Unsung Steel Guitar Heroes; Harmonized Scales

Hello fellow players,

This is Bob Hempker subbing today.

In this newsletter I want to talk about a few people who have made an impression on me over the years and possibly have made an impression on some other steel players. I’m not talking about the famous names that you’ve all heard of.

Instead these are people that never gained fame, but nevertheless, have contributed tremendously to steel guitar because you never know what famous players have picked up from these people.

I’m sure every player out there has had people like this in their lives at one time or another. One example that comes to mind is Don West. People from the Washington D.C. area know who he was, but many people have never heard of him.

Don influenced people such as Buddy Charleton and Buddy Emmons. All of the greats have talked about Don West. I don’t know of any recordings in existence. Don passed away a few years back and we really lost a great one.

I was taught as a kid by Ron Dearth in Lima, Ohio. Ron was said to have influenced Jerry Byrd a lot. Ron was a die-hard Hawaiian player. I learned an awful lot from him. I was also influenced highly by a man named Bill Pulford. Bill introduced me to the E9th tuning and the Nashville style of playing. He had such a great touch. I learned most of the basics on E9th tuning from him. We lost Bill a couple years ago.

I remember coming home from school one afternoon. I was about eleven years old. My older brother Dave and a few of his friends were playing music out in our garage. This was nothing new and I didn’t think much about it. All of a sudden I heard this sound that I had never really heard before. It immediately caught my attention.

I had to go out there and look and see where it was coming from. A new neighbor who had just moved in across the street from us had heard my brother and his friends playing music in the garage and asked if he could join them.

He was playing an Oahu Diana six string lapsteel with a string tone tuning changer on it that had a lever which you could switch from E to A to C#m tuning. The lever was worked with your right hand. He was playing a lot of the Bud Isaacs things with that little lap guitar using the string tone tuner changer. He would pick the string and while it was sustaining, he would work the lever to change the note from A to E and back.

I was absolutely hooked immediately. This man’s name was Bill Pulford and the sound of him playing his steel guitar completely changed the course of my life.

There are numerous players that I’ve encountered down through the years that were greats at what they did, but unfortunately they never were well-known. However the impact that they made on me and other players lives on and is testament to their skills and talents.

Down through the years I have encountered many players who were not that well-known but were phenomenal steel guitar artists. I remember a guy from New Mexico named Wayne Galey (I’m not sure of the spelling). He was one super player.

Many of you may remember Dick Miller as a guitar builder, but Dick could play with the best of them. Dick and Terry Bethel were in a band together in Las Vegas back in the seventies. When I was working with Loretta in Vegas, I would leave my gig and go directly to where they were playing and listen to them and hang out with them. Dick and Terry were both real impressive.

If you ever get in the Cincinnati area, by all means make a trip to Bobby Mackey’s club. Chuck Rich has played there for several years and is another one of my very favorite players.

There are really too many great unsung heroes for me to mention all of them. They may not have played on hit recordings nor have they starred at Scotty’s convention, but they have influenced so many of us. They have all rubbed off on me and probably in many ways that I’m not even aware of.

I felt compelled to address this particular topic because I feel that there are so many players that have been in the trenches and helped a lot of known players. I wanted to give these guys some positive ink and thank them for all they’ve done for me.

I had a question from a reader about how to practice harmonized scales. It’s easier to show than to explain so here is a video:

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1 Response to Unsung Steel Guitar Heroes; Harmonized Scales

  1. Cynthia Ann West-Dickens says:

    Don West was my father. Yes, he chose to be unsung because he always told me “there’s power in humility” before he died.. I told him that Jimmy and Donna Dean told me that he was the best steel guitar player in the world.. I said it because that’s what they told me, and I wanted to encourage him. He said, “Honey, there’s no best at anything, everyone has their own style.” Thank you for acknowledging my dad.

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