If philosophers played steel guitar

Camus and his Emmons
Camus and his Emmons
“I play; therefore I am.”
Rene Descartes

“Wise men play because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”

“You have your way of playing. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
Frederich Nietzsche

“The mass of musicians lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Henry David Thoreau

“I cannot believe in a producer who wants to be praised all the time.”
Frederich Nietzsche

“Beware of all gigs that require a new set of clothes.”
Henry David Thoreau

“The road trip which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

“I don’t know which will go first – shuffles or Christianity.”
John Lennon

“As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to play steel guitar when asleep, and never to refrain from playing when awake.”
Mark Twain

“How hard, how bitter it is to become a steel guitar player!”
Albert Camus

“All that I know about music, it seems, I have learned in jam sessions.”
Jean-Paul Sartre

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to play and remove all doubt.”
Mark Twain

“By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you won’t have to get a day job; if you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”

“At 30 a musician should know himself like the palm of his hand, know the exact number of his defects and qualities, know how far he can go, foretell his failures – be what he is. And, above all, accept these things.”
Albert Camus

“The steel players are only the interpreters of the Gods.”

“Every chick singer is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.”
Jean-Paul Sartre

“Don’t believe your musician friends when they ask you to be honest with them. All they really want is to be maintained in the good opinion they have of themselves.”
Albert Camus

“If I became a musician, if I have so keenly sought this fame for which I’m still waiting, it’s all been to seduce women basically.”
Jean-Paul Sartre

“Know thy neck.”

“You know, everyone complains about the drummer but nobody does anything about it. Calvin Coolidge said that.” Floyd Lawson
“No, Floyd, that wasn’t Calvin Coolidge that said that, it was Mark Twain.” Andy Taylor
“Then what did Calvin Coolidge say?” Floyd Lawson

Dude, where’s my steel guitar?

The first time I played the Opry I almost lost my black Emmons. Sonny, Hal and Weldon, the staff steel players, all had black ones too, and I was so nervous I had a little trouble finding mine when I ran onto the stage (you don’t get much time) to play the intro to “Don’t Be Angry”.

Another night at the Opry a bunch of us steel players decided to reconvene on Broadway at Deemen’s Den and pick a little, so we all hustled off after our spots. At the “new” Opry (new at the time, on Briley Pkwy.) there’s a long sidewalk leading from the parking lot to the artists’ entrance, and pickers would pull up and trundle their stuff in past Mr. Bell at the desk to their dressing room and then go move their car. Danny Tyack, who was working with Donna Fargo, I think, came with us and when he double-parked on 4th and opened his trunk it was empty. Well, shit, he’d left his steel at the Opry at the end of the sidewalk. So we all had a big laugh and played thirty or forty choruses of “C-Jam Blues” while he went back to get it.

At the Wembley (or Wemberley, as they say in Nashville) Festival in London we all stayed in the Royal Lancaster Arms Hotel. Remember when you were a kid and you stayed overnight at a friend’s house and you’d stay up late giggling and looking at Playboy magazines until your friend’s mother would holler at you to be quiet and go to sleep? Damnit? Well, it was kinda like that at the Royal Lancaster, except there was alcohol and real live girls involved. Anyway, somebody took Terry Wendt’s steel guitar and hid it in a maid’s closet in one of the interminable hallways, and we had a big time watching him go barmy trying to find it. In all fairness to the beastly miscreants, Terry had earlier started a false rumor that Eric Clapton was gonna stop by to jam with us Nashville pickers, but he still thought it was bloody naff.

Guys you don’t want to work with

When I was with Stonewall Jackson we were hard up for a bass player and took a guy out on a trip that nobody knew. He only used one string to play walking patterns, and it was grim. Another time with Red Sovine we needed a drummer at the last minute and hired a guy who turned out to be gay – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it was a long tour and he was making the bass player nervous, so when we were close to Nashville we detoured and dropped him off and went on our merry way with another guy.

Here’s a short list of other musicians you might want to be wary of.

Otis Campbell
This guy is staggering and playing way too loud by the third set, and he might run a tab and split without paying it.

Eddie Haskell
You need a sub for your regular gig and you hire a guy for the night and you notice him getting real chummy with the club owner. Next week he’s got his own band in there and it’s no longer your regular gig.

The Best Musician in Nashville
He’s not, of course – you couldn’t afford the best one – but he thinks he is, and wants to rearrange all your songs and tell everyone what they should be playing.

Chatty Cathy
He tells jokes and talks so much between songs, on or off the mike, that the dancers get tired of waiting for the next song and take their drinks out on the patio and start a sing-along.

Eddie Van Halen
A rock’n’roller who brings in a Marshall stack and a ten-space rack. Get out the ear plugs.

Glenn Quagmire
He’s so busy grinning at the girls on the dance floor that he gets lost in “Crazy Arms”. And then he tries to sniff their shoes on the break and will slip some Spanish Fly into their drink unless they watch his sorry rapist ass. Giggity giggity goo! Keep an eye on your womenfolk.

The Busybody
He never stops playing. Doesn’t know what rhythm is, or even fills. Everything’s a solo to him and you can’t even finish a lick before he’s all over you. You want to take him out back and shoot him.

Super Sideman
This guy claims to have worked with George Jones, Ray Price, Tracy Lawrence and “many others”, but nobody in the band’s ever heard him. Bullshit alert, he probably needs a chart for “Your Cheatin’ Heart”. Oh, never mind, he can’t read charts, either.

The Jazz Player
This guy’s got chops out the wazoo, and likes to see how many 16th notes he can cram into a measure. Everything’s “Giant Steps” to him, and he considers vocalists just an annoyance.

Chet Atkins
I loved Chet, and he would never do this, but a lot of these guys don’t work out very well in a group situation. They play bass with their thumb, drums with their foot, and fiddle, steel and, oh yeah, guitar, with their fingers, and don’t leave much room for anyone else.

Anybody Loud
When a guy plays too friggin’ loud and will not turn down you need to call the Country Music Police and have him taken away for correctional measures. Their number is BR-549.


I never liked wearing uniforms. I worked for a band called Leda Ray and the Escorts once and we wore tuxedo jackets and ruffled dress shirts, and that was pretty bad. With Faron we had some Harvey Krantz suits that were kinda cool, but still, it was a uniform, and we had to get them dry cleaned and back on the bus for the next trip and make sure we all wore the same one on any given night. A PITA. We got home one bright Monday morning after a long trip one time, all hung over and shit, and the one of the guys dropped his suit off to get cleaned on the way to Hendersonville and forgot where’e he’d taken it and had to make some frantic phone calls before the next trip to locate it. Yeah, I know it’s show biz, and some people listen with their eyes, but I still feel better in jeans and a T-shirt.
My favorite shirt
Paul Anka was way over the top about stage attire, and if you’ve never heard his rant, it’s here. The guys get shirts, that’s just the fucking way it is! Hilarious. Similar to the infamous Buddy Rich rant.

I want a drink, here’s a fifty, keep my change in dimes

I was on the road out West somewhere with Faron and he was thirsty. There wasn’t any booze on the bus, at least that he knew about. It was Sunday and we happened to be in a state that didn’t sell liquor on Sundays. We were at at a truck stop fueling and they happened to sell liquor. But, like I said, it was Sunday. Faron grabbed a bottle of Crown and tried to sweet-talk the clerk into selling it to him. No dice, the clerk wasn’t to be coerced. Faron gave him an autographed photo and sang an excerpt from “Sweet Dreams” and made a joke about the drummer. Still, that bastage wouldn’t budge. Faron ranted a little more to no avail, and finally, in frustration, threw a big bill down on the counter and walked out. We drove off unmolested, feeling like fucking outlaws or something.

Can you hear me now?

You’ve been working on a totally awesome new lick all week and you spring it on the band Fri night, and, miraculously, it comes off great but nobody notices. WTF? Later on you hit a big ol’ clam and nobody seems to notice that, either. So you start to wonder if you should turn up, like to 11.

The sad reality is that the guys in the band are probably not as eat up with steel guitar as you are, and they’re just listening to themselves or watching chicks on the dance floor, whereas you’re listening to the whole band, what everybody is doing, and how you can best complement the whole prerformance. Huh.

So it’s pretty nice when you can work with pickers who are steel guitar fans. One of my first gigs was with a guitar player who loved Lloyd Green and I learned a bunch of stuff from him. I learned the “Night Life” intro from a guitar player who got it from Jimmy Day.

Singers might bend an ear if you sound kinda like Buddy Emmons or Ralph Mooney or whoever played on the material they do, but once they get a feel for how you play you’re a known entity and then they can safely ignore you.

Some singers might have a little more respect for the steel guitar, but most of them usually aren’t gonna notice you unless you get in their way. Singers are the focus of attention, right? And you exist merely to support them, right?

This can lead to becoming jaded and ignoring singers except for their particular phrasing, necessary since they’re ususally required to have a gig. Shit, how many singers have you played “Crazy Arms” with? Not counting tonight? After a few hundred of ’em, including Ray Price and Chuck Seals, it’s hard to get all impressed.

Well, anyway, you’ve learned a new lick and proved to yourself that you can play it, at least on a good night, and that’s what really matters.