Guitar Players I’ve Known

Man, I’ve worked as a steel guitar player with a passel of guitar players. Hundreds, at least. The first one of any note was Buddy Williams, from Michigan City, IN. He was a Lloyd Green fan, and I learned a bunch of licks from him. South Bend Buddy and me in front of the Silver Dollar Saloon.

Cal Sharp and Buddy Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had the good fortune to work with Pete Mitchell from the late 70’s up until Oct 29, 2006 on gigs ranging from Ernest Tubb to Broadway to skull orchards on Dickerson Pike, and it was always a pleasure. Pete was the tastiest player in the world, and had more empathy and reciprocity with a steel guitar player than anybody. He knew how to comp, play tic-tac or just lay out when it was my turn to play.


He moved to Texas a few years ago and got kidnapped by Herb Steiner and I never saw him again. Then he died. He was the best.
Pete Mitchell – Texas Troubadour Passes

Other fine guitar players I’ve worked with were Roy Melton, Marc Rogers, Richard Bass, Dan Drilling, Redd Voelkaert, Cliff Parker, and more recently Lyndell East, Bebo Whitehead, Clyde Sutton and Bill Hullett. But most of the others made me wish I’d stayed home and watched “Saturday Night Live”, at least up until the 90’s. But, hell, it was work and a little money, like digging a ditch or unloading trucks, and I had to get my roast out of layaway at Kroger.

I worked a few gigs with Pete Wade, clubs and sessions, and he’d holler at me to play what Lloyd played on some song they were on, which had me scratching my temporal lobe trying to play a cheap Japanese knockoff of what I could remember. I worked a gig with Lenny Breau when I was too green to do much, but it was fun anyway, listening to him. I played  a little with Leon Rhodes when he was working a gig at a hotel by the new Opry with Little Roy Wiggins. I dragged my stuff in and sat in on a few songs. It didn’t go real well, but I wasn’t afraid of nuthin’ back then.

A lot of guitar players have hot licks up the ass, and the attendant volume, but can’t play two notes in a row that sound pretty. I wonder if they’ve ever listened to Grady Martin  or Jimmy Capps.

Grady Martin and Jimmy Capps

 

 

 

 

I worked with a drummer once who didn’t know the difference between a pair of brushes and his ass, and I put a picture of Buddy Harman on his snare before the gig one time and he walked around all night asking who it was.

It’s all cool to play 40 notes a bar on “Rocky Top” or “The Fireman”, but when the singer calls “Make the World Go Away” I wish the guitar player would go away if he can’t or won’t change his attitude.

It’s not that fucking hard to play 3 or 4 notes, ala Grady or Jimmy, instead of 162 notes, which fills a much needed gap. To paraphrase Albert Einstein, the other “Big E”, E=mc2 – (where E = ego, M = music, and C = chops.) It doesn’t take a lot of dexterity, just taste, and the ability to subjugate yourself to the song and the singer. Geez, unless you’re the featured instrumentalist your job is to make the song and the singer sound good, right? Or did nobody ever tell you that? What, are you afraid someone might think you’re not a hot Nashville Cat if you only play 3 notes in one bar, or if the steel player gets more notes out than you do?

Shuffles Rule

Some songs I’ve never ever got to play, despite 45 years of playing steel guitar gigs

I’m so fucking tired of playing “Margaritaville” and “Brown Eyed Girl” and “Elvira” I could step on my picks. I practiced for years to play this shit? I coulda played it after 6 months.  They were big hits and made money and all that, but it’s not what I bought a steel guitar for.
So, these days I’m just trying to keep up my interest – and my chop -and maybe work on “A Way To Survive” or “Whiskey River” some more.

Some songs I’ve never ever got to play, despite 45 years of playing steel guitar gigs:

The One I Can’t Live Without (With Vince Gill)

Vince Gill & Paul Franklin – “But I Do”

I Didn’t Come Here (And I Ain’t Leavin’)

And some songs I haven’t played nearly enough:

Tommy Hooker – Invitation To The Blues

Jeannie Seely Sings “Mr. Record Man”

If you’ve got an actual country gig I hope you appreciate it, I would. Adios.

The worst guy with a guitar I ever worked with

Wichita didn’t know any intros, solos or standard country licks, despite owning a guitar and playing in bars for maybe 40 years.

The bass player, who was just subbing and didn’t know what to expect, called “Mama Tried” and waited for the intro. The guy with the guitar just looked him like a cow looking at a new gate. “I don’t know it,” he said, and the bass player began to suspect that he was in for a long night.

We’ll call the guy with the guitar Wichita, as in Lester Roadhog Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys. We used to do a version of “Lil’ Liza Jane” by the Cadillac Cowboys, playing all out of tune and out of time like they did, and the funny thing was, the guy with the guitar sounded pretty much like he always did.

Wichita played on top of me all the time. And on top of the vocals, and the piano, and anyone else who happened to be playing with us. If there was a way to play on top of the bass and drums he would do that, too. He just didn’t grasp the concepts of solos, fills, comping and rhythm. The most important concept to me in this kind of playing situation was laying out, and he didn’t have a clue about that, either, although he did give me a break when he was lighting a cigarette or thumbing through the huge country music bible on the music stand in front of him to select his next song. He had to read the lyrics to songs he’d been doing for 30 years.

Wichita didn’t know any intros, solos or standard country licks, despite owning a guitar and playing in bars for maybe 40 years. “Workin’ Man Blues”, “Highway 40 Blues”, “Thanks A Lot”, “Old Habits” – never mind. He did know couple generic intros, but he didn’t know how to count them off. I showed him “Old Habits” once, but he couldn’t get it. We had a girl singer who sat in with us once in a while and did “Satin Sheets”, and after 5 or 6 years he figured out a version of the intro, enough to get us into the song. He’s the only guy with a guitar I ever worked with who didn’t play the signature lick when we did an Ernest Tubb song.

Wichita could get a lot of sounds out of his guitar – bird sounds, airplane sounds, finger scrapes, submarine sounds… But no guitar sounds. No Grady Martin, no Roy Nichols, no Chet Atkins. Wich was a true original; he had his own unique sound, unequaled and unmatched to this day. Shrill and metallic with lots and lots of reverb, echo and chorus, and no bottom, and he never changed it all night long, whether we were playing “Johnny B. Goode” or “Help Me Make It Through the Night”. Sometimes when he’d be playing his version of rhythm up the neck on the high strings it sounded exactly like a tambourine.

Musical talent, of lack thereof, manifests itself in many diverse ways, and Wichita couldn’t play in tune yet he could sing perfectly on pitch. He usually tuned up once a night before the gig, but it didn’t do any good. He always sounded like an Apache raid on a Chinese laundry. Somebody in the band would check Wich’s tuning on the break once in a while, and it was usually close, and when a real guitar player sat in on his guitar it sounded fine. He was just bending the strings out of tune. He couldn’t play a guitar, but he could smite it.

I’ve tried to learn something from every guitar player I’ve ever worked with, and what I learned from Wichita was to trust my ears a little more. When I first started working with him the band always sounded out of tune, and I was checking my tuning all night until I realized we sounded fine when Wich stopped abusing his guitar to light a cigarette or take a sip of beer. I used to wonder if spending too much time on the bandstand with this guy would destroy my sense of pitch.

Wichita had a house full of cats, and the pervasive odor of their litter box clung to him and his clothes and his equipment. Apparently his bathing and laundry habits were less than exemplary. I used to sneak up behind him on stage and spray him with air freshener.

You might wonder why I even worked with ol’ Wichita. Well, it was an easy gig in town, and we played the same places all the time and I could leave my equipment set up. The guys in the band were easy to get along with and we did classic country. It wasn’t the worst gig I ever had, but it was the worst band I ever played with.

 

Peter Cooper on Buddy Emmons

that band got better, thanks to the addition of an 18-year-old, Midwest-reared hotshot pedal steel guitar player named Buddy Emmons

Buddy Emmons

In June of 1955, the best band in country music belonged to one James Cecil Dickens, better known then and now as Little Jimmy Dickens.

On the first day of July 1955, that band got better, thanks to the addition of an 18-year-old, Midwest-reared hotshot pedal steel guitar player named Buddy Emmons. Dickens found Emmons while on tour in Detroit, and quickly hired him to replace another outstanding steeler, Walter Haynes, who had given notice that he wanted to get off the road. More in the Tennessean.