Hello fellow players,
I didn’t realize there were so many people out there that were so interested in my early days in steel guitar. Rather than a lot of yip yap that doesn’t apply, I’ll get right to the question. My service days in the Air Force have brought much to light concerning these critical years of learning steel guitar in my life.
There are many steel guitar players that have gone through the service, Air Force, Army, Navy. Great players. I found it very interesting that the great Curly Chalker, Don Davis, Billy Robinson and Joe Vincent were all in the service together and actually were in the same band in the service together. It was a seven piece western swing band and no matter what instrument was played in the band, it was a steel player that was playing it.
This makes me think about Stu Basore, Billy Deaton and myself being in the same band in Oklahoma. I think Chalker and the boys were in south Texas. Something very interesting about learning to play in the service is that you’ve got a lot of time to do it plus you have just enough money coming in to keep you alive, but not enough to make you rich enough to get out and get in to trouble.
As a matter of fact, I met Curly Chalker after he completed his service obligations one evening at Ardmore Air Force base. I was coming in from a visit to beautiful downtown Gene Autry, Oklahoma when I heard this gargantuous steel guitar roaring out of the NCO club. So I ran into the club at full kilter just as the band went on break.
I walked up to the steel player who was adjusting a double set of half inch tape recorders on the bandstand. Little did I realize that we were going to be friends for the rest of his life. He was playing a Fender 1000 with two Fender Bassman amps. My first words to him were, “Do you play any Joaquin Murphy stuff?”
He looked at me and said, “Only when I want to slow down and relax. Who are you?”
I said, “I’m a steel guitar player in full appreciation of your craft. What’s your name?”
He said, “I’m Curly Chalker, the world’s greatest steel guitar player.”
I responded with, “Let me be the judge of that.”
He then went ahead and proceeded to play some of the biggest Glen Miller arrangements I’d ever heard in full parts. He then did Dancing In The Dark, Sunrise Serenade and some other big nice arrangements all by himself. I felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me. I let him know how I felt about his playing and we were immediately great friends from then on.
At the end of the night I went up to him and said, “Yes you are the world’s greatest steel guitar player.” Any player who heard him play at that period of time would have to agree. For proof of this, go to YouTube and check him out.
It was an email that I got from steel guitar player Skip Mertz on the forum and very dear player James Weaver this week that reminded me of these great anecdotes.
Friendships that you make when you are young and under outside duress seem to stay with you forever. These friendships mean a lot to you forever. James Weaver was a guitar player stationed at Ardmore Air Force base and turned out to be a lifelong friend, an extremely high quality person that has done much with his life.
Raising an incredible family with the help of his wonderful wife is one of these things of which I speak. Still playing guitar in the Oklahoma City area, he is one of those great friendships that can only be made when you’re fairly young and the pressures are on you.
So many of these friends that I made in the early days have turned out to be great players which goes back to another early lesson I learned in the world. Always treat everyone like a great friend with great respect when you first meet them because you’ll never know when they’re going to come sneaking up behind and running past you with a great burst of talent.
It’s awful easy to be a smart alec wise guy when you’re young only to have it turn around and bite you in the butt in later years. It was a long time before I was able to sit down between 1955 and 1975. I will say that I have made many great friends in the world of steel guitar and many players that I loved to death. I have lost many of these players over the past few years and every time I lose one, it seems like my heart is being ripped out.
Possibly players you don’t think about much anymore, but you should. Incredible players like Gene O’Neal of Charley Pride fame, Billy Braddy and Tom Morrell of Western Starlighter fame, Gene Pooler of Johnny Lee Wills fame and the list goes on and on.
The band last week that I couldn’t think of the name was The Miller Brothers Band in Wichita Falls, Texas. Now that I think back of most of these bands, the musicians themselves including steel guitar players and drummer … ha … were some of the greatest people I’ve ever met in my life.
I woke up the other morning with a song going through my head I haven’t thought of in many, many years. It seems like the words were “I’d trade all of my tomorrow’s for just one yesterday”. I don’t know if I’d really do that or not, but my medical expenses would be a lot less.
I would like to thank all of you who have emailed me so much of your own lives. I wish we all lived a lot closer. It sure would be nice to talk to many of you face to face and share old stories and careers.
I’d like to congratulate my dear friend Dicky Overby along with Roy Ayres and lifetime friend Ron Elliott for their recent induction into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. Dicky Overby, great steel guitarist from Texas that I met in 1959 in Colorado Springs. As friends, we hit it off immediately.
I was playing with Jan Howard on the show and forget who he was working with, however, I believe we were both playing Fender 1000s and I remember Dicky had every pedal on his guitar working both necks. I thought at that time having just met him that he would do well in the world of steel guitar as he has.
Rick Price, another player that I met as a youngster seems to have done well and if you’re out there Rick, I’ve got some pictures of you sitting in my living room in Madison, Tennessee in 1968 that you might like to have copies of.
There are so many of you out there that I know and haven’t seen for years. I hate it because I can remember every one of you and think of you often. Thank you for the friendship, I love you all.
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