Hello fans and fellow players,
It’s really funny how different areas of the United States perceive famous people differently. When I was starting my career I worked for many of the famous stars in the business and never looked at them as being any different from anybody I’d meet on the street and I sure didn’t treat them any differently.
Well, this isn’t true necessarily because I didn’t treat any of them very good I feel. I’d argue with Billy Walker, George Jones, Claude Gray and everybody I worked for like they were my brother, not like they were some kind of big star to be respected.
I moved to Washington D.C. to work a club named The Ozarks at 10th and K Street. It was right next to a storefront that Nixon had rented for office space for his election committee which was in the mid sixties of course. We have many so-called famous people in the club every night. People like Senator Harry Byrd wanting to sit in on fiddle and people that ran the country all day long and then sat in on the stage and had to listen to me tell them when to play, how loud to play and when to get off the stage.
Amazing. They were powerful folks that liked to have fun just like the rest of us. My time in north Los Angeles playing the clubs was really interesting. You never knew who would come in to hear you. There weren’t but two steel players in the area so once they had shown up, it was mostly famous lead guitar players after that.
These guys were famous, but not necessarily great guitar players. This was where I learned that greatness and fame really didn’t go together very often. What I did learn was what soul and what feel was. Guys like Duane Allman, Jeff Beck, Ry Cooder, Jerry Garcia, Jimmy Page and Chuck Berry would sit in and absolutely rock the place.
They had everybody jumping up and down screaming, but in observing them I realized that they did it mostly with feel and volume. Like Chet Atkins said one time, “I don’t mind a guitar player stirring up the crowd and making them jump around and scream with a high volume distorted solo, but that’s not me. I’m not gonna do it that way. I’d rather have them look at me, drop their head and just exclaim, wow, I wish I could do that.”
Chet was a true master, but there was a dividing line between Chet’s playing and many of the other great players like Larry Carlton, Eric Clapton and how about George Harrison, a really famous guitar player because of his fame, but not necessarily a killer in any style but his own.
I saw a clip one time of Jerry McDonald from Europe, a very nice laid back player that just kept amazing me from bar to bar. And then of course, there was Wes Montgomery. Wes not being a hard core rocker, but he had the talent to take what he knew and play it to its finest degree. The background music that he created to go with his style was about as wonderful as you could ever ask for.
Remember Sunshine Superman by Donavan? How about Soul Man by Sam and Dave and the licks that Steve Cropper played on guitar? These guys knew just exactly how to play the least amount of notes possible with so much soul and taste that they could rip the heart out of other musicians that can seemingly play circles around them.
If you’re not familiar with Steve Cropper, he was one of the two guitar players in the Blues Brothers movie and was on all the sound tracks. You might remember his work on Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay, a song he played guitar on and co-wrote with Otis Redding.
Listen to some of the solos on The Eagles recordings. How about the turn around on New Kid In Town? There sure is a wonderful world of music out there. It’s not all watch how fast I can play or listen to all this distortion I can use, but taste can affect the greatest of players as much as it does the simplest of players.
These are the things that make me love great steel guitar and great lead guitar. This is why I took it as such a wonderful off handed compliment to be hired by Chet Atkins on the sessions that I was lucky enough to work with him.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some extremely incredible players supposedly who I really didn’t like working with at all and I’ve had to suffer the indignity many years later of people coming up to me and saying, “Isn’t old so and so an incredible guitar player?”
In my heart I knew that I not only didn’t want to ever play with this guy again, but I didn’t even want to see him in a restaurant years later. It goes back to something that I touch on in about everyone of my newsletters. It’s not how famous you are, but how well you can really play your guitar.
There are many great players that may not be so great, but I have found that everyone of them have some kind of magic that can capture another soul with. I remember in 1970 playing an award show in Nashville and going to the restroom to get ready for the show to start and a long haired guy came in the room and he burst into a great big smile and put his hand out and he said, “I heard you playing with The Compton Brothers onstage a minute ago. You’re astounding.”
He said, “If I could play like you, I’d be the happiest guy in the world.”
I replied, “If you played like me, you’d be broke.”
He laughed and shook my hand (which had been washed by then). He said, “What’s your name?”
I told him. He said, “Oh yes. I read about you in Guitar Player magazine.”
I said, “What’s your name?”
He said, “I’m Jerry Garcia. I play lead guitar with The Grateful Dead”
I said, “Good. Why don’t you play steel guitar with that group?”
He replied that he owned one and did play it once in awhile, but he said hearing the players in Nashville scared him to death.
Several years after this I did a stint in North Hollywood, California with Johnny Rivers in a band his record company had put together with Nashville musicians, except for Herb Pederson from L.A. on rhythm and banjo and of course Albert Lee on lead guitar.
I complained vehemently to Johnny for having to play so loud. Johnny replied, “Turn it up. We’ll make them listen to us.”
My ears are still ringing from playing that loud and that was forty years ago. I played a double neck MSA through two Fender Twins. As you can tell, tone was not of great importance. Actually from the rock n roll we were playing, this may have been the right combination. I am glad we had a stage crew or my back would be even worse than it is today.
I think the point that I’m trying to make here is in the professional world of guitars, steel and lead, there are a tremendous amount of parallels between the two. Rock n roll, country, it doesn’t matter if you’re Eddie Van Halen, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Frank Zappa or Andre Segovia. You need to throw your heart into it and have a good time. Enjoy it yourself and make everybody around you do the same.
Remember that we have many tracks to choose from with Nashville’s finest studio players that would go very well with the Tascam Guitar Trainer that so many of you have bought so you can work on developing your own soul and feel with steel guitar.
What do you get when you play New Age music backwards? New Age music!
Check out our monthly specials at www.steelguitar.net/monthlyspecials.html and we’ll try to save you a lot of money.
Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday