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.