Saluting Buddy Emmons: Pedal Steel Master

Wednesday, 10 July 2013 06:15 AM Written by 

Next month, Augusts 26 to be exact, MPI Records releases  The Big E: A Salute To Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons.   Emmons, who retired in 2007 following the death of his wife Peggy, gave his blessing to this set, produced by steel guitarist and Grammy-winning producer Steve Fishell, a onetime member of Emmylou Harris's famous Hot Band. 

On it, a slew of current steel guitar masters reprise various songs from Emmons's long career. A couple are instrumentals; the rest are tunes that featured him behind a singer. The steel plaers Tommy White, Fishell, Buck Reid, Greg Leisz, Brad Paisley steel player Randle Currie, longtime Merle Haggard sideman Norm Hamlet.   The guitarists include Vince Gill, Albert Lee and the legendary Duane Eddy. The vocalists: Willie Nelson, 92 year old Opry patriarch Little Jimmy Dickens, John Anderson, Albert Lee, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.

Proceeds from sales will go to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Peggy Emmons's name.

If you aren't familiar with Emmons, it's because he wasn't often up front, but instead was a master sideman, working in the bands of three of country's top singers: Little Jimmy Dickens, Ernest Tubb and Ray Price.


A flawless accompanist, he proves that here with Dickens's band the Country Boys.  The hot twin leads are Spider Wilson and Howard Rhoton. 

When Emmons cut loose on his own, look out. This fiery recording of "Buddy's Boogie" done with the Country Boys that same year is a good example.  The band on the previous video is pretty much the band backing Emmons here.


Starting in the late 50's. Emmons's next gig was with Opry star  Ernest Tubb's band, the Texas Troubadours. This is Emmons featured on Tubb's signature song: "Walking The Floor Over You." on a Grand Ole Opry TV showcase sponsored by Pat Milk.  He's playing duel leads with guitarist Leon Rhodes.  The instrument he plays is a Sho-Bud, an instrument he designed with steel player Shot Jackson, hence the name "Sho(t)-Bud(dy)."  They're iconic instruments to this day.

September 25, 1962:

Joining Ray Price's much-admired backup band the Cherokee Cowboys was a big deal for any musician, as it was considered one of the greatest bands in country.  This explosive rendering of Bob Wills's "San Antonio Rose" features Price (note the finger-snapping)Willie Nelson had been the Cowboys' bass player but had left the band by then.  Like the Tubb clip, this is from the Pet Milk-sponsored Opry showcase.

Guitarist Pete Wade (later one of Nashville's top studio guitarists) sings harmony.  The fiddler is Shorty Lavender.  East of the Mississippi the band played mostly sit-down shows but the heavy dance beat you hear scored big when they played dancehalls west of the Mississippi. 

In 1963, Emmons, still with Ray Price, recorded the album Steel Guitar Jazz  in New York. Generally acknowledged as the first hardcore jazz album ever recorded by a pedal steel guitarist.  On it were tunes like Horace Silver's "The Preacher" and "Gonna Build A Mountain."  The album's lost none of its power 50 years later.

Emmons left Price in the late 60's when he began recording country-pop material with orchestras and turned away from honky tonk.  He played bass with singer Roger Miller for a time and worked in the LA recording studios a few years before returning to Nashviille, more focused on session work and solo activities.


With the late guitar great Phil Baugh at a jazz concert in Oklahoma.


A reunion of Price and some Cherokee Cowboys alumni. Emmons included with the trademark derby hat he wore in later years.  In the late 80's to the present, Price was integrating both sounds in his shows.



At the annual International Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis.  The song:  "Gonna Build A Mountain," which had appeared on the Steel Guitar Jazz album.  Note his clowning at the start, one of the things he was known for.  Some steel players were deadly serious. Not Buddy.



Emmons shortly before he retired, playing "Blue Jade."


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