Steel Guitar Tips

Hello fellow players,

I just talked to a wonderful old friend on the phone, Mr. Albert Talley, of the North Texas Steel Guitar Club in Dallas.  Albert has been a wonderful friend for many, many years.  I met Albert in the fall of 1957.  Albert was about 15 years old and playing a brand new Fender 1000 in the Big D Jamboree.  Albert went on to get a triple neck Bigsby and finish growing up playing in some wonderful western swing clubs in Dallas.  

That was back when you could walk into a club in Dallas and tell them you were looking for a job and they would ask you what shift you wanted.  �You wanna play the lunch shift from 11-4, 4 to 8 or the evening shift?�

No wonder the steel guitar players played so well, they played all the time.  I remember some famous clubs that were working around the clock like Pam�s, Old Top Rail, Dewey Grooms, The Red Barn, The Blue Room and several other clubs.  These clubs produced some of the best western swing bands I had ever heard.  Actually, they were big jazz bands in disguise.  By in disguise, I mean they had cowboy names, dressed like cowboys and played great cowboy western type songs, but the arrangements and solos were more like New York City in the jazz age.

Pure music, with great arrangements and always good crowds.  Yep, I miss those days but treasure the friends like Albert Talley, Maurice Anderson, Billy Braddy, Johnny Gimble, George Peden, Robert Cadwalder, Peewee Warton, Jimmy Belkins and a whole world of great western swing players that I met while growing up musically in Dallas.  Boy did I ever learn some great tunes in these days, all of which were and are standards.  Not a Achy Breaky Heart in the bunch.

I got a lot of feedback on my last newsletter about steel guitar shows.  It seems as though not all is dead and of course, I don�t get out to Arizona and have not done any shows in the southwest.  I have been invited to some Los Angeles area shows but have not actually had the chance to work these into my extremely busy schedule so far, but I�m hearing and reading wonderful things about the popularity of steel guitar worldwide.  

And of course as I�ve said before, there are players in their early twenties coming out of the woodwork.  Twenty year old Eddie Dunlap is more astounding to me each time he comes in.  He�s playing smoother, bigger and more complex every time I hear him.  Like Chris Scruggs that if not already, will be known by everybody in the next few years.  I almost wish I could start all over again.

There are a lot of new things and ways to learn in this day and time.  Of course, I�m only judging these guys on how incredible they play, not by their jumping around and ability to do stage antics.  

Remember last week when I asked the question, �What might you folks not like about going to big steel guitar shows?�  The answer that many of you have given me is hearing everybody that gets up to play, not only play the same songs, but exactly the same styles.  How many times can you hear Faded Love done on E9th in the style that Bud Isaacs invented sixty years ago?

Well personally I sort of have to agree.  Just like lead guitar, there are many styles that you can play your steel guitar and some of them are very beautiful and interesting, whether it�s Jerry Byrd, Bud Isaacs, Curly Chalker, Maurice Anderson or Merle Travis - Chet Atkins style.  There are many styles of steel guitar that can break the monotony.

If you only play one style, no matter which one it is, it�s going to be very easy for you to be a boring player.  I was having lunch the other day with some airline pilots.  I was talking about flying my Piper Super Colt to St. Louis.  A couple of them laughed and snickered, �Well if you have all day to get there it might be fun.�

I said, �Why did you say that?�

They replied, �Well, we fly at about 450 knots.  What does your Piper cruise at?�

I said, �About 140 knots.�  But then I looked at them and said, �Do any of you guys have a tail wheel rating?�

One of them hung his head and said, �Well I really don�t need one with an airliner.�

My reply was, �You�re a pretty boring pilot if you can�t fly a tail wheel airplane.�  I said, �You guys can�t even go where you want to.  You might as well be bus drivers.�

That got a rise out of most of them.  But it�s sort of like playing steel guitar.  You might be able to play one note at a time real fast, but if that�s all you can do, you�re not really very well rounded as a musician.  You need to know your chords, be able to read at least a good number system chart, play slow and beautiful with great tone and one more very important thing, you need to know hundreds of songs, not just new ones and not just old ones, but everything, especially the standards.

Our cousin instrument, the standard guitar, has gone on to be played with many styles.  It can be a bluegrass rhythm instrument, a hard core jazz instrument, a beautiful country instrument and a solo instrument all by itself.  Players that I recommend you listen to are easily found on google.  Buster B. Jones, Thom Bresh, Leo Kottke, Tommy Emanuel, Merle Travis and Chet Atkins and the great Jerry Reed.

Steel guitar still needs to evolve to the point where it too can be accepted as a great, full rounded, every style instrument.  The original styles on steel guitar should never be forgotten, however steel guitar needs to be taken to new heights.  Don Helms, Little Roy Wiggins, Don Worden and Cousin Jody were what I call hard core players in the beginning, but they still played very well and beautiful.

The great players of today have gone way beyond the early beginnings and it�s up to the next generation coming to open this envelop up even further.  So no matter where you are in your playing, don�t be afraid to try to expand the envelop even more.  And this doesn�t mean jumping around and running across the stage either, because that�s not a style, it�s a joke.

If you want to take your steel guitar playing to the next level and open up your repertoire of tricks and styles, my Merle Travis style DVD is a great start.  The discipline, timing and precision of execution required to play the Travis style will naturally improve the rest of your playing.  If most standard guitar players can play it, why can�t you?  This style is about the only style you can play by yourself and sound like a full band to whoever you�re playing for.

One reason a guitar is so popular and they get hired over a steel guitar player in the band is because of their versatility in styles.  If you can only play one style, you�re not going to be anywhere near as valuable.  Just because you haven�t heard it done, doesn�t mean that you can�t do it on steel so open your mind to new possibilities. 

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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