Get started early

When Buddy Emmons he was 11 years old his father bought him a 6-string lap steel guitar and signed him up for lessons at the Hawaiian Conservatory of Music in South Bend, Indiana.

Beethoven’s first music teacher was his father. Beethoven was about six or seven when he gave his first public performance in March 1778.

At the age of five Mozart was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.

Charlie Parker showed no sign of musical talent as a child, but his father presumably provided some musical influence; he was a pianist, dancer and singer. Bird’s biggest childhood influence, though, was a young trombone player who taught him the basics of improvisation.

When Buddy Emmons he was 11 years old his father bought him a 6-string lap steel guitar and signed him up for lessons at the Hawaiian Conservatory of Music in South Bend, Indiana.

Paul Franklin’s father, Paul Sr., loved the steel guitar, and when Paul was eight, his father asked him if he would like to play an instrument, and Paul said a steel was what he wanted. So Paul Sr., an inveterate tinkerer, converted an old Vega guitar into a dobro-like instrument. Paul plucked on this for about six months, after which he got his first pedal steel, a Fender 400.

Mickey Mantle’s Dad, Mutt, who named Mickey after baseball great Mickey Cochrane, used to give him baseballs to play with when he was still in the crib.

I got started early, too, but not on steel guitar. I’d always wanted to play guitar, but my Dad, who’d been a semi-pro trumpet player in his younger days, started me on piano when I was in 2nd grade. Didn’t learn much, mostly music theory. The curriculum was classical music, Chopin, Mozart et al. and I wasn’t really into that kind of music. And my teachers weren’t really very inspirational, even though they might have been good teachers. My first teacher was a nun, and my second one was a gay man. Not that there’s anything wrong with being gay – hell, I didn’t even know what gay was when I was 10 – but when I thought of a piano player I thought of Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard (whoops, bad example) or Dave Brubek, and my teachers seemed totally L7 to me.

A few years later my Dad started me on trumpet, again not the instrument I really wanted to play, but I learned more theory and got some experience playing in a band at the music school I attended in the summer.

When I was in high school I finally got a guitar, an old arch-top, and a friend showed me what little he knew – “Louis, Louie”, C Am F G, basic stuff, and we decided to start a band. I needed an electric guitar and an amp, though, and once my Dad saw that I could actually play a little he begrudgingly bought me a Harmony guitar and a Fender amp, with the caveat that I had to take lessons from an actual guitar teacher.

It wasn’t until I graduated from college that I finally got a steel guitar, with money borrowed from the owner of a tree service where I’d been working since high school. I was finally where I wanted to be, with little or no parental encouragement, and I practiced like a demon and was soon playing gigs for money around South Bend and eventually wound up in Nashville playing on the Opry.

But I still have gaping, yawning black holes in my technique and execution, even after 38 years of dedication to the instrument. Would I be a better steel guitar player today had I started on steel, or at least 6-string guitar, instead of piano in the 2nd grade? I don’t know, but I strongly suspect that I would.

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.

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