I started playing steel guitar in my home town, South Bend, IN, in the early 70’s. I’d just graduated from Indiana University with a big ol’ BA degree in Visual Communication (now known as graphic design), so the first thing I did was drive down to Nashville and get me a brand new Sho~Bud Professional. Because I wanted to play steel guitar.
I practiced like a friggin’ maniac for a few months and then went out to the South Bend honky-tonks and started making friends and sitting in, and pretty soon I had some gigs.
The pickers I met in the bars were some great guys. A lot of them had worked with Buddy Emmons when he was still just a local picker, and they were pretty helpful to a long-haired hippie-type guy who just wanted to play shuffles and ballads on his new steel guitar.
The first few gigs I landed were in some dives in Mishawaka and South Bend with a bunch of drunks who could barely count to 4/4, and who made more money selling speed on the breaks than they did picking, but pretty soon I was playing at the Silver Dollar Saloon in South Bend, which was the the best gig in town.
Elmer Hobor was the first steel guitar player I met, at the Silver Dollar. He let me sit in on his Sho~Bud, and that’s the first time anybody heard me play.
Jesse Smith had a band called the Roadrunners, and he hired me to pick with him. They worked pretty regular on the weekends, and they did a lot of Texas stuff, so that was cool with me.
Then I got hooked up with Gene Robertson, who had a band called the Echos. They had a weekend gig at the El Rancho in New Buffalo, MI, just across the state line. Buddy Williams was the guitar player. He was left-handed, and played a regular guitar upside down. D’ho! He was a Lloyd Green freak, and I tried to transpose his licks to my steel guitar. Gene and Buddy told me all about Emmons – hell, I didn’t even know that he was the steel player on so many Ray Price records. That’s how green I was. They took me to Cal City one night, where Emmons used to spend so much time, and we hung out at Mary’s Place all night ‘til they closed, which was about 5AM. Gene had another guitar player later, Ron Dailey, who was a fine player.
Chuck Drew played steel guitar at some of the joints around town. He was Buddy’s cousin, and he had a 60’s P/P without any knee levers, and I went with him to Buddy’s house in Nashville to get Buddy to update his guitar. We stayed a couple days with Buddy, and Peggy was a sweetheart, the perfect hostess, and and an angel.
Ray Barrier had a band for years at the Silver Dollar, and I worked with them once in a a while. His brother Joe played bass and Sonny Barrier was the drummer. They had bluegrass roots, but they could do some kick-ass country, especially when Houston Trivett was singing.
Junior Ward was a singer/bass player around South Bend who did some great Price stuff. Emmons played on one of his early records. Junior took up steel guitar, after he just couldn’t stand it any more, and he’s still picking.
Jim Reisner played steel guitar with Gene Robertson before I did. He was a state cop, and he pulled Johnny Paycheck’s bus over one time just so he could talk to the steel player, who was Jim Vest.
Y’know, you just can’t get anywhere as a musician unless you have some other musicians to pick with, and I’ll always be grateful to those guys around South Bend so many years ago, many of whom are dead now, for their encouragement and helpfulness.