was out of college before I started playing, but I’d been a musician since about 2nd grade, when I took classical piano lessons from a nun at St. Mary's College. So it wasn’t like I was starting from scratch. My first steel guitar was a Sho~Bud Professional that I bought new in 1972. I played it for a couple years and then bought a black Emmons P/P, from the factory for $1,200, because I knew some steel players who played them and I liked the sound. I was lucky enough to play with some guys around South Bend who didn't mind helping me learn about intros, licks, commercial playing, taste, how songs were put together and other musical stuff that I really needed to know to play as best I could. Guys like Buddy Williams, Ray Barrier, Chuck Drew, Gene Robertson, Junior Ward, Elmer Hobor - pickers who had worked with Buddy before he left town for the big time with Jimmy Dickens.
I sold the Bud, still have the Emmons. I got lucky; I found the guitar for me early - my 2nd steel guitar. My intention was to just fool around with steel guitar while I looked around for a day job, but I found it endlessly fascinating and it immediately became the most important thing to me. I’d been in art school for 4 years, since the late 60’s, and everybody was into the Peace thing and smoking this and dropping that and snorting something else, but steel guitar was more addictive than any drug, and I'd leave Saturday night parties early to come home and watch "The Wilburn Brothers Show" at midnight.
After I’d hermetized myself for a few months practicing I went out and sat in at the Silver Dollar Saloon in South Bend on Elmer Hobor's guitar and I started getting job offers and pretty soon I was working full time for money. Seemed awful easy, and it’s been a fun ride.
I’ve been chauffeured around the country in a $200,000 Silver Eagle, treated like some sort of a celebrity (well, most of the time) by fans most everywhere I played, and met politicians, actors and sports stars. Airline tickets and hotel rooms were always handled for me, I’ve drunk gallons of free booze and eaten a couple cow’s worth of free steaks. I’ve been to Europe, Mexico and Canada, ridden in a Mercedes limos, sat in Archie Bunker’s chair on the CBS soundstage in Hollywood and played all kinds of venues all over the country. Friends were always built in with the lifestyle; hell, I was stranded in a strange town once and I wandered into a bar, drank a beer and mentioned that I was playing with Faron Young that night at the local redneck hangout and I got more free beers than I could drink and a ride back to the hotel.
I don't work the road any more; I play clubs and sessions around the Nashville/Dickson area and run a little graphic design business at Caligraphics. I've also written a couple books.
"Stop To Take the Time" should have been a hit. It was good, and it was country, but it was on the Step One label which was small and didn't have a whole lot of clout. Here he is with us Deputies doing it on "Nashville Now" in the late 80's. Read more about Faron here.
I played steel guitar on the road for 20 years with the likes of Stonewall Jackson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Red Sovine, Johnny Russell, Faron Young and a few others and then I wrote a book about it.
It's not all true, though. I had to make up a bunch of stuff, because it's fiction and a murder mystery at that, and I wasn't directly involved in any murders when I was on the road, though we did kill a lot of bottles of Crown Royal. I call it "The Beast From the Back of the Bus". You can, too. Here's an excerpt:
Barnett's bus sat like a huge cocoon on wheels in the back of the Holiday Inn parking lot, glinting in the blazing Texas sun. Traffic whizzed by on nearby I-410, the 18-wheelers thundering and spewing diesel fumes and the old cars leaving a blue trail of 10W-50 smoke. The parking lot was dotted with oil spots, and a sweating Mexican in a torn T-shirt was dragging an overflowing trash can from the kitchen of the taco place next door to a stinking dumpster close to which Simmons had thoughtfully parked the bus. A dead dog, squashed and splattered, was drying in the sun. Dark-skinned maids moved slowly along the outside concrete corridors of the motel, pushing their carts between rooms and jabbering in Spanish about what they were going to do when they got off. The little Onan, the small auxiliary diesel engine mounted in one of the bus bays, droned and rumbled, sputtering occasionally, and ran the air conditioning, keeping the musicians inside cool.
Inside the bus it was dark and the air was fetid with stale cigarette smoke, sweat, methane gas, and spilled beer. McDonald's garbage -- the remains of Osgood's breakfast earlier that morning-- was wadded up in the corner of the sofa. A skin mag lay wrinkled and ripped on the crusty shag carpeting next to one of the captain's chairs. The trashcans were topped off with Bud and Lone Star cans. Some sun filtered in through a gap in the curtains, making bars of dust motes in the air. The mysterious pill still lay on the table.
The bunks, six of them, were located between the lounge and Barnett's room at the back. In one of the floor-level ones Jackie groaned and rolled over and opened his eyes. They felt gritty, and he closed them again. There was a drummer inside his head beating a bass drum and his lips felt as dry and cracked as the Sahara after a long dry spell. He felt bad, but not as bad as he would if he had to get up and go punch a time card somewhere and spend eight hours with a supervisor giving him the hairy eyeball.
He fumbled in the dark under his pillow and found the Bud he'd stashed when he crashed. He popped the tab and took a warm drink. It slid down so nicely that he took another. He parted his curtain an inch or so and peeped out into the gloomy hallway. There was the bottle of Wild Turkey he'd drunk the night before, empty now and no good to anyone. He could hear Dax snoring in the bunk above his. A dirty white sock lay where somebody had tossed it. It had a hole in the heel. He saw a little daylight creeping in through the cracked vinyl curtain separating the bunk area from the lounge and grimaced. He looked at the Casio on his wrist. Way past noon. He considered getting up. Ah, the hell with it, he decided, and pulled his head back inside the bunk, settled back and drank the rest of the beer. He had to piss, but he really didn't feel like getting up just yet, and he began to drift back off to sleep.
It was so much fun growing up in the 60's that I wrote a book about it 40 years later called "Chevy Summer". When I was in high school I wasn't on the honor roll, or on the football team or in any special clique, but I was in a band, which was a real cool thing, so I didn't have to worry about my social status or where my next girl friend was coming from. We played rock, mostly Chuck Berry, the Ventures, and some of the hits of the time, like "Louie, Louie", "Hang On Sloopy" and "Gloria". Later, after we'd learned more than 3 chords, we did some Beatles and Stones.
"Chevy Summer" is a murder mystery, and if you're old enough to remember drive-ins, "American Bandstand", "409", "Ozzie and Harriet" and the Kennedy assassination you might dig it. It's available in ebook form from Amazon and other fine bookstores. Check it out here.
My latest eBook, "The Beast From the Back of the Bus", is available now at Smashwords and Amazon. You don't need a Kindle; you can read it on a computer. I recently put some short stories up at Cal Sharp dot com, my writer site, where you can get more details about the Beast.
Some photos through the years
Click on thumbnails for larger image.
My steel guitars.
I bought the black one new from the Emmons factory in 1974. I found the Rosewood guitar on the Steel Guitar Forum in 2003. They're just 10 serial numbers apart. I use a Hilton volume pedal, a Profex II, and one or two Nashville 400 amps.