“Tulsa Time”

How many times have you had to play this song? Bored with it yet? Well, trying spelling it backwards. Or just spell Tulsa backwards. It’s funny.

How many times have you had to play this song? Bored with it yet? Well, trying spelling it backwards. Or just spell Tulsa backwards. It’s funny.

Pete Drake, steel guitar player

Ernest was doing some sessions at Pete’s Place and I got to tag along. Pretty friggin’ awesome watching Ernest Tubb record, I’ll tell ya.

When I came to town in the 70’s I made friends with the Texas Troubadours, and hung out with them a lot. The lineup then was Lynn Owsley on steel guitar, Pete Mitchell on guitar, Junior Pruneda on bass, Don Mills on drums and Wayne Hammond fronting the show. When I went to the clubs in Printer’s Alley with one of them I got in for free, and we had some fun jamming at the Den and other clubs on Broadway and I got all access when they did the Midnight Jamboree

Ernest was doing some sessions at Pete’s Place and I got to tag along. Pretty friggin’ awesome watching Ernest Tubb record, I’ll tell ya. He had Owen Bradley, whom he called Moon, on piano, and Pete produced the sessions. The whole studio was engulfed in a cigarette smoke haze, but the Ol’ Man didn’t smoke. He’d quit years ago, on the advice of his doctor. His bass player at the time, Pete’s brother, Jack, ignored the medical advice and smoked himself to death.

Pete was one fine guy, laid back and self-deprecating, who took the time to talk to me and pass along some old anecdotes and he even let me in the booth to listen to playbacks and watch him work.

Pete Drake and me
Pete Drake and me at Pete's Place

Wayne had a session coming up, and I somehow got on it. Lynn was busy or out of town or something, so I got to do a real Nashville session with the Texas Troubadours at Pete’s Place, the birthplace of so many hit records.

Pete told me that if I could come up with something good that he’d never heard before he’d use me on some more sessions. But I was like, damn, I’ve only been playing four or five years, WTF am I gonna come up with? Hell, I couldn’t even get a steel guitar in tune back then. But I really appreciated his good will. Very encouraging for a new guy in town, especially when a lot of big time Nashville pickers weren’t quite so accommodating… to put it mildly.

Pete told me he couldn’t even play a song all the way through anymore. He said all he could play now was intros and turnarounds. Funny. He was a good guy. He has a new website here. Stop by. Lots of good stuff.

Pete’s Sho~Bud, on display at the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway.
Pete Drake's Sho~Bud steel guitar

The Emmons push/pull steel guitars

In Buddy’s words: The wrap-around neck on the original guitars was replaced with the bolt-on design some time in the mid sixties.

In Buddy’s words: The wrap-around neck on the original guitars was replaced with the bolt-on design some time in the mid sixties. That change was short lived because the bridge was bolted to the neck, which defeated the purpose of the independent wrap-around design [a neck that mounted independent of the bridge and keyhead to avoid the tuning problems associated with temperature change ]. By the end of 1967, Ron [Lashley] went back to the wrap-around neck with a cutout in the tail end. This cut-tail design has remained the standard for all Emmons guitars.
From: John Lacey

Wrap-around
Wrap-around

Bolt-On
Bolt-On

Cut-Tail
Cut-Tail

Lloyd Green on the wall

I did a session at Burns Station Sound in Burns, TN the other day.

I did a session at Burns Station Sound in Burns, TN the other day. It’s a nice little studio, but there’s a lot of graffiti on the bathroom wall. The culprits seem to be Bob Moore, Pete Wade, Charlie McCoy, Lloyd Green, Pig Robbins, Bonnie Bramlett and Buddy Spicher. Kurt’s the engineer.

Bathroom Wall
Bathroom Wall

Burns Station Sound
Burns Station Sound

I meet Buddy Emmons

I played my first steel guitar gigs in the bars around the South Bend/Mishawaka area in Indiana the early 70’s, and I heard a lot about Buddy Emmons, who grew up there, too.

I played my first steel guitar gigs in the bars around the South Bend/Mishawaka area in Indiana the mid 70’s, and I heard a lot about Buddy Emmons, who grew up there, too. A lot of the guys I was picking with had worked with him, and he was a god to them. At the time I was only familiar with Hal Rugg, from watching the Wilburn Brother on TV, and Lloyd Green, from an album I bought during a late night trip to a grocery store in Indianapolis. I really didn’t know much about Buddy, but when I found out that was him on so many of those great Ray Price shuffles I became an instant fan.

Buddy had a cousin, Chuck Drew, who played a very early Emmons, a black D-10 with no knee levers, and he invited me to go along with him to Nashville to get Buddy to put knee levers on it. This was in the mid 70’s, shortly after Buddy had moved to Hermitage, just outside of Nashville, from California.

Buddy, who was wearing a dark blue Emmons T-shirt, had a project going out in the garage, putting an elbow lever on a guitar. I watched him work on Chuck’s guitar and the first thing he did was chop most of the springs in half. He really liked the way the guitar sounded, and decided it was because of the changer, so he called Ron Lashley in Burlington and asked if there were any like that lying around the factory. Ron dug through a trash heap out back and found one and sent it to Buddy. I asked Buddy to show me a lick he’d played on some Price record and he showed me what he remembered of it.

Buddy had a session later at the House of Cash and he took us with him, and we got to see a real live Nashville session. But the excitement died down after listening to a gazillion retakes and overdubs so we borrowed Buddy’s car and went sight seeing. When we got back, a little late, I guess, Buddy was waiting patiently in the parking lot with his guitar.

Curly Chalker was supposed to be playing a club in town that night and Buddy was going to take us to see him, but it got canceled or something so we stayed home and played cards with his gorgeous wife, Peggy, and smoked Vantage cigarettes. On the wall there was a hat rack full of derbies.

Peggy Emmons was a very gracious hostess, and a wonderfully warm person who was a pleasure to be around. When I told her I had a college degree she gently suggested that I might want to re-think this wild idea I had about being a professional steel guitar player.

I was way cool meeting the world’s foremost steel guitarist so early in my formative steel guitar years, and I went back home with renewed vigor and completely ignored Peggy’s sage advice.

“Little Red Riding Hood”

you should tell a story when you play a solo or an instrumental. Don’t play all your hot licks in the first two bars

In “Little Red Riding Hood” a little girl, on her way through a forest to visit her grandmother, encounters a big-ass wolf. Tension mounts slightly, but she proceeds safely on her way. Whew! When she arrives she notices Granny looking rather strange, and we experience a higher level of tension. “My, what big teeth you have!”, Red eventually says after a suspenseful conversation, to which the wolf, who is disguised as Granny, replies, “The better to eat you with,” and swallows her whole. Wow, shocking! But a hunter happens by and cuts the wolf open and releases Red and Granny, whom the wolf has also swallowed, and the tale is happily (except for the wolf) resolved.

That’s a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. You should tell a story when you play a solo or an instrumental, too. Don’t play all your hot licks in the first two bars – where ya gonna go from there? Start out with something that you can build on, like maybe the melody, and then improvise on same as you go along. Play dynamically, create tension, resolve the tension, and end on a happy note, leaving your listeners satisfied that they’ve just heard something worth listening to.

A road story

Sometimes ya gotta wonder if there’s someone or something out there watching out for poor disoriented road musicians.

The gig was over, hits had been played, T-shirts and CD’s had been sold, autographs had been signed, girls had been hit on, the equipment was loaded onto the bus, we had our money from the promoter, and we were ready to go back to the hotel. But the star was busy drinking Crown Royal and kibitzing with a few late-night party fans, and it didn’t look like we were leaving anytime soon. So… Plan B. Borrow a car. One of our fans said, sure, you can use my car to go back to the hotel, so off we went, the guitar player and me.

We were in a strange town and had only a vague idea of where the Holiday Inn was. But we did have some directions, so it was just a matter of reading the street sings and turning the appropriate direction, like, either right of left. And, oh yeah, we were drunk. Like, seeing double drunk, and we couldn’t read the friggin’ street signs. He was driving, and I was the navigator, and we meandered around town for a while hoping just by chance to come across that big green sign.

And then I reached down on the seat amidst a pile of McDonald’s wrappers, cigarettes, sunglasses and cassette tapes and came up with – a pair of binoculars. BINOCULARS! Holy shit! Just what we needed. So I clamped them to my eyes and started navigatin’ like a sumbitch, reading street signs like I did when I passed the eye exam to get my drivers license when I was 16, and soon we were back “home”’, and at the bar.

Sometimes ya gotta wonder if there’s someone or something out there watching out for poor disoriented road musicians.