Backup – Keep It Simple; Pro vs Student Model Pedal Steels

February 28, 2013

This is Bob Hempker and today I’d like to pass along a couple of replies I’ve had about previous newsletters. The first one concerns backing a singer. Here it is:

Bob, You could have not said that any better. I was just telling a student yesterday that it is all about playing pretty and that no one in the audience cares if you are a hot lick steel player or not, but if you play careful behind the singer you will be noticed every time. Can’t believe I got this letter this morning on the same subject and I also told him that it was more fun playing behind Ray Price and Darrell McCall and Johnny Bush and Willie. Yes, It is nice to show that you can play when the time comes, but just sit back and follow the song and singer and you will win every time. He called me this morning and told me that he practiced all night with the Ray Price Tracks that I had given him and that appreciated the yesterday lesson more than he could tell me. I just told him, next week you can SHOW ME what he had learned. I have always enjoyed teaching and seeing what others pick up from you and I also sent you a couple of my students to get hooked up with your newsletters. Please keep them coming. Your news letters are better than any guitar magazine that I could purchase! Thanks and keep them coming!
J. Bates

The next one comes from Jay Noel and to me, it contains an important message.

The comments from Vic Cox the other day got me to thinking. I spent 22 years playing lap steel wanting to play pedal steel and not wanting to invest in the cost of a pedal steel. A good friend of mine, who has won several Texas Country Opry awards(there used to be several Oprys in DFW Texas, Mesquite Opry and Johnnie High type shows for example), well he had a used steel that he couldn’t seem to learn to play and just flat-out gave it to me, on the condition that I would play steel for him if he ever went professional. (He didn’t) I did end up playing in a band called “The Rough Ryders” in the late ’80s and early 90’s but the band broke up and for awhile I quit playing. A couple of years ago I started playing again, and took the advice of an old friend, Junior Knight, got myself a new pro model steel.

I can’t put into words how much it has meant to me just playing and enjoying it, but it occurred to me how much better I might be today if I had invested in a pro model steel 35 years ago. My advice is simple. If you love steel guitar, and even think that you might like playing a pro model,– make the investment. First of all you will find with a little practice you can emulate many of the steel licks you’ve heard and have a lot of fun playing them. Second of all even if you decide you no longer like the steel guitar, most steels, especially name brand pro models hold their value well. And a good repair shop can make a used pro model play just as good as a new one, and the investment will be a bit less. Or you might decide to invest in a brand new steel like I finally did, but please take my advice and don’t waste years wishing you could. Just go ahead and do it. Oh, and by the way, if you miss playing the lap steel you can always play it on a couple of tunes, and you will be surprised how well you can play it after playing a pedal steel for awhile.

Jay Noel
Fort Worth, TX

First of all I’d like to thank Jay Noel for submitting some superb sound advice. Frequently people bring instruments in here that they have bought off Ebay or at an auction somewhere or something at a bargain price. The instrument will many times need more fixing, adjusting, pedals or knee levers added to it and no telling what.

They end up with more money invested in a second rate instrument than they would have if they had just gone ahead and spent a few extra bucks and got a top quality instrument to begin with.

I personally am not a fan of student model guitars. We even sell them here but I try to tell people they’re better off spending a few extra hundred dollars and get a professional quality instrument. Once they get good enough to play with other people and bands and play in public, the better quality instrument will be up to the job instead of being a frustration.

Another point to consider is that by chance you keep your guitar awhile and you want to trade it up on a nicer instrument or you just decide you don’t want to play anymore, you will be more prone to recoup most of the money you’ve got in your instrument, whereas the student model is hard to sell, people really don’t want to take them on trade and they’re next to impossible to add knee levers or pedals to upgrade them.

Again, thanks Jay for your input. Guys and gals, this is great advice!

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Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

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The Dirtiest Kid

I’d like to talk about one aspect of working the road and that is enduring inclement weather conditions. If somebody catches a cold or the flu before the road trip is over with, it goes through everybody on the bus because it goes through the heating and air-conditioning system.

I still to this day take mega-doses of vitamin C because there’s nothing more miserable than working with a 104 degree fever for three or four days in a row. It isn’t quite like being home and having mama fix you chicken soup.

I remember a time in the mid-seventies, we were working up in Canada in January. It was way below zero. In the middle of the night, one of the guys got up out of his bunk and smelled smoke. Had he not gotten up, all of us in the bunk area could have suffocated.

As it turned out, some electric wires underneath the bottom bunk had come together and caught fire and the bunk area was full of smoke. He immediately woke everyone up. We went up front and the bus driver pulled the bus over. We got the fire put out. It was just smoldering and hadn’t got up to a flame, but the wiring in the bus was shot.

It’s 3 AM in the morning at minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, Conway Twitty’s bus was behind us. They pulled in behind us, we got out with just our necessities. Loretta and all of us piled on Conway’s bus. That was a bus load of people.

Our bus driver had to stay with our bus and wait until it got daylight out to take it to a shop to be repaired. The wiring was totally gone so he had no lights. We went ahead and worked the next two or three days with all of us piled on the one bus. Finally, our bus got repaired and our driver drove and met us.

I’ll never forget standing outside the bus in the middle of the night in that terrible cold weather until Conway’s bus caught up with us.

One thing that happens all the time is that shows get cancelled for pouring rain. Water and electricity don’t mix and fans just don’t understand that. The get upset because we can’t do the show.

One time, we played an outdoor show in Florida and it was in December. A cold front came in and it was 26 degrees. My fingers absolutely did not want to move when I tried to play.

I always hated to see hot summer weather to come because it would be two or three months of working in miserably hot weather playing dusty race tracks at county fairs. We also had to play the outdoor country music parks back then. Places like Ponderosa Park in Ohio, Bucklake Ranch in Indiana and Sunset Park in Pennsylvania.

There were so many of those outdoor parks back then. In fact, I think that is kind of a piece of country music history. I think most of them are pretty much a thing of the past.

At many of them, we had to do three shows a day. We had to wear band uniforms with rhinestones that were made out of gabardine. That stuff doesn’t breathe at all. We had patent leather western boots that would be so hot your feet would just burn like fire.

Everybody including myself would be out of tune because of the heat and wind messing with the instruments and you just had to grin and bear it. Obviously, there were no electronic tuners back then. Many stages were built facing the hot sun so the audience wouldn’t have to look at it, but we did. It was right in our faces.

We had our own PA system that we carried on the bus. It was a Shure Vocal-Master. We had four of these long columns we had to set up every day along with the PA head, microphones and cables. None of the amplifiers were miked. The vocal microphones were all run directly into a mixing board which we ran from the stage.

Since none of the amplifiers were miked, when you played outside you had to crank it up and play loud and watch and listen to what else was going on onstage. We didn’t have in ear monitors and custom mixes like the groups today have.

Many of the people in the audience would bring their children with them. If it had rained earlier that day, there would be kids running and sliding in the mud and playing. One particular time at Sunset Park in West Grove, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia, it had rained earlier that day. The bus got stuck in the mud and we had to have a wrecker come pull the bus out of the mud.

We decided to have a dirtiest kid contest. The guys in the band pooled our money. It ended up coming to about $25 which was a lot of money back in those days. Don Ballinger, my dear friend whom we lost back in ’86 was fronting our band and playing rhythm guitar. He also sang some duets with Loretta.

Don announced to the crowd at the beginning of the show that at the end of the day we would hold a dirtiest kid contest and the kid that won would win $25. As the day progressed and we played all three shows, in the time between the shows, there were scores of kids sliding in the mud deliberately trying to get dirty.

Finally at the end of the day, we judged the contest and picked out the dirtiest kid and gave him the $25. It’s strange how people can really create their own amusement which we were forced to do much of the time.

Being on the road can be miserable, can be happy, can be trying, is inconvenient and is unforgettable. These young kids on the road with stars today don’t know how good they have it!

www.steelguitar.net
sales@steelguitar.net
www.youtube.com/bobbeseymour

Listen To Steel Guitar Music Streaming 24 Hours A Day!

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

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The Philosophy of Backing Up a Singer

This is Bob Hempker. I’d like to talk about my approach to backing a singer. Everyone has their own style and thoughts on the subject of course and I’m only going to talk about how I handle it.

Let’s face. Most of us live for the solos. We can’t wait for our spot in the light. We sit there doing our best to be patient while whishing the singer would hurry up and finish their part over with so we can get on to the good part. Our part.

Bottom line, singers don’t hire us to be the show, they hire us to help make their show better. Backing the singer is our place in the grand scheme of things. We need to be as proficient as we can be at this or someone else might be doing it the next time the singer works.

Different players or styles can really fit with certain singers. For instance, Ralph Mooney really fit the early Buck Owens sound, whereas Tom Brumley was perfect for Buck’s later sound.

When I think of Ray Price music, Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons come to mind. Buddy Charlton comes to mind when I think of Ernest Tubb. This isn’t to say that there hasn’t been some other fine players who have worked with certain artists. Certain styles of playing can really fit different singers.

When I think of the steel players that really influenced me when I was young, they were not just steel players but stylists as well each having a very distinctive way of playing so you knew who it was without asking. We lost one of my heroes at the end of last week. Sonny Burnette worked with Webb Pierce, The Wilburn Brothers, worked the Opry Staff Band for many years, worked the Ralph Emory Morning Show. The steel guitar world has suffered a great loss. My condolences go out to Sonny’s family.

The best and most successful studio players would usually develop and adapt a different style to each singer that they worked with. That’s a tough act to follow but if you can do it, you’ll distinguish yourself as a player.

One of the main things to always bear in mind when you’re playing behind a singer is to not overplay. What I mean by overplaying is playing lines on top of the singers lines. Sort of visualize the singer’s melody in music notation and when you see rests, that is where you need to play. This is sometimes called filling the holes.

It’s also good if we have the time, to somewhat get to know the singer that we’re playing behind and find out what they like and dislike musically. We don’t want to play something that is over their head of the singer or something they don’t understand. The K.I.S.S. keep it simple stupid saying really applies here.

It’s also a good idea for the other people in the band to look at this in the same way we do because we’re all out there on that stage trying to help the singer sell a product to the audience. The singer can somewhat be a quarterback and we’re other players on the team. When we’re handed the ball, we need to run with it. But the rest of the time, we block.

Most of us that have been playing any length of time have played our way out of jobs at one time or another in our career. That is a very easy thing to do. I’ve been on jobs where everything just magically fell into place and I’ve also been on jobs where there would be personality conflicts between me and the singer or maybe me and another member of the band.

When this is the case it’s inevitable that sooner or later something will give, that one of us will end up leaving and there have been times that it’s been me. Every gig we get hired on is not going to fit us perfectly. If you find yourself in such a situation, then grin, bear it, put your money in your pocket and go home.

I chose music as a career when I was young because I love music and love making music. It was fun and I enjoyed it. Anytime any particular gig became a “job”, it was not fun anymore. This comes out in our playing. Life is too short and we can make better money doing other things than playing music. So if we’re unhappy we need to move on.

Bear in mind that we all have an ego. The singer is no exception. Usually a singer who can really entertain an audience has a huge ego. I guess that’s just part of it. In many cases we have to humor the singer offstage and just plain put up with them because so many of them have huge, overblown egos. It really took me a lot of practice to learn to tolerate them.

I must admit, it is more tolerable when a singer has some hit recordings and some other things to back up their ego. When I have to work with someone who’s got a huge ego and has no talent and not one thing to back it up, it gets old quickly. They get out of their little home town and nobody knows who they are, and they still have this overblown ego. Then, I have to bail out.

I stayed with Loretta so long because she was a total class act onstage and off. If she screwed up onstage, she would admit it and wouldn’t blame it on somebody in the band. People like this are few and far between and I was very, very fortunate to have someone like her to work for.

I took what Hal Rugg did in the studio and adapted it to our live arrangements and made it work. I sort of put my own little touch or little twist to what he had done on the recordings and happily played it onstage. I was totally spoiled working for Loretta.

Again, the bottom line to all of this is to play with as much soul and feeling as we can and do our best to make that person out in front look and sound good.

www.steelguitar.net
sales@steelguitar.net
www.youtube.com/bobbeseymour

Listen To Steel Guitar Music Streaming 24 Hours A Day!

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

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