Ron “Snake” Reynolds

Today’s newsletter is from Ron “Snake” Reynolds. Snake is one of the most successful behind-the-scenes people who make the Nashville music business work so you’re going to get a very unique perspective. We’re going to let Snake take it over here to explain who he is and what he does.

My name is Ron Reynolds but everybody calls me “Snake”. I got that nickname in 1980 from an engineer friend of mine named Ken Laxton who was engineering a project on myself as an artist. I played guitar in Rock n Roll bands from 1963 until about 1980 and I was so thin and limber I looked like a snake going across the stage. Let’s face it, “Snake” is much sexier than Ron.

So any of my album credits before 1980 are listed as Ronnie Reynolds, that is when they gave album credits. Back in those days, they sometimes didn’t give musicians and engineers credit.

In 1965, I signed an artist development deal and writer’s contract with Fred Carter Jr’s label Nugget Records. Fred was a well-known Nashville guitar player who also played on a lot of the early Simon and Garfunkel hits. It was Fred playing the gut string guitar on “The Boxer” which was one of their biggest hits.

Nugget Records had their own recording studio. After signing the deal and hanging around the studio so long doing my projects, I fell in love with the recording end of the business and was given the opportunity to engineer full-time for Fred.

In my early years at Nugget, I had the privilege of working with some of the greatest songwriters of the time like Harlan Howard and Bobby Bare. I also recorded some of the big country music artists of the time as well as rocker J.J. Cale.

In 1972 I got a job offer from Columbia Recording Studios to become a staff engineer and immediately jumped at the chance. In the first year or two at Columbia, I started working with legendary record producer Billy Sherrill and artists like George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Rodriguez and many more.

I remained with Columbia Records as a full time recording engineer until 1982 when they closed their recording studios. In that time period, I recorded almost every country music star in the business and some pop artists as well such as Dave Loggins Please Come To Boston and Elvis Costello.

I also recorded a ton of jingles, television specials, a couple of movies like “Take This Job and Shove It”, one of the great movies of all time LOL. I also worked with Johnny Cash, Ray Charles, David Allan Coe and lots more.

When Columbia closed in 1982 I became a free-lance engineer where I continued to work with Billy Sherrill until he retired. I also worked with legendary record producers Randy Scruggs, Nelson Larkin, Ray Baker and many others.

Some of my favorite projects were done in this time period. For instance, Tanya Tucker’s album that Jerry Crutchfield produced which contained the hit single “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane”, Ray Baker’s production of Merle Haggard’s album “That’s The Way Love Goes” which won a Grammy.

Also Randy Scruggs’ productions of many of the early Sawyer Brown hits and the Grammy winning “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” volumes two and three and Nelson Larkin’s productions on Earl Thomas Conley.

During the period from 1980 to 1990, Earl had more number one singles a row, 18 in total, than any other artist in any genre of music. Earl was also the first artist of any genre of music to have four consecutive number one singles off of a single album.

Also during the eighties and nineties, I had the privilege to do three albums on Ray Charles, who was the most soulful, truly musical genius that I’ve ever worked with.

I can’t list everyone here, but I should mention Shania Twain’s “The Woman In Me” album which has sold over 16 million copies world-wide. I should also mention Toby Keith. I engineered his first several albums as well as co-wrote four songs with him. I did several cuts on Keith Urban’s first album “The Ranch”. I worked with Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt and so on.

So you can see I’ve had an extremely exciting career, and still doing it.

Some of the most fun has been working with some of the greatest producers, musicians, singers and songwriters in the world. I’ve recorded over 600 Billboard Top 40 chart records including 60 number ones, 9 Grammy winners and been Engineer of the Year twice. How lucky can one man be?

One of the questions I’m always asked is about how the music business has changed. Obviously, the technology has changed. But the technology is just a tool. Songs are still pretty much written the same. All the melodies and chord structures have been written because there are only so many notes and there is only so much musical range that a singer can sing in. A singer can only sing two octaves if they’re lucky.

The biggest change is in the number of major recording labels which has decreased, the number of records released which has decreased, the number of major recording artists which has decreased, and therefore the number of songs needed and the number of musicians needed and the amount of studio time needed has severely diminished.

Most singers today write their own material or at least part of it whereas twenty years ago, most artists did not write their own material. So the need for songs from independent writers was tremendous then. Also, twenty or thirty years ago, each artist recorded two albums a year, sometimes three if they did a Christmas album.

During Nashville’s peak time of the eighties and nineties, there were almost 200 commercial studios in Nashville and most of them were booked three or four sessions a day. So the studio musician could barely keep up with the amount of sessions.

Also the speed of the business today is much slower than it was twenty years ago. Now it takes two years to get a record out once it’s recorded whereas twenty or thirty years ago, I would cut a record at 10 AM in the morning on George Jones and Billy Sherrill would say, “That song is the single. Mix that.”

I would mix it on the 2 PM session. They would send it down and have a dub cut on the mastering lathe, send it over to WSIX radio station and that night, I would hear what I had cut that morning played on the radio while driving home.

Also, songwriter’s demos back then were mostly just guitar/vocals or piano/vocals and would be brought to the session at the last minute whereas now, songwriter’s demos have to sound like a finished record. It was a much more fast paced, exciting time in the business.

I still enjoy the process, especially working with the musicians and songwriters and helping new artists achieve their goals which is why I started my new website at

As difficult as it was, the way you used to break into the music business in Nashville was to go around to the different record labels and drop off recordings of things that you had recorded and hope that the A&R people would listen to your project.

Now, since the openings are fewer at the major labels, you’re better off as, an aspiring artist, to play the local venues such as the Bluebird CafĂ© and do showcases on yourself as well as approach publishers who have now become what the A&R people at record labels used to be in hopes of getting a publisher to develop you as a writer/artist.

With modern technology, you can actually put out a record on yourself and sell it on the internet and at your shows, sometimes with great success. You have to work hard at it. It takes a lot of dedication but it’s being done by more and more people.

Independent labels are popping up daily because the internet has leveled the playing field to give all artists a chance that has been, until now, limited to a select few.

With the inception of ProTools and home studios, the cost of recording a project has come down and has made the recording of a project much more affordable to a larger range of people.

The bottom line is still talent. To give yourself the best chance of success, study the history of the profession, perfect your talent, seek of advice of professionals who have a track record you admire and surround yourself with the best people you can find.

You have to believe in yourself. The great car manufacturer Henry Ford once said, “No matter if you think you can, or if you think you can’t, either way you’re right.” The main thing is, don’t give up.

P.S. If you have any questions you’d like to ask Snake, reply to this newsletter and if we get enough questions, we’ll have him back again.

This will be our last Monday newsletter. Henceforth, there will only be a newsletter on Thursday until Bobbe is able to come back and write the newsletters again.

Listen To Steel Guitar Music Streaming 24 Hours A Day!

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

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Backup – Keep It Simple; Pro vs Student Model Pedal Steels

February 28, 2013

This is Bob Hempker and today I’d like to pass along a couple of replies I’ve had about previous newsletters. The first one concerns backing a singer. Here it is:

Bob, You could have not said that any better. I was just telling a student yesterday that it is all about playing pretty and that no one in the audience cares if you are a hot lick steel player or not, but if you play careful behind the singer you will be noticed every time. Can’t believe I got this letter this morning on the same subject and I also told him that it was more fun playing behind Ray Price and Darrell McCall and Johnny Bush and Willie. Yes, It is nice to show that you can play when the time comes, but just sit back and follow the song and singer and you will win every time. He called me this morning and told me that he practiced all night with the Ray Price Tracks that I had given him and that appreciated the yesterday lesson more than he could tell me. I just told him, next week you can SHOW ME what he had learned. I have always enjoyed teaching and seeing what others pick up from you and I also sent you a couple of my students to get hooked up with your newsletters. Please keep them coming. Your news letters are better than any guitar magazine that I could purchase! Thanks and keep them coming!
J. Bates

The next one comes from Jay Noel and to me, it contains an important message.

The comments from Vic Cox the other day got me to thinking. I spent 22 years playing lap steel wanting to play pedal steel and not wanting to invest in the cost of a pedal steel. A good friend of mine, who has won several Texas Country Opry awards(there used to be several Oprys in DFW Texas, Mesquite Opry and Johnnie High type shows for example), well he had a used steel that he couldn’t seem to learn to play and just flat-out gave it to me, on the condition that I would play steel for him if he ever went professional. (He didn’t) I did end up playing in a band called “The Rough Ryders” in the late ’80s and early 90’s but the band broke up and for awhile I quit playing. A couple of years ago I started playing again, and took the advice of an old friend, Junior Knight, got myself a new pro model steel.

I can’t put into words how much it has meant to me just playing and enjoying it, but it occurred to me how much better I might be today if I had invested in a pro model steel 35 years ago. My advice is simple. If you love steel guitar, and even think that you might like playing a pro model,– make the investment. First of all you will find with a little practice you can emulate many of the steel licks you’ve heard and have a lot of fun playing them. Second of all even if you decide you no longer like the steel guitar, most steels, especially name brand pro models hold their value well. And a good repair shop can make a used pro model play just as good as a new one, and the investment will be a bit less. Or you might decide to invest in a brand new steel like I finally did, but please take my advice and don’t waste years wishing you could. Just go ahead and do it. Oh, and by the way, if you miss playing the lap steel you can always play it on a couple of tunes, and you will be surprised how well you can play it after playing a pedal steel for awhile.

Jay Noel
Fort Worth, TX

First of all I’d like to thank Jay Noel for submitting some superb sound advice. Frequently people bring instruments in here that they have bought off Ebay or at an auction somewhere or something at a bargain price. The instrument will many times need more fixing, adjusting, pedals or knee levers added to it and no telling what.

They end up with more money invested in a second rate instrument than they would have if they had just gone ahead and spent a few extra bucks and got a top quality instrument to begin with.

I personally am not a fan of student model guitars. We even sell them here but I try to tell people they’re better off spending a few extra hundred dollars and get a professional quality instrument. Once they get good enough to play with other people and bands and play in public, the better quality instrument will be up to the job instead of being a frustration.

Another point to consider is that by chance you keep your guitar awhile and you want to trade it up on a nicer instrument or you just decide you don’t want to play anymore, you will be more prone to recoup most of the money you’ve got in your instrument, whereas the student model is hard to sell, people really don’t want to take them on trade and they’re next to impossible to add knee levers or pedals to upgrade them.

Again, thanks Jay for your input. Guys and gals, this is great advice!

Listen To Steel Guitar Music Streaming 24 Hours A Day!

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

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The Dirtiest Kid

I’d like to talk about one aspect of working the road and that is enduring inclement weather conditions. If somebody catches a cold or the flu before the road trip is over with, it goes through everybody on the bus because it goes through the heating and air-conditioning system.

I still to this day take mega-doses of vitamin C because there’s nothing more miserable than working with a 104 degree fever for three or four days in a row. It isn’t quite like being home and having mama fix you chicken soup.

I remember a time in the mid-seventies, we were working up in Canada in January. It was way below zero. In the middle of the night, one of the guys got up out of his bunk and smelled smoke. Had he not gotten up, all of us in the bunk area could have suffocated.

As it turned out, some electric wires underneath the bottom bunk had come together and caught fire and the bunk area was full of smoke. He immediately woke everyone up. We went up front and the bus driver pulled the bus over. We got the fire put out. It was just smoldering and hadn’t got up to a flame, but the wiring in the bus was shot.

It’s 3 AM in the morning at minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, Conway Twitty’s bus was behind us. They pulled in behind us, we got out with just our necessities. Loretta and all of us piled on Conway’s bus. That was a bus load of people.

Our bus driver had to stay with our bus and wait until it got daylight out to take it to a shop to be repaired. The wiring was totally gone so he had no lights. We went ahead and worked the next two or three days with all of us piled on the one bus. Finally, our bus got repaired and our driver drove and met us.

I’ll never forget standing outside the bus in the middle of the night in that terrible cold weather until Conway’s bus caught up with us.

One thing that happens all the time is that shows get cancelled for pouring rain. Water and electricity don’t mix and fans just don’t understand that. The get upset because we can’t do the show.

One time, we played an outdoor show in Florida and it was in December. A cold front came in and it was 26 degrees. My fingers absolutely did not want to move when I tried to play.

I always hated to see hot summer weather to come because it would be two or three months of working in miserably hot weather playing dusty race tracks at county fairs. We also had to play the outdoor country music parks back then. Places like Ponderosa Park in Ohio, Bucklake Ranch in Indiana and Sunset Park in Pennsylvania.

There were so many of those outdoor parks back then. In fact, I think that is kind of a piece of country music history. I think most of them are pretty much a thing of the past.

At many of them, we had to do three shows a day. We had to wear band uniforms with rhinestones that were made out of gabardine. That stuff doesn’t breathe at all. We had patent leather western boots that would be so hot your feet would just burn like fire.

Everybody including myself would be out of tune because of the heat and wind messing with the instruments and you just had to grin and bear it. Obviously, there were no electronic tuners back then. Many stages were built facing the hot sun so the audience wouldn’t have to look at it, but we did. It was right in our faces.

We had our own PA system that we carried on the bus. It was a Shure Vocal-Master. We had four of these long columns we had to set up every day along with the PA head, microphones and cables. None of the amplifiers were miked. The vocal microphones were all run directly into a mixing board which we ran from the stage.

Since none of the amplifiers were miked, when you played outside you had to crank it up and play loud and watch and listen to what else was going on onstage. We didn’t have in ear monitors and custom mixes like the groups today have.

Many of the people in the audience would bring their children with them. If it had rained earlier that day, there would be kids running and sliding in the mud and playing. One particular time at Sunset Park in West Grove, Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia, it had rained earlier that day. The bus got stuck in the mud and we had to have a wrecker come pull the bus out of the mud.

We decided to have a dirtiest kid contest. The guys in the band pooled our money. It ended up coming to about $25 which was a lot of money back in those days. Don Ballinger, my dear friend whom we lost back in ’86 was fronting our band and playing rhythm guitar. He also sang some duets with Loretta.

Don announced to the crowd at the beginning of the show that at the end of the day we would hold a dirtiest kid contest and the kid that won would win $25. As the day progressed and we played all three shows, in the time between the shows, there were scores of kids sliding in the mud deliberately trying to get dirty.

Finally at the end of the day, we judged the contest and picked out the dirtiest kid and gave him the $25. It’s strange how people can really create their own amusement which we were forced to do much of the time.

Being on the road can be miserable, can be happy, can be trying, is inconvenient and is unforgettable. These young kids on the road with stars today don’t know how good they have it!

Listen To Steel Guitar Music Streaming 24 Hours A Day!

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday

Posted in Bobbe's Tips | Leave a comment