Cal Sharp and phrasing

But the key to my questionable success in the entertainment field seemed to be my phrasing and my ability to complement the song and the singer without trying to be Buddy Emmons 2.0 and dazzle everybody with my fancy licks.

Cal SharpI’ve never been a particularly great player, just an average Nashville road dog. I don’t mean to disparage myself, after all, you have to have some chops to even be a Nashville road dog, but I was able to work and make a living playing steel guitar for years, until I got tired of buses and airports and Canadian Customs and truck stop food. And flying – holy fuck, no way I’d do that these days. Anyhoo, I looked OK on stage, had a sense of humor, was somewhat tolerant of self-centered stars, had a great tone (not my doing, I played an Emmons) and could remember arrangements. But the key to my questionable success in the entertainment field seemed to be my phrasing and my ability to complement the song and the singer without trying to be Buddy Emmons 2.0 and dazzle everybody with my fancy licks. (Shit, what did I do with those fancy licks I used to have? Must have left them at a jam session somewhere on Broadway. And I wonder who got ’em?) The secret is to not play over the lyrics. Play in the holes. Sounds simple, don’t it? Yet a lot of players have a problem with that concept. Well, hell, it makes more work for the guys who do get it. Here’s a vid of me not playing over the lyrics with some guy I used to drink and travel and fight with.

Buddy Charleton and phrasing

Many years ago while listening attentively to Buddy Charleton on some of Ernest Tubb’s records I noticed that on some songs, like ballads, I could hardly ever hear him pick a string,

Many years ago while listening attentively to Buddy Charleton on some of Ernest Tubb’s records I noticed that on some songs, like ballads, I could hardly ever hear him pick a string. The steel guitar sound just went on and on like a cascading flow of notes, caressing and emphasizing the lyrics. No ebow in those days, he just had impeccable control of the volume pedal and the innate taste and technique to pick behind and below a lyric, where it wouldn’t be noticed, unless it was at the end of a lyric, and then it was, oh, just perfect. Quite a technique, effective, but very subtle.

In contrast to this, I’ve heard some steel players playing phrases that don’t quite come off, mainly because there’s no delineation between their phrases. Seems like a dichotomy, given the preceding paragraph, eh? Well, they don’t do it like Buddy did. It’s like the space between their phrases is in the wrong place, or stands out too much, or just isn’t right, somehow. Usually, you probably should play an end to a phrase, and then start a new one, and if I don’t hear that it sounds kinda mushy and ineffective. Unless you do it like Buddy.

Buddy’s phrasing was masterful on the recordings I’m referencing. Most players aren’t there yet, and won’t ever get there.

These aren’t the best examples of what I’m going on about, but you might get the idea.

Faron buys me a Harley

I had the hots for a Harley Davidson motorcycle back in the early 80’s.

I had the hots for a Harley Davidson motorcycle back in the early 80’s. I’d owned a Triumph and a BSA when I was younger and I’d always wanted a Harley. But where was the money going to come from? I was just a lowly sideman, a Country Deputy living from johnny paycheck to johnny paycheck. Turned out not be a problem. Faron noticed the “Easy Rider” magazines cluttering up the bus and offered to finance my dream, so I met him at Commerce Union Bank, the downtown branch, in Nashville one afternoon and he loaned me a pile of loot. The tellers were all agog when he walked in. They all knew him, and banking business came to a screeching halt for a few minutes while he kibitzed with them and signed autographs. He withdrew my mad money, and I went out and got an old used Sportster with a gas leak that burned up a few months later in the parking lot at the Stockyards when I was out riding with a drummer friend, Don Andrews. Heh, the fire department had to come out to squelch the conflagration, which rose about 30 feet in the air, and I was known as “Blaze” for a while after that. It was fun while lasted, though. But, Faron, what a guy, huh?