Don Helms, Buddy Charleton, John Hughey

May 30, 2013

This is Bob Hempker and I’ve been recalling a lot of the memories I’ve made through the years. You tend to collect them over time and it’s nice to smile and reminisce.

Don Helms was one of the first people I met when I came to town in 1969. Don was working with Hank Williams Jr. at the time. This was back when Hank had the Cheatin’ Hearts band. I was somewhat in awe of being around Don. He had been one of my heroes as a kid.

I went to work with Loretta not long after this. Don had played on all her early recordings that she did for Decca Records. The Wilburn Brothers were managing Loretta at the time and Don had worked for them and they all thought a lot of Don. Don was the Helm of the Wil-Helm Talent Agency that they had formed together.

Don was possibly the funniest man I have ever been around in my life. He was funny without try to be and had a bone dry sense of humor. I told him one time that he should start doing comedy. His reply was, “I tried that and everybody laughed at me.”

Don was so well known for the years he was with Hank Williams Sr. and the many hit recordings he played on at that time. He also played on Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight”, The Wilburn Brothers “Somebody’s Back In Town” and various other recordings with people other than Hank Sr. Don probably never got the recognition for that.

I remember one time there were several acts including Loretta and Hank Williams Jr. that were going to the U.K. for Easter for the Wembley Festival. That used to be an annual event for the big names of country music.

Don had an MSA D-12 and that thing weighed a ton. The case had a handle on each end so two people could carry it. Don and I carried that guitar all the way through Heathrow Airport in London. It just about killed both of us. Heathrow is kind of like Dallas-Ft. Worth airport except you don’t have a tram to ride.

Buddy Charlton was still on the road with Ernest Tubb when I first got on the road. He was another big hero of mine. Buddy and I got to be good friends down through the years while he was with Ernest. He was such a great player and a great stylist. I remember Buddy using his guitar case for a seat to sit on and play his guitar. I still to this day don’t know how he did it.

He also would change necks in the middle of a song frequently back and forth. That was such a unique idea I’m assuming that came from the old western swing stand-up players. I remember several of Ernest’s songs like “Half A Mind” that he would do this on. Anyone who thought C6th was just for jazz and swing would change their mind after seeing and hearing Buddy do this.

About this same time, we started working a lot of dates with Conway Twitty. For many years during the 70’s and 80’s I had the pleasure of being around Papa John Hughey on a daily basis. What a wonderful person and a great player! I can’t say enough about John Hughey. John was a real super perfectionist in everything he did, but at the same time, he was a humble man.

He and I were both playing Emmons push pull guitars at the time and using Evans Hybrid 300 amps. We hooked them together and we both used both amps. I don’t know if that started a trend or how it came about but I see more and more steel players using two amps.

I remember one time being on an overseas tour. My guitar got dropped and damaged by the airlines. I know you’ll find that hard to believe, but it did. Fortunately for me, John played a Jimmy Day style setup which I do too so I played John’s guitar for the rest of the tour.

Those were wonderful days. We were all like a big family and helped each other. No one was jealous of anyone else. Anything that anybody played, you could ask them how they played it and they’d sit down and show it to you. I am fortunate and very glad that I got to play steel guitar and country music in the era when I got to play.

I had the pleasure of getting to know and work with some of the finest people and musicians on the planet. It’s been a wonderful ride and it’s not over yet.

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