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Designed by:

Lynn Owsley E-mail


Interviewed by: Mike Sweeney

Steel GuitarWorld Magazine ISSUE #23 1995

Lynn, here we are again. Hopefully it won't be wasted this time and we can get this thing to record. How you been doing?

I'm doing just fine. I'm back to picking, I'm so happy!

That's good, man, we need you back picking. You've got no business doing anything else. Tell us about the reunion of the Troubadours.

Well our Texas Troubadour Reunion came together with great success. There were 23 of us together for the first time ever in history. It took years to do it. It was something that Ernest kind of wanted to do even before he left and it just never did happen. We finally got it together and they came from all over the world. We had five or six International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame members that came in. I will name some of them for you: Don Helms, Jimmy Day, Buddy Emmons, Buddy Charleton, Kimo Head, Dickie Harris, Johnny Cox, and me. That was the steel players. On guitar we had: Leon Rhodes, Pete Mitchell, and Steve Chapman. Billy Byrd didn't perform with us, but he sat out on the stage and smiled a lot end just thoroughly enjoyed it. And we had two of our old bass players and front men showed up; Junior Pruneda from way down in Texas and Ronnie Dale from here in town. Then we had tag team drummers, Jimmy Heap, Jr. and Don Mills. That was the stage set-up pretty much. We lined the front of the stage with steels; the second tier was guitars and the third, rhythm section. We let a few fiddle players work off and on, on the right side.

That was at the Bell Cove right?

No, that was here. We did the same set-up on three different shows. They asked me about it; the sound and light people said, "the way you want this stage set up it is all steel guitars and there is no room for singers," and I said "now you're getting it."

That's good, I like that.

Of course we dug out a little hole between Emmons and Charleton so Darrell McCall could come in and sing a couple.

That was awfully nice of you!

Darrell was never a Troubadour, but he was always a friend and he could have been a Troubadour, he just wouldn't work that cheap.

He wouldn't work that cheap. So tell us about some of your memorable experiences, that are repeatable, about working with the Troubadours?

Well there's been so many, you'd have time to read "Gone With The Wind" while I tell them. One of the things that my memory got jogged about today, Cal Sharp was over here a few minutes ago and Cal's ex-wife was with him and I was telling Johnny Bush the first time I met Cal and Beverly was in Houston. I didn't know them and I was down with the Troubadours and Ernest and they came to our show and as soon as the show was over Cal walked over and introduced himself, introduced Bev and another gentleman with them, who was Bev's brother, Cal's brother-in-law, and after talking with him for a few minutes Cal asked me if I would sell him my right boot and I said "no, I ain't selling you a boot. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't even sell you a pair of boots, but you can get some like them from Champion Patent Leather Boots." He said; "No, your right boot is what I want, it's special." I was beginning to think that maybe they were nuts. But I couldn't figure out why they wanted my right boot and he explained the story to me. Bev's brother had to have some surgery just prior to us showing up in town for our concert and he lost his leg at the hip, it had to be amputated and it is a traumatic experience for anybody and he decided to have a funeral for that leg and he wanted to bury it in a Texas Troubadour boot. When they told me that I just pulled the right boot off and handed it right across the guitar and said, "take it." I walked back on the bus with one boot and one sock. Ernest asked me about where my other boot and I said, "It's a new thing, going around. Everybody is going to one boot, hadn't you heard."

That's pretty good. I just got done with an interview with Mr. Johnny Bush and he said you and he have been making rounds around town. I asked him some questions and I'm going to ask you about the same thing. How do you feel about the state of steel guitar in country music today as opposed to 20-25 years ago?

I feel that for my part of it, it is pretty much the same as it was 20-25 years ago. I pretty much do the same things. As far as the steel guitar and music, I think that some of the things that're being done nowadays is great, but it takes a lot of talent and a lot of ability to do some of these things, and I'm impressed but after listening to them for a few minutes, they kind of wear out quick. Whereas things that were happening in steel 20-30 years ago, linger and have more staying power, I believe the feel, the taste. There was a time when most steel players played melodies, .things that you could kind of whistle to and that's not happening near enough nowadays, I think.

Do you think it has gotten to where people are getting more technical and not enough soul into it?

Some, I do feel that way. It seems that some of the younger guys are more impressed and are more into playing with speed and to some, it seems like to me, that it is a contest to see how many notes you can get into a bar. Like I say, it takes a lot of talent and ability to do that but I'm not overly impressed by it. I haven't really worked on it a lot to do it myself. I never was a fast player and some of them faster things, I just cut them to half time, and keep chomping.

There isn't anything wrong with that. I've talked with some people, a lot of other players, and they seem to think a lot of it is due to the style of music today.

I have noticed that a lot of steel players now seem to play more scales, making a steel sound more like a guitar. They are playing more single note things, fast speedy things. They are kind of leaning toward the Roy Nichols style guitar or somebody like that, a Roy Nichols/James Burton type and that's nice. Some of it is nice. Some of it I wish I could play. But then there are some that I feel get carried away with it. Now while we are on that subject, I said they are leaning more to guitar style applied to steel. There are a lot of people who begin with guitar and change to steel and that comes natural. That's a real good background for them. I'm not really into making the steel sound like a guitar or a banjo, or sound Iike something else; that doesn't really impress me that much. At the convention last year, there was a guy that wanted to show me a machine that can make my steel sound just like a piano. I said, "Why? I got a piano; I don't need that."

Well, let's talk about your start here in Nashville when you came to town, some of the people you worked with before you went to work with Ernest Tubb.

I came here in 1968 and met Shot Jackson, of course. I had met him a time or two before, but I got to know Shot a little bit and he helped me to meet some people and I worked with Wanda Jackson's Party Timers for a brief time and then to Charlie Louvin. Went on the Opry with Charlie for the first time not Charlie's first time, my first time. That was back when we were down at the old Opry. I got in on four or five years of playing the old Opry. That was a lot of fun. Back in those days there were a lot of musicians and people around that are big stars now. Very talented people; lot of them are not here anymore. We developed some friendships that have lasted; a good many of them are still here. They were wonderful times. Of course, I guess these are the good old days but those were wonderful times. I did the Charlie Louvin thing for about a year, maybe a little less. I worked with Billy Walker for a time and then I did a lot of pick up dates with people like Del Reeves, and even worked with Marty some. I never worked for him regular, just a spot with Marty Robbins and I stayed with Billy Walker for a time. Back in those days we were only a four piece band. That was a lot of fun. That was back when Billy had "Sing Me A Love Song To Baby," that was one of his hits. I just loved playing Billy Walker's stuff. I like playing all of it really. Anyhow, getting on with it, I'm getting away from my story. Billy Walker, then on to about three years with Stonewall Jackson. That was a whole other book. I loved it; three good years with Stonewall, a lot of fun. It wasn't all at one time, Stonewall fired me every three weeks so three years with him was an accumulative total. Then from that to, there's a guy that I got to meet, when I was with Stonewall. And the Troubadours introduced me to him up in West Virginia. He told me he was coming to Nashville the next week and as a matter of fact before we left that night he decided to save car fare or bus fare... whatever, (he couldn't get a plane down here) so he just rode down with Ernest and the Troubadours. He decided he would hitchhike home after he cut his session. But the session was "Borrowed Angel" and the artist was Mel Street. I worked with Mel some in the very beginning and then helped him put his first band together. I give him some real good names. He got Mike Johnson on steel, and Mike stayed with him a good while' I think Mike stayed with him until he died. Then from there on to Ernest and the Troubadours.

What kind of guitar and stuff are you using now - amps, effects and so forth?

I'm playing twin Evans amps and I have played Evans amps for many years. There was a time that I used Peavey and I like Peavey. They're wonderful amps but I kind of got hooked on the Evans too. I had one Evans at home that is 25-28 years old. It's got a 12" and 15" all in one cabinet; it's 500 watt. I can't take it on the road, I'm not able to lift it anymore. I use two Evans FET 500's now. I am playing an Emmons guitar and a Derby guitar. The Derby is from Louisville. I've got two of those. They are real good guitars and I still have my old Emmons guitar. My favorite old Emmons is one that I had the 100,000 mile checkup done on it 12 times and I set it back and didn't play it for several years and last Christmas I decided I wanted to get it out and dust it off, grease it up and play it some more. I sent it up to East Tennessee, up to Mountain City to Brian Adams, an old friend of mine. I got him to rebuild it and Brian went through it from A to Z and got it back in like new condition and I just love that old Emmons. I don't take it out that much because it's like a cherished instrument anymore. I don't take it with me that much.

How do you feel about some of the newer players around town who are coming up that you know? What do you think about how they're doing and how they are coming along?

There are several around that I am really impressed by and always have been impressed by some since day one. I met some of them when they were 12 and 13 years old and nowadays they are hit maker steel players. Paul Franklin is one of them. I am a fan of Paul's. I just love his playing. Of course Paul's not one of the newer ones anymore I guess. There are kids around like Dan Galish with Aaron Tippin. Are you familiar with Dan?

Uh huh!

Dan does some things that impress me and he is one of the newer players that has studied the history of the instrument too. He's gone back for 20-30-40 years at least and you can tell that when you find a new player, you can tell the difference. You can tell whether or not they have done their homework and Dan's one of the ones who has done his homework. Jay Andrews is one of the ones. He is with Johnny Paycheck. He's done his homework, he's up and coming, in his sounds and his playing. I can't say that he's playing his ass off, can I?

Well, sure you can.

There's a, he's not a newer one, I keep thinking of some of them in terms of newer. I keep thinking,of Paul Franklin and Mike Johnson as kids. I guess that's a sign of getting old. Mike Johnson is one. He's not a newer one, but he's one that really impresses me and of course I've got my old standby favorites Buddy Emmons, Jimmy Day, John Hughey. I've got so many heroes that it would take all day to tell you who they are. That's another thing that's great. about this instrument. By playing steel guitar and being involved in the world of steel guitar, the players, the circle of friends, you develop so many friends and heroes. It's not like any other instrument that I know of. Fiddle players don't do this. Bass players don't do it much. Guitar players. Well, there is no hall of fame for fiddle players, guitar players, harmonica players. I guess there should be. But with the steel guitar, we've got the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, thanks to Jim Vest and the efforts of Scotty DeWitt in St. Louis and the efforts of many others that helped. So we've got a big jump. It's probably the newest instrument in history but we have a big jump on all those others. We've gained them in leaps and bounds and the instrument is changing. There was a gentleman who didn't know anything about steel out there who asked me about steel guitars and when was it invented. I told him a little bit about the Hawaiian, playing them with knife handles and things like that, putting a nut under the string. I told him, "but the pedal steel guitar was not invented just in a matter of months. People took the old grand-daddy double and triple necks and started drilling holes in them and putting rods in them and then they would come up and put a piece on them at the time and it evolved". Shot Jackson, for instance, when he started he wasn't building steel guitars. He would take Fenders and Gibsons and Bigsbys and drilled some holes in them, and put you some rods and pedals in them. He just modified guitars. Jimmy Day finally got on him and said, "Look, pop, why don't you build you a guitar instead of drilling these out. Just build one that's got it all on there, you will make a lot of people happy and maybe you will get rich." He did both.

Lynn, what advice would you give to somebody just starting out who wanted to get into steel guitar and make a living at it, just starting out playing. What advice would you give them?

It would be to be prepared to spend a lot of time with your instrument. I guess first advice would be to get a quality instrument and then spend a lot of time with it and probably what I think would be the most important advice to anybody, and I've covered this, I mentioned it a minute ago, study some of the history, some of the musical history and if you can find the records and tapes, and they are available, go, back and see what people were doing with it 40 and 50 years ago and 20 and 30 years ago, and 10 years ago and learn to do some of all of it. That would be my advice. If you don't you're limiting yourself and that's happening today too. You don't have to print this, but I'll go ahead and tell it. I met a gentleman here a few months back and we were talking. He was a steel guitar player, and played an Emmons. I sat down to his guitar and did a couple of things that he'd never heard of before. I said, "Oh, this is a standard, so and so did it on ..." and I named some things. He'd never heard of Lloyd Green, he'd never heard of Jimmy Day. He didn't know who Buddy Emmons was. He had a star job. I told him, "You can open up the world. You've got a world of stuff if you just read and listen. You can be a whole lot better at what you do if you just open yourself up to it." That is my advice: open up to whatever happened years ago and go back and delve into Bobby Koefer, Tommy Morrell, Leon McAuliffe, and then buy you some stuff and just come all the way through it to. the invention of pedals of Bud Issacs, then in to the Jimmy Day/Buddy Emmons era and just listening will really improve a person's playing. If they dedicate themselves and spend some time with it and they don't really have to sit down and learn to copy every lick, just by listening to it, it will become ingrained up here, and you will be trying to transpose some of it to your music. I think it enhances any steel player's sound to be able to, if you are working professionally, you want to be able to make a certain song sound like a certain thing. If you are doing a Webb Pierce song, you want to make it sound like a Webb Pierce song. You don't have to copy it, but be reminiscent of that particular era. I think all of us or most of us try to do that.'That would be my advice to new players.

When we did this interview last time it didn't turn out too good. How about you sharing the story with everybody about you winning the bus from Ernest by shooting dice, or whatever it was that you were doing.

We landed in Olyand, New York, in a blizzard, I say landed but the bus came to a stop. We were playing a job there the following day, and we got in the night before. When we rolled in there we were shooting dice and I had Ernest down pretty bad (pretty good for me). I had won a lot of money. The snow was building up outside. Everybody else went to their rooms except me and Ernest; we were still on the bus shooting dice and Olyand, New York just rolls up the sidewalk. We were there at the Holiday Inn,. At 9:00 or 10:00 that night the driver came out and told us, look guys, I won't be able to help you get in this motel 'cause I came out with a shovel to dig out some air holes for this bus. Dig the snow out to keep the engine running", he said, "we are in for a blizzard." Ernest and I both said, "We don't care." I got all ET's cash and started loaning him cash back. After a few thousand dollars dropped, I was just playing with him more than anything, I said, "Look, I just can't loan this kind of large amounts of money. I'm just a poor old side band musician, I can't make these unsecured loans. I've got to have a little security." He said, "Well, if you've got to have security, take my guitar and give me another $500." 1 said, "Now, Ernest, I can't even play the guitar, I don't need no guitar. I am thinking more in terms of this bus." We kept the titles and all the bus paperwork/registration in a pouch right behind the driver's seat. He reached over and got the document pouch and got it all out and I said, "Well, just sign it over to me; you can make an assignment on it. You don't mind that do you?" "Oh no." So he got up and signed it then said, "Now, let me have some more money." I kept letting him have more money. We quit playing late that night and he still owed me a lot of money. I told him, "You know this bus is mine, until you make your debt right." He said, "Oh, yeah." The next day when we got ready to head for the concert, I got on the bus about 15-20 minutes before he got out there and I moved all his stuff from his state room up front and piled it all on my bunk and got all my stuff and moved into his state room. When he came on the bus, he walked in, opened up the door and I was piled up in the middle of his bunk watching TV, kicked back, relaxed and he said, "Just what the Hell's going on here." I said, "Don't you remember? You lost this bus last night. I just wanted to let you know that there have been some changes made around here." I told him, "But you will be comfortable in that bunk, it's a ground floor bunk and it won't have a lot of sway to it. You will really enjoy that. Be sure and not leave my TV on. Turn it off when you get out of the bunk." He got hot about that. He told the driver (this was on a Sunday) "Monday, you get in touch with Jackson, [he was our CPA] and get him to get some money up here. I need to get my bus back where I can get control over this man." He got it back. He won the money back in two or three days. It might not have sounded like big amounts of money sometime, but it was. But to fight boredom we gambled big. He might have hit me for big amounts too the same way.

I hear something is in the works for another Troubadour album?

Well, I talked to Jimmy Davis this morning and he suggested we need to get back in the studio and we want to do it before the next six or eight weeks. We want to do it in a hurry, but I don't know that I will have the time. We want to go in and cut pretty much a greatest hits, Ernest Tubb all steel album, with the Troubadours. I've got some volunteers to help and it ought to come out real good. I'm thinking it will. We want to get back and do that. It should be interesting. It ought to be a lot of fun to do. A lot of people have asked about that very thing over the years. There have been some bits and pieces; Ernest Tubb instrumentals, cut but I don't think anybody, any of the Troubadours, have cut a greatest hits steel album. So it might be another first.

We will be looking for that. Are the Troubadours going to be doing any dates any time soon?

Yeah, we are going to be going back to work some. There are two fairly new developments and one coming. There are a couple of us that are retired now from other things and we got more spare time. I am going to take an early retirement. I am going to be having a lot of leisure time in about 30 days from today. 1 am going to let UPS see if they will get along without me. Next month, I am going to retire and we plan on working the Troubadours. I guess one of the first things we will do is to hit Texas with Johnny Bush and we are going to go back to some of those old big gigantic Texas dance halls that we used to play and go do some more of those big dances. I suppose Austin is going to be our first stop. We are going to bill it "Texas Troubadours and Friends." So, when we hit Austin we are going to have some friends. I am not at liberty to tell you who they all are but one of them will be Johnny Bush. He is definitely going to be in there and play some fiddles, drums and move around some. Johnny is an honorary Troubadour and we are going to hit down there with about eight of us and people in Austin are really looking forward to it and I am too. That will probably be in late September. Over the winter, we are going to work about five or six dates. Then next spring, none of us want to work a whole lot, but we are hoping to get back out and maybe work three or four days a month. Maybe five days a month. We will be following a circuit. Basically the same as the Texas Playboys are doing now and the Drifting Cowboys. We will be doing a lot of the old Ernest Tubb music. A lot of it will be vocals, and a lot will be Troubadour instrumentals. The main reason we are doing it is for our own fun and ego and all of us enjoy it so much we can't let it go; we can't give it up. Ernest left us a legacy in music and it's ingrained.

He sure did. The new Troubadour Theater here in town, you are all doing that pretty much regular too, aren't you?

Yeah, we've done some shows; well, we are here now. We are doing some and have some planned for the future. Quite possibly Labor Day, but we don't know for sure yet, we are going to be in Nashville the day after the convention. I don't know the location but we've already decided that we are going to work a date. I should have that ironed out sometime tonight. John's coming back with us. Tonight ought to be interesting; we are going to put Johnny Bush, Rufus Tibado and David Russell together on fiddles.

That would be good. I am hoping we come over here on a break and sneak in. They will probably end up sending the law after me wondering why I ain't back at work.

We used to do that with Randy Travis. We would sneak him out over there and bring him over for a song or two. The old building was a little closer.

Yeah, I am hoping to do that. I was telling John that I was wanting to come over and see him tonight if I get a chance. I never think about it until it's time to go home.

You were asking about future plans. The Troubadours working is one of the things. Since I am retiring, I will probably work harder than I ever have worked in my life, but my long range plans are to open a music shop right here on Music Valley Drive. I am probably going to feature the steel guitar, steels and amps. I will have accessories for everything, but steels and amps are going to be the headline on it. I will have repairs and custom things. We will probably be doing some t-shirts, ball caps and things as a side service to the music store. It will be for the professional, it may be a one stop service. We can lease busses through the music store, and make you stage backdrops. I am setting that up now. We are going to set up a plant for that up in Millersville. That's one of my plans. I am hoping to see a lot of old friends!

That sounds like a good deal. Keep us posted on that!


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