Hello fellow players,
Now and then. I was just really thinking about my playing career in my early days. Some people may call it reminiscing about the old times. I have made some decisions lately that are putting many of these crazy things I’ve done even farther behind me. But then again, the whole world has changed dramatically since I first went on the road as a steel guitar player in the east and west.
One of the first things I am observing is how food has changed and how we obtain it. We used to go down a two lane winding road with the upright bass tied to the top of the Cadillac limo and somebody would get hungry in the car so we would start looking for a little cafe when we drove through the small towns. Remember, there were no Burger Kings, McDonalds, Waffle Houses or the like back in those days.
I will have to say, when we did find a place, the food was usually pretty good and you know it was a lot cheaper. Sometimes, the whole band would buy a loaf of bread and a pack of cheese and we’d all eat like kings until we got paid for the next job. Now that I look back, that wasn’t that bad.
I remember one of us getting a tea bag and we’d all use it to make our beverage for the full meal for everyone. Remember, the less we spent, the more we made. We’re talking about fifty years ago now. Gasoline was 21 to 24 cents a gallon. A quart of oil was about 50 cents for the best oil possible.
Things might have been different, but when it came to getting paid, we really didn’t get much. Sometimes as high as $5 to $7 per job per night. I remember some club owners in Dallas paying $5 a night through the week, but raised up to $7 on Friday and Saturday. I thought this was great as I didn’t really have to spend as much money not on the road.
Back then, there were no Cobra Coil guitar strings, so consequently, string breakage was high and so was the price of strings that the drugstores sold. Can you imagine that? Drugstores selling Black Diamond guitar strings.
There were no unbreakable strings like there are today, and you can imagine trying to find a gauged set for steel guitar. The E9th chromatic had not been invented at this time. You could get C6th strings from Ernie Ball or Rickenbacker guitar company, but they were totally the wrong gauge and if you got Gibson strings and just looked that them, they’d break.
No power steering and no air conditioning. No power brakes and no automatic transmissions. So you know there were no such things as power windows and cruise control. The big mono AM radio was usually very good. We all fought for the steering wheel and wanted to drive and we would buy bags of fruit if we could get them cheap enough and have contests driving down the road seeing if we could hit road signs and anything of interest while we were moving. So much for boredom.
I remember hearing a story about Sonny Burnette, traveling steel guitar player with Webb Pierce, riding through little towns at night – remember here now, most towns did not have a bypass, we had to drive right through the center of them day or night. Sonny was throwing fruit out at signs somewhere in western Tennessee when the police pulled him over, pulled him out of the limousine, hand-cuffed him and took him to jail. He missed the whole tour, but Webb Pierce himself, stopped back through on the way to Nashville, paid his fines and took him back home to Nashville.
Sonny said he really had a rough time explaining to his wife what happened to the money he was supposed to have made on that tour. This has always been a real sore spot with Sonny. He doesn’t even want to hear anybody mention it today. But now, if you mention this story around Weldon Myrick, I’m sure you’ll get a very humorous reaction since Weldon was sitting next to Sonny when the car got stopped by Dyersburg’s finest.
But anyway, thinking about those old rhythm sections, upright basses, archtop rhythm guitar players and those great, simple country songs just gives me chills. Webb Pierce was singing along with the great voices of the likes of Jean Shepherd, Faron Young, Stonewall Jackson, Jim Reeves, David Houston and several of the famous girl singers that nobody ever thinks of today like Charlene Arthur, Martie Brown and Wilma Burgess.
Every time I see an automobile made in the fifties, I just have to open the door and smell that old decomposing interior and wipe the tears out of my eyes, get back in my stupid Mercedes and go home. No cars are being used anymore today. Everything is buses that are many times nicer than the finest hotel room I ever saw when I first went on the road. However, I loved it and I wouldn’t trade any of those first days for anything.
My little Sho-Bud Permanent and early Fender Twin and beautiful tweed covering on the amp are greatly missed. I’ll never forget traveling after the western swing days, when we traveled in 1941 Flxible 29 passenger buses. These buses had no heat and no air, but boy did we look good!
After moving to Nashville, my first road jobs were in a station wagon and trailer and the fast food restaurants were starting to make their appearance, so things were a little better all the way around. When we’d play Texas in the summer, the clubs did not have air conditioning, but instead monster evaporative cooling units with tremendously big centrifugal fans.
This cool, wet air that these monster dance halls were pumping in to keep the patrons cool really made the place smell kind of unique. The combination of dried beer, curing cigarette smoke from a thousand sweaty cowboys or more, gave these venues a unique smell that I’m sure is gone today, but they were part of that big, early day music scene.
Oh these guys today don’t know what they’re missing. Another thing I miss is all the musicians that came out when we’d pull up to do a job. We’d usually end up jamming throughout the rest of the night when the job was over. This is how I met Jimmy Day, Buddy Emmons, Bobby Garrett and most of the big western swing players like Curly Chalker, Gene Crownover, Bob Meadows, Shady Brown, Maurice Anderson and the like.
The storal of this morry is if you want to turn out to be a great musician, this may be the hard way to do it, but you’ll sure have a lot of fun and you won’t really gain a lot of weight because you won’t be able to afford a lot of food.
Check out our monthly specials at www.steelguitar.net/monthlyspecials.html and we’ll try to save you a lot of money.
The friend to all bar holders,
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