It was in Indianapolis that I heard my first live steel guitar player, and that would be Joe Tippie, who played a Marlen at a club called, I think, Nashville North.

Cal and the Gretsch guitarI went to college in Indianapolis, at an art school, from 1968-1972. The students – and some of the teachers – had long hair and did a doobie now and then, and so did I, but I was the only one who had any appreciation for country music, except for the guy who drove the lunch wagon that came around the school every day. He always had country music playing on his radio whilst he sniggered at the hippies milling around buying junk food, and I remember hearing a Conway Twitty song one time.

It was in Indianapolis that I heard my first live steel guitar player, and that would be Joe Tippie, who played a Marlen at a club called, I think, Nashville North. They were playing “The Other Woman” the first time I walked in the door. Abso-fucking-lutely staggering! A real in-person steel guitar player, after I had only seen ‘ em on TV, guys like Hal Rugg, Don Helms and Don Warden. I mean, I was ga-ga.

There was a club called the Sherman Bar, or some such, that had a jam session on Saturday afternoons, and I would usually show up and play a little guitar. This was before I ever had a steel guitar. It was my first experience ever playing live country music with a band; heretofore I had been a rock’n’roll guitar player in my high school band. Let me tell you, I was pretty fucking brave, walking into a red-neck bar at that time with hair down to my shoulders, weighing only 150 pounds, but I just wanted to pick, and I never had any more trouble than I could handle, even though I was considered kind of weird. The chicks with the big hair would point at me and say, “Honey, you might be kinda cute if you’d get a haircut.”

Norm Whitmer was the bandleader at the Sherman, and Joe Jackson was the guitar player, and he was very kind to me. He’d show me guitar licks and explain stuff about music, and one time when the drummer was in jail for back support he hired me to play drums, even though I didn’t play drums until then.

The local country station, WIRE, played some great music back then. I nearly drove my car off 16th St. one afternoon when Johnny Bush came on singing “I’ll Be There” and Dickey took his solo. Wow! What was I doing in Indy-fucking-apolis? I should be in Nashville. Well, I would be in a few years.

I was at a “pot party” one night. “Pot Party” was what straights back then called a bunch of hippies getting together. Like their frame of reference was a “Cocktail Party”, I guess. Anyhoo, I sat on the floor in front of the record player for a long time listening to “Don’t Bogart that Joint” over and over on the “Easy Rider” soundtrack. Red Rhodes, I think. I’d never heard steel guitar in any other context than stone country, so that seemed to be the nexus of country music and my preferred life style, and I staggered home that night feeling a little better about things. I knew I’d have me a steel guitar some day.

Author: Cal Sharp

Nashville pedal steel guitarist for over 30 years. Credits include Stonewall Jackson, Little Jimmy Dickens, Red Sovine, Faron Young, Ernest Tubb, Ray Price, Johnny Russell, George Fox, Vern Gosdin, Del Reeves, Gilley's, the Palomino Club and a few others. Retired from the road, playing sessions and clubs locally. I also develop websites, like this one and other music-related sites. Contact me if you need a website. Email: cal at caligraphics dot net or fill out the contact form.

8 thoughts on “Indianapolis”

  1. Joe Tippe was unbelieveable on steel! IS he still here in Indy? Haven’t heard those names in 20 years!

  2. Joe may be in Florida now but the last I heard he was driving a bus in Indy. I’m sure he retired by now and probably is in Fl. He likes to play golf and sounds like something he would do.
    I moved to Indy soon after you left Cal and I worked with all the guys you mentioned. Joe Tippie was an amazing steel picker. He could switch necks on that old Marlin and you’d never know which tuning he was on. He played C6th licks on the E9th neck and E9th licks on C6th.
    I worked with Joe Jackson and Norm Whitmer for a little while also. Joe J. was real nice to me also. He showed me guitar licks that could be played on steel for the rock songs we played. Do you remember Norm Lester and Gene Jinx?

  3. No, I don’t remember Lester and Jinx. I used to hang at the Sherman Bar, Nashville North, and some club on Pendleton Pike where Tippie played. I left in ’72, but I looked up Tippie whenever I’d come thru Indy for the next few years.

  4. Nice little read! I was born and raised here in Indy but have lived all over. Keep coming back. Was the art school Herron by chance? I play nonpedal steel and love hearing stuff like this. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Was with Norm, Joe, Gene Lynn, Joe Jackson for about 4 yrs. All great musicians. Also played with Tommie Flint in the ’60’s also 4 yrs at Blakes Tavern on east Washington st. Dick Blake worked with the Hubert Long Agency in Nashville so we all a chance to work with all the country music greats. On their road shows just about all the artists/bands would stop by and pay Blakes a visit. (sometimes for days at a time) LOL. Have not returned to Indy for 12 yrs. Have many great memories.
    I Feel lucky to have run across this on the internet very interesting.

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