Steel Guitar in Every Genre

August 15, 2013

This is Bob Hempker and I’d like to rant a bit today. I’d like to hear steel guitar in every piece of music I hear, no matter what the genre is, be it country, blues, rock, jazz, classical or whatever. I think the versatility of the instrument is realize unappreciated, underutilized and as a result misunderstood by a lot of people who are not really exposed to steel guitar.

Yet at the same, I hear a lot of steel players gripe about the way someone plays, or their tone in some piece of music. Let’s face it, we’re all not the same and we’re all not trying to play and sound the same. If we were, there’d only be room for one steel player on the planet.

I enjoy listening to a steel player without any country background whatsoever, performing some other form of music whether it be a jazz player, a rock and roll player or a blues player. If they’re proficient at their instrument and have a background in some other form of music and play it well, I don’t care whether or not they can play “Cold, Cold Heart”, “Together Again”, “Touch My Heart” or any other standard country steel guitar oriented song.

Allow them to excel and help showcase the instrument. Guitar players, piano players and players of other instruments are not all country players. Why should we expect all steel players to be country oriented?

On the other hand, if a steel player is on a gig that calls for a country oriented player, they should be proficient at playing country music. I don’t want to hear a blues player with distortion on their instrument playing a blues solo on “A Way To Survive” or some other country tune in a country band that’s playing a country arrangement.

We might all do a little soul searching and try to put our love for the steel guitar ahead of our own preferences in music. After all, there are fans out there who love steel guitar no matter where they find it and I’m one of them.

I would imagine that several decades back when the steel guitar was first being used in country music, there were probably many Hawaiian players that hated it. Personally I like to hear any musician play their forte or their bag, however you want to call it, and do what they do best.

I like to hear jazz played by a jazz oriented musician. A country player playing jazz or as some call it, Hillbilly Jazz, is wonderful and shows the well roundedness of the musician, but jazz played by a jazz oriented musician will usually have a different feel to it. Emotions and ideas are coming from a different place.

I do like to hear someone, no matter what type of music they play, play in tune, although in certain types of music there are actually certain passages that call for dissonance.

I have a certain tone in my head that I like to hear, but certain types of music and different players may not find my idea of tone acceptable. When I think about all the great soloists I’ve listened to in my lifetime, guitar players, steel players, horn players, fiddle players, piano players, it goes on and on, that covers a pretty wide spectrum of tones.

I’ve heard people say when talking about a particular player, “Man I love his playing but I can’t get past his tone.” If we really feel this way, the truth is we don’t really love his playing because his tone is part of his playing.

Country music is very near and dear to my heart. I’ve made a living playing country music all my adult life, but I still appreciate any kind of music as long as it’s performed well. I have had to finally conclude I am a steel guitar fan first and a country music fan second.

Let’s all of us just be more open minded and accepting of other people’s work and be happy to hear steel guitar in rock and roll music or any kind of music. Rant finished.

I’ve decided I need two girlfriends to carry both of my Nashville 112’s because I really love having twin amps on a gig. Of course, they’ll both need to have good paying jobs! When you get used to twins, you don’t want to go back. LOL.

Remember, we cater to steel players, not sound men.

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