Don’t play all the time

Listeners’ ears become inured to the sound of the steel guitar, and playing fewer notes at a live gig can sometimes be more effective than playing all the way through every song. If you’re in a 3-4 piece group you may need to pad when you’re not filling or playing your solo or intro, but if you have at least a piano and a guitar you can lay out on some verses and choruses, like good fiddle players do. It makes the steel stand out more when you do play something.

Maybe you just can't play

Why does your playing suck, you might wonder? If you’ve really worked hard at it for a few years and you still suck it’s probably because you don’t have the requisite talent. If you’ve been playing as long as I have, then you’ve logged a lot more hours at it than Buddy Emmons had when he was 18, and he was killer then. So… unless you find the steel guitar just endlessly addictive and fascinating it might be time to redirect your energies elsewhere.

Play with taste, damnit

When you’re backing up a singer, wait for the holes, then play a tasty little fill. You know, like they do on records. Singers appreciate this. Makes them sound good, doesn’t distract them. When it’s not your turn to fill or solo, don’t play, just pad a little and smile like you’re having a great time. The other lead instruments will appreciate this. Go nuts with your favorite be-bop Steel Guitar Jazz licks only when it seems appropriate, which may be never on some gigs, and just every once in a while on looser gigs. And keep an eye on the singer – you’re following him, and sometimes the song may come to a fork in the road. Be ready for it.

Talent is overrated

You have to be able to pick a little to get an artist gig, but you don’t have to play your ass off. You generally have to be young, look good on stage, and be easy to get along with. There’s a ton of steel guitar players who play great, but a lot of them don’t have gigs. It’s show business and social networking, folks.

Strings

I’ve got 2 guitars, and I play each one once or twice a week on gigs. I haven’t changed the strings on either one in well over a year. But I still get good tone, just like it always was – maybe not quite as brilliant, but the highs are still there – and I don’t have any problem staying in tune. I s’pose I’m just lazy; it’s a lot of work changing strings, and new strings won’t stay in tune until I play a few gigs.

When I do put on a new set, the third always breaks after about 3 gigs, but when I replace it, it never breaks again. This one’s been on over a year. Weird.

Dickey Overbey

This guy is one of the best. The stuff he’s been doing the last few years with Jake Hooker and Amber Digby is just awesome. I was driving down 16th St. in Indianapolis in about 1970 when “I’ll Be There ” (Johnny Bush) came on the radio, and his solo totally knocked me out. When I heard that I knew I had to get me a steel guitar. He played with Faron before I did, and according to band stories, he’d get “right” and stay up all night on the bus on long trips and work on his guitar, changing knee levers around or whatever, and have parts left over, but would be ready for the gig that night.

New Gig

Started at a new club this past weekend with the band I’ve been with for 10 years. Had a real good crowd and it looks promising. Weldon Myrick came out and sang with us.

I’m using 2 amps again, because there’s plenty of room, and because I can leave them there. What a fat sound I get with 2 amps. Probably doesn’t sound any different out front, but where I’m sitting, it’s great. Well, maybe it does sound better out front – maybe I can play a little better when I’m liking the sound so much.

Tuning

I’m still working on getting my steel guitar in tune. I’ve tried all kinds of ways to tune over the last 30+ years, and I’m still not happy with it. But the good news is that I’m getting closer and closer closer to A-440, and that seems to be a good thing. The B to C# pull is the bugaboo.