Ray Price, Gene O’Neal, Curly Chalker

December 12, 2013

Our aging friend that has meant so much to steel guitar over the past 60 years is in the hospital and not doing well. Mr. Ray Price has always managed to carry a fine commercial steel guitarist on the road with him. He deserves to be acknowledged for what he has done for steel guitar.

In the early days in the 50s he used Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons, then a rash of other fine players from Nashville and Dallas. I worked for Ray on a steady basis four different times. Although it wasn’t the most pleasurable experience in my life, there was something big and magical about that gorgeous band.

The first couple times I worked with Ray he was carrying a big violin section and horn section. I really have to admit that I loved the sound of the overall group. I had previously studied all the parts on the records and duplicated Buddy and Jimmys sound and style. I later recorded an album with this band and thoroughly enjoyed the end product called “Priceless” because it’s the whole unit without Ray.

I got a ton of responses to the last newsletter where I mentioned Gene O’Neal. Gene was a very good player and had recorded with Charlie Pride and Ray Charles among others. If any of you have ever seen him do a live steel guitar show, you will understand what I mean. Gene died several years ago because of a hospital screw-up after he went in to have his tonsils taken out. Everybody that knew him misses him, especially me.

Here’s an email I got from Arkansas Red.

I was fortunate enough to see the late Gene O’Neal one time live with Charlie Pride. Gene took a steel ride on Charlie’s “Crystal Chandeliers” with some of the most beautiful harmonics I’ve ever heard. The audience went ballistic. Charlie walked up to the mic and said, “Gene O’Neal ladies and gentlemen”. Gene looked up like, “Whaaaaat?” He had no idea he had just knocked the audience on it’s rear. He was just into the music so deep. It’s hard to find people like that anymore. That’s why I wanted to play pedal steel. To make the singer sound good. I always wanted to be a good sideman. No stars in my eyes. Just support the singer. Sometimes it’s rough though when you’re playing in one key and they are singing in another and don’t know the difference. Then after the gig you hear, “Boy, that band was the pits wasn’t it?” Because one person was the main screw up, the whole band had to pay for it. Like the late banjo player Bobby Thompson used to say, “A band is only as good as it’s weakest musician.”

Arkansas Red

Next, here’s another email I got. This one is from Jason.

Dear Bobbe,
Well, season’s greetings to you sir. It’s been a mighty entertaining series of newsletters of late, and while no disrespect to the other contributors, your stories take some beating. I’m 44 years old, and have been playing the steel guitar since the age of 18. Like a lot of steel players my age, I’m still ‘obsessed’ with what I consider the golden era of country music, when steel players were unlocking different tunings and experimenting with different instruments and amplifiers. As a kid growing up in the 70s, a lot of what I heard on the radio was not always ‘country’ necessarily, but the steel guitar was a big feature of popular music. The Carpenters, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, America had that sound, just like Charley Pride, Glen Campbell, Lynn Anderson, Barbara Mandrell, George Jones and Merle Haggard.

Thanks to my dad, who’s the same age as Buddy Emmons, I developed a great love for country music and I suppose for the same reasons that my dad also loved it – because it’s funky when it’s called for, it can be blues and jazz too, and it’s music that ‘feels’ and communicates truths.

What I love about the steel guitar is that it speaks to all kinds of music. I work and live near Sydney, Australia – a long way from the epicentre of American musical achievements. But in my career, I have played pedal steel in alternative bands, rock bands, Texas Country bands, alt.country and Americana acts, as well as with pop groups and even hard rock bands. No kidding.

All of these musicians ‘feel’ the steel. They all love that sound, and they all come and stand around me asking questions while I drop the Carter D-10 back in its case.

In March this year, I was without a pedal steel at all – I’d sold my Sho-Bud because it was getting old and unreliable, and parts are hard to find. I loved that 1974 Professional, but I couldn’t keep her working all the time. I sold it back to the guy I bought it from and told my wife, “If something doesn’t happen soon, I’m not going to buy another one.” Well, I thought about it some more and figured if I could lay my hands on another, newer pedal steel, I would not only do it, I would do it properly. So I went and found a Carter D-10 and bought a 70s Peavey amp and a Hilton VP and two DVDs from Bobbe Seymour, and I haven’t looked back. My playing is coming along – I practice every day for a minimum of two hours, and I’m concentrating on the C6 neck at the minute to get my chops going. I love it.

Thank you Bobbe! You are an inspiration.

Mike Brown from Peavey sent me this note concerning Curly Chalker.

Here’s a story for you if you wish to reprint.

It was in the wintertime during the late ’90’s that Hartley Peavey called me into his office to ask that I drive one of the company vans up to our Nashville facility, pick up Curly at his home and take him to our Nashville office and let him pick out a couple of amplifiers. So, I drove to his house, picked him up and took him to the Soundcheck facilities where he picked out two Peavey Classic 50/212 amplifiers. He simply liked the tone of these amplifiers. But, I had been told by other people that he was a bit hard to “deal with”, as when we were enroute to Soundcheck, Curly lit cigarettes and smoked continuously. I had mentioned that there was no smoking in company vehicles and there was even a noticed taped to the engine cover in the van that read, “NO SMOKING IN COMPANY VEHICLES”, but that didn’t faze Curly in the least as he kept “lighting them up”, one right after the other.

Just a tidbit of info to reminisce about.

Mike Brown
Peavey Customer Service

Steve Smith sent me this link. It’s wonderful.

Check out this Curly Chalker piece . Jimmy Capps is as smooth as silk, as well.
Steve Smith


Thank you for the link to that video Steve. I know there are many new players that are not familiar with Curly Chalkers playing. Curly was a legend starting in 1948. His first international recording session was with Lefty Frizzell and then moved to record with several western swing bands including Merle Travis’ big bands.

Curly rubbed a few players the wrong way with his personality at times, but he was honestly a very nice human being with a good heart and tremendous dedication to his playing. When he moved to Nashville to play I was afraid that it might be a mistake for him and I still think it was because he was such a gargantuous player.

His style of doing things just didn’t really fit all the time in the Nashville way of doing things. But he seemed to fit very well on HeeHaw. He ended up moving back to Vegas near the end. He was looking for a playing job that he could reach out and play what he wanted to. He never did find it and actually ended up coming back to Nashville again. Nashville is where he finally died and broke every serious steel players heart.

He sure could be obstinate. I remember talking to Buddy Emmons one time back 30 or more years ago. I asked him if he’d ever heard Curly play in a club setting. He said he went into a club one time to hear Curly play and Curly was on break. However, Buddy was introduced to him off stage. When Curly went back onstage to play the set, he picked up his trumpet and played it the rest of the night.

When I was band leader on Printers Alley in the late 70s, I used to hire Curly to play lead guitar when our regular player was off. He did an incredible job. I wish we would’ve had room to play twin steels. Another great player that I miss.

Merry Christmas from all of us at Steel Guitar Nashville.

Bobbe Seymour


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2 Responses to Ray Price, Gene O’Neal, Curly Chalker

  1. GLORIA SPAHN says:

    can you tell me if Buddy Emmons is still smoking?

  2. Judith Smith says:

    Is there an obituary for Gene O’Neal, or information on his life and death?

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