Ronnie Dove doesn’t take requests from the steel player

Pop singer Ronnie Dove was having a country spasm in the 70‘s and in ‘75 he released a country version of “Things”, the song Bobby Darin had a pop hit on in 1962. Ronnie’s version, an up-tempo shuffle with Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Colvard, kicked major ass and it went to number 25 on the country charts. It was on the jukebox at the Silver Dollar Saloon in my hometown of South Bend when I first started playing steel guitar “out” and I always listened to it when I got there for the gig.

Ten years later I was at his club in Baltimore backing him up. We did “One Kiss for Old Times’ Sake”, “Right or Wrong” and some of his other hits. But do you think he’d do “Things” when I asked him? N-o-o-o, no way, couldn’t remember the words, didn’t want to do it, didn’t have room for it in the show. The bastage.

I still haven’t played “Things” with anyone. Ronnie Dove can kiss my ass, that’s what he is, and I’m just the kinda guy who can do it.

Don’t forget your picks

I forgot my picks and bar one time and had to play with a socket wrench and bare fingers. Not a good sound, unless you’re used to playing without picks. There isn’t really a handy place to stash a spare bar, but you can keep an extra set of picks on one of the cross rods under your guitar.

The guitar player and you

Leon Rhodes and Buddy Charleton
Leon Rhodes and Buddy Charleton
It’s a good thing when you’ve got a guitar player to work with that you can trade licks and work out parts with and get inspiration from, and that makes you a better player. There have been some legendary combinations – Buddy Emmons and Lenny Breau, Buddy Charleton and Leon Rhodes, James Burton and Ralph Mooney, Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, to name just a few. Those guys must have spent a lot time woodshedding together.

One of the first guitar players I ever worked with was a big Lloyd Green fan, and he played a bunch of licks that he got off some of the old Johnny Paycheck and Warner Mack records, so naturally I appropriated what I could.

If you’ve got a guy like that to work with you’re fortunate; too many steel guitar players are stuck with overbearing slugs who hog every intro and turnaround they can and who play on top of the steel all night and who seem to think that their screaming Telecaster is the focal point of the whole band, or maybe even the whole musical universe. They bend the shit out of their .09‘s trying to sound like a steel guitar (WTF? there’s already a steel guitar in the band) and jump in with one of their hot licks every time you let half a bar go by without playing something. They just cause a lot of frustration and retard your progress. But at least you might be able to learn something, if you don’t already know, like what not to do on a gig.


Rosewood Emmons steel guitar
Rosewood Emmons steel guitar
You’ve got to practice like a motherfucker to get anywhere on steel guitar. If you don’t have more than a modicum of inherent talent you still won’t get anywhere, but practice is indispensable to realize, or even approach, whatever potential you may possess.

I practiced several hours a day for the first 8 or 10 years. Every day. A day never went by that I didn’t practice. If I were away from home I took a steel guitar with me. It was an all-consuming passion; I was just insane about the whole enterprise. I’d wake up in the night with some lick running through my mind and get on my guitar and try to play it.

No time for a wife or a job. My wife and my job were both a steel guitar. No time for kids or other responsibilities. My social life was people I knew from gigs. I didn’t want to know anyone who wasn’t a musician.

Some players grew up in a family with a dad or an uncle who got them going, but I didn’t even know anybody who played steel guitar, and I had to start from scratch, all by myself, creating my own motivation. Which is not to say that I was possessed of any special work ethic or unusual level of willpower – the inspiration just came to me from somewhere and I really had no control over it and don’t claim any exceptional cachet. I just ran with it because I liked it and it was fun, and I’m sure the same could be said of most pro players.

If you just want to have fun with steel guitar and play with your pals at church or a VFW you obviously don’t need to sacrifice A LIFE by such rigorous travails, but you’re going to have to invest some amount of time practicing just to play the damn thing in tune.


Clams are mistakes, big glaring mistakes that really stand out. Like when you finish up a long lick on the 2nd string when you meant to pick the 3rd string. Ughh. Buddy Rich had something to say about clams. (NSFW)

Clams have to be dealt with somehow. I’ve seen Buddy Emmons hit clams, and he just laughs and goes on. Hell, I wish I could play some of his clams.

So, you can do like Buddy, but you have other options.

I’ve seen guys frown and go for their tuning wrench or reach under their guitar and wiggle a knee lever, like it was caught in the folds of their jeans. Or readjust a finger pick. Or disentangle a shirt cuff that had been caught in the strings – hmm, really? All bullshit.

A cooler way to deal with a clam is to play it again. Then it sounds like you did it on purpose, like you’re maybe playing some diminished Charlie Parker jazz lick that’s over everybody’s head. Doesn’t work too well on a ballad, though.

Sometimes you can slide the wrong note to the correct one (a note that’s actually in the scale) and it might lessen the seriousness or extent of the horrible sound you just made.

You can throw your hands in the air and grin at the band. Maybe you’ll get some sympathy. Play it again the next night and it might be good for a laugh.

Drunk emailing

You know how sometimes you get home from a gig and you get yourself a beer and a shot and sit down in front of your computer and listen to some of your favorite shuffles and ballads? And some song reminds you of a an old girlfriend or an ex wife? And so you do another shot and look up some old pictures and emails from her and decide it might be a good idea to look for her on Facebook or dash off an email or a text message to her.

Or maybe the guitar player pissed you off and you want to tell him what a sorry-ass player he really is.

Or maybe you see some moronic post of the Steel Guitar Forum that really needs flaming.

And you get another beer.

Well, before you write something contentious, try this little drunk test. Forget walking a straight line or touching your nose with your fingers. Do this instead. It’s tailored especially for musicians and could save you from some after-the-fact regret. Sing “Girl on The Billboard”. Doesn’t matter if you’re not really a singer, you can be off-pitch but you have to the lyrics right. If you can’t, then you’re drunk. Unplug your modem immediately and then have another drink.

“Who is the girl wearin’ nothin’ but a smile and a towel in the picture on the billboard in the field near the big ol’ highway?”

If you can’t even get the first line right, you might be fucked up.

Don’t tune a hot guitar

Don’t bothering tuning when your guitar when you first set it up. Play it a little first and let it sit for awhile to acclimate to the room temperature. A lot of times, if it’s sharp or flat when you first check it, it’ll come back to A 440.

Beer, OTOH, shouldn’t be drunk at room temperature, A 440 or not. It takes a certain amount of time to get a beer cold in a fridge or in a cooler, according to Fourier’s law and the conductivity of aluminum, but if you’re in a hurry you can lay a hot can of beer on some ice and spin it with your finger. In 2 minutes you’ll be ready for the first set with a cold beer.

Lady Wrestlers


We did an outdoor show with a female wrestling act one time. They were fairly attractive and funny and didn’t sweat much when they weren’t in the ring.

We worked with a monkey act once, too, but that wasn’t nearly as much fun. The monkeys smelled bad and shit all over the place and knocked over one of our guitars and swore a lot. You know all that ‘Ungawa” stuff in Tarzan movies? Turns out it means “Kiss my ass, Bwana!”.

Nashville wants more money from tourists

Plan on spending a little more money if you’re visiting Nashville to see the Time Jumpers or Bobbe Seymour or some of the hot steel players on Broadway.

“Travelers to Tennessee currently pay more than $17 a night in taxes if they stay in a hotel room that costs about $100…
The Department of Revenue is pushing for a tax on complimentary breakfasts at hotels.”

Story in the Tennessean