Hello fellow players,
I was asked about my first days and first jobs in Nashville. I moved to Nashville with everything I owned in January of 1969, however I had worked out of Nashville many times before with road bands like Wilma Burgess, Bobby Bare, The Compton Brothers etc. But my arrival in Nashville with everything I owned, all my guitars, amps and so on, was in middle of January ’69.
I’ll never forget it was an extremely miserable, wet, blowing snow kind of night and I checked into a motel on the north side of Nashville. I got a room for myself and my black German Shepard dog and fell asleep in the bed immediately. I woke up in the morning and my dog Baron had totally destroyed the room. Towels, washcloths, pillows and anything he could destroy, he had done it.
I made some phone calls and rented an apartment in Madison and apologized to the motel owners. They laughed and said forget it. The next day I went down to music row and got an audition with Ferlin Husky. I was hired on the spot, then found out that nobody in the band could play very well.
The following day after boarding my dog, I loaded in the back seat of a Cadillac Fleetwood hauling a trailer. Myself and the pretty poor excuse for a band headed for Spokane, Washington. Of course, we didn’t get there in time because the ego-maniacs that were driving the car didn’t know how to read a map.
As we got close to the job, we stopped at a gas station. I called Ferlin, told him the state of ignorance we were in and that we couldn’t make the job under any circumstances. He said, “Well, you have to make the job.”
I said, “Then give me your credit card numbers over the phone and I’ll lease an airplane and we’ll get there.” We were in Baker, Oregon at the time. I told the band to get us to the airport. Somehow they did and we loaded up in a twin engine Aero Commander and jammed it full of instruments and amplifiers stacked to the roof.
We had a pretty good snow storm going on, but managed to get off the ground. A couple hours later, I could see the lights of Spokane, Washington through the windshield of the airplane. Upon landing I rented a car with the same credit card number. We got to the motel, changed clothes, rushed to the auditorium, setup on the stage ahead of Buck Owens that we were opening for and were about to play the first opening tune when I found out nobody in the band knew what the opening number was supposed to be.
The band knew absolutely nothing and just stood on the stage totally frozen when the curtain was raised. I had never seen anything like it before or since. It wasn’t funny, it just totally terrorized me when I realized I was working with Ferlin Husky. The stage curtains had opened, we had been introduced and the band couldn’t even play Wings Of A Dove.
I was totally destroyed. I took my own credit card, went to the airport, booked passage back to Nashville so I wouldn’t have to look at these idiots in the car coming back.
I sat down in the passenger compartment, was there for about five minutes when I saw Ferlin boarding the plane and looking for a place to sit. I ducked my head but he saw me anyway. Doing his Simon Crum impersonation, he said, “Hey, can I sit down beside you?” He said, “Why didn’t you ride back with the boys?”
I said, “Do me a favor, don’t ever mention them to me again.” I remember he said something about me not making any money by buying my own ticket back to Nashville. I said, “Well, with this band, you’re not going to be making any money either.” Before an argument could start, I went to sleep.
I woke up in Nashville and went to my apartment unemployed. I thought well that’s the big time in Nashville. About every road job I had my first year had similarly disastrous results. I soon realized that the way to make money in Nashville was to stay off the road. Pretty soon a friend of mine that was a studio musician in Nashville put a few recording sessions on me and between that and getting a good little club job on Broadway, I actually turned a pretty good profit.
My second year in Nashville was very profitable. I am astounded even in this day and time that so many people out of Nashville judge a steel player by who he works for. I’m sure there are a few good road jobs out of Nashville, but let me tell you, that’s not the way to get rich.
Last time I made remarks like this, I got some very mean mail from some of my friends that were working the road. Like I say, there may be some good road jobs, but there are better ways to turn a profit.
My first few days with the great Compton Brothers band was about the same. I remember joining the band in Norfolk, Virginia. We were supposed to play a job in Washington, D.C. that night. We got there and the club was closed. Everybody turned and looked at me and asked if I had any money for diesel fuel for the bus. I said, “You mean you guys don’t have fuel for the bus?”
They said, “What do you mean “You guys”, you’re in the band now too.” I had joined the band because I was broke. Now I was about as forlorn as I could be. However, I still loved steel guitar, loved playing it, loved being in the band and knew that bigger things would follow. Sure enough, bigger debt followed.
We just lost the great Charlie Louvin which I have known for many decades. I won’t say he was a great friend, however I backed him up on several TV shows and club dates and found him very pleasant to work with. I ran across him many times in town in Hendersonville since we both lived here and during the CB craze, I bought a 600 Watt CB power booster for a transmitter I had bought from him earlier. It was a unit that Charlie had in his house for his wife to talk to him while he was on the road.
Charlie had this CB setup so that no matter where the bus was in the United States, he could stay in touch with his wife without paying for long distance telephone service.
It was so powerful after I set it up in my home that when I would key the microphone, all the lights in the house would dim and all the television sets within six blocks of the house could hear what I was saying to whomever I was talking to.
I don’t know what Charlie replaced it with, but his neighbors probably got radiation burns. I remember he had a 1200 kw generator on his bus. I remember several of the musicians in Nashville at the time being sucked into the CB craze and of course, we all had our handle. Charlie Louvin’s was “The Rainmaker”. Curly Chalker’s was “Big C” and I believe Buddy Emmons used “Double Ten”.
I was “Double Echo” and another great steel guitarist that was working with Tommy Cash at the time named Darryl Davidson was a fellow enthusiast. These were good days in Nashville when it came to camaraderie and communication between steel players.
I’ll never forget Charlie Louvin for just being one of us boys.
For you technical guys, David and Harry Jackson, builders of the Sho-Bud and the new Jackson guitars, let me know that they are working on an all new pulling mechanism which should be the greatest thing since sliced bread. These boys are always thinking.
I personally had no problems over many years with the tuning key twisting method of tuning on the Jackson, Clinesmith or Bigsby steel guitars. However, David claims he may eliminate that with this new soon to be employed changer. Is there no end to this genius’ talent?
I just received news that one of the truly great steel guitarists of all time from the golden age has just died. The incredible Buddy Charleton of Ernest Tubb fame has left us. More on this later as I get more information.
Check out our monthly specials at http://www.steelguitar.net/monthlyspecials.html We can 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