Steel Guitar News May 13. 2012

Hello fellow players,

Well I’ve had hundreds of emails asking me to finish the Don Helms story about he and his last days with Hank Williams Sr.

I asked him, “Were you in the car when Hank died Don?”

He replied, “No, me and three other members of the band were on the way to a gig in West Virginia and had stopped to eat in a restaurant on the way from Alabama when word came over the radio that Hank had died.”

I said, “What happened then Don?”

Don said he decided to go straight back to Nashville to try to find another job. The rest of the band went with him and immediately started looking. They had many offers by the time they had gotten back.

As soon as Don went to the funeral, he started a job with Ray Price. This is back in the day when Ray sounded very much like Hank Sr. himself. Later on, Ray became infatuated with the styles of Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and so on and left the original Hank Sr. sound that he had started with.

This was back when stars were paying about $15 a day for road players. I asked Don during this little mini interview how this affected the bands livelihood. He replied that they were all very sorry about Hank’s death and that it affected them financially very deeply.

Don had just bought a nice house in Hendersonville and was not sure how he was going to pay for it. However, it must have not been too big a worry because it was as nice a house as there was in Hendersonville at that time and it was the house that he raised his kids and kept until the day he died. His widow Hazel is still there today.

The band had Jerry Rivers as the fiddle player and Pete Wade as the guitar player for awhile and all these boys stayed very close friends after Hank’s death, even buying houses near each other in Hendersonville on Riverside Drive.

Marvin Rainwater played bass. Sammy Pruitt played guitar at some point. It’s just hard to remember everybody at this point. I’m sure you can find more information on the internet. Information you’re getting from me is information that I’ve gotten direct from Don from talking to him here in my store during his many visits.

Somebody asked me if Hank ever traveled by bus or had his own bus. I never remember hearing Don say anything about them ever having a bus so I don’t think they did, however in those days, 1950-1953, everyone traveled by car or car and trailer, even to the point of putting the big bass inside the four door sedan.

Pretty interesting and tight fit, but remember these guys weren’t making very much money and transportation of any kind was expensive. With the musicians making $15-25. a week and stars seldom making over $250 a week, it was hard for anyone to get rich.

Don’s story about flat tires on the cars in those days was pretty interesting. He said it was hard to drive around the block without having a flat. Heck, I can remember that myself. Steel belted radials were a thing that was coming up in the future.

Don said, “At least the Cadillac had air conditioning and power steering which was very rare for any car in those times.” Even the places they played didn’t have air conditioning.

Don did write an autobiography before he died called Settin’ The Woods On Fire that you can buy from his widow Hazel.

After hearing Don play pedal steel guitar and remembering the old days, I grabbed him and sat him down in my store one day when he brought his pedal guitar in for some major work.

I said, “Don, you sounded much, much better on the non-pedal guitar. Why don’t you get rid of the pedal guitar and go back to playing the way everybody loves your playing of the past. I promise you Don, if you’ll throw that pedal guitar away, pull out your old non-pedal Gibson, you’ll make a lot of people happier, including your banker.”

He said, “Well I’ll tell you what I’ll do just for you. I have a guy that I’m going out this weekend with named Mike Church and I think he would like me playing non-pedal better than pedal anyway. I’ll try it and let you know when I get back in town Monday.”

Don came in town with his pedal guitar and said, “I’ll never want to play it again. You were totally right. Everybody loves my Gibson with no pedals.” So that’s the way the rest of Don’s career went.

Check out our monthly specials at and we’ll try to save you a lot of money.

Your buddy,

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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