Pedal Steel – Too Country?

This is Bob Hempker.

Back in the mid eighties, I was at Woodland Studios in Nashville with Loretta. It was one of the big name studios at the time. We were doing a commercial for United Way. They had picked this song out for her to do. I can’t remember what it was other than it was an old pop song and they had sent a producer down from New York to produce it.

We started just playing around with the song a little bit to get the feel of it. I didn’t hear anyone else filling, so I started filling. I didn’t think what I was playing sounded anything country-ish. Anyway, the producer came out of the control room, walked over to me and told me not to play because I was making the song sound too country.

I agreed. I knew I was going to get paid anyway. Loretta was unaware of this and they started playing the song again. They got through about 16 bars when Loretta stopped. She asked, “What happened to the steel guitar that I heard in there before?”

This producer said, “I told him not to play. I didn’t want it sounding too country.”

Loretta replied, “Too country? Who in the world do you think you have in here, Vic Damone?”

She looked at and me and said, “Play what you were playing before. I really liked that.”

I said, “Ok. I’ll play what I played before.” I looked over at this producer and just grinned. We ended up getting the song cut and it got some radio play and some television play.

This producer had an opinion of what he thought a steel guitar was going to sound like and I guess he refused to use his ears and stuck to his opinion. He treated all of us including Loretta condescendingly. To his chagrin the steel guitar got put on the recording. I’ve not heard of the man since and I bet he’s not set foot in Nashville since.

This is just an example of what to expect being a steel player and getting the least bit out of our realm of country music. I’m sure each and every one of you have stories similar to this. Steel guitar players have been subjected to shoddy treatment from so many people that have no idea of what the instrument is capable of doing when in the right hands. I guess it’s too much to expect everyone to have an open mind.

In spite of this, we should all keep on playing and expanding what we do to all genres of music. Thicken up your skin, show them what you’ve got and maybe you’ll change some minds. And if you can’t change their minds, at least you can enjoy irritating them.

This weekend we turned our clocks back. The days will be shorter and the nights will be longer and colder. It’s a good time of year to woodshed and pump up your steel guitar playing skills for the coming springtime. It’s the time of year when we have time to practice and study our scales, work on our ear training, practice with our tracks and not be in any hurry. It’s a great time to learn how to play new and different things.

It’s surprising sometimes when we look back and think we’ve not accomplished much when in fact we have accomplished a great deal.

It’s also a good time to really go over all our equipment, fix our cords, change scratchy pots in our amplifier, go over our guitars and adjust everything out underneath them. We have maintenance DVDs to show you how.

Make the most out of your practice time. Don’t view practicing as drilling exercises. Be in a positive mood when you sit down. Sometimes I like to just sit down and start playing and see where it takes me. I don’t have to have a regimen in mind. I will start playing my way through songs that I’ve heard but I’ve never played before just to give myself practice at playing “off the cuff”.

When you’re away from your guitar, practice humming your scales and see if you can make little melodies out of them, then when you get to your guitar, see if you can play what you can hum. Above all, keep things positive and don’t get to where you dread practicing on your guitar. That’s not why we play to begin with. We play because it’s enjoyable and fun.

It’s great to critique ourselves, but we still have to be patient with ourselves and consider our playing as an unfinished product. We never stop learning and that’s actually part of the fun of it. Wherever we are at the time is just a stage in our development. We never need to get bored because there is always something new you can learn.

So check out all the courses and tracks and things that we have to help you learn to be a better player. I firmly believe that we as players, are the best accessory that we can invest in.

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2 Responses to Pedal Steel – Too Country?

  1. Paul Graupp says:

    Bob; I remember when I was working with an ONTV band in Raleigh, NC. The staff sent us word not to play any Loretta Lynn songs because she had become too controversial with The Pill and The Twins. Just Shows to Go Ya !! Paul

  2. Tony Britt-Kirkegaard says:

    Message for Paul, Hi Paul, I knew you then! You lived across the street from my grandmother. I remember you from Homer Briarhopper and the occasional trip to see Uncle Paul! Hope you are well and happy, TonyNC59@aol.com. Tony Britt-Kirkegaard

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