Steel Guitar Tips

Hello fellow players,

This is a strange business that we are in, me as a player and dealer and you guys that are enthusiasts and are not restricted by dealer rules or playing boundaries.  I have to or I am supposed to be very careful in what I say in these newsletters, not to offend anyone.  Whereas you may have noticed, there are some rules that I don�t really adhere to the way I probably should.

The way I look at it, you folks can email me and say anything you want.  I obviously say about anything that I want.  Sometimes I say something and it�s like lighting a short fuse on a long stick of dynamite.  However, I�m always sorry if I don�t say something and sometimes sorry if I barely say something that offends.

But let me tell you something, these newsletters are going to be a lot more exciting if I say exactly what�s on my mind and right or wrong, that�s probably what I�m going to do.  After all, most of the time I�m just reporting what�s already been said or done.  I hate many of the things that I have to say, like reporting the deaths of some of the world�s most famous steel guitarists or the demise of a famous steel guitar company.  Some things just are not fun to tell and then some things are extremely funny.

If you�re just after high tech information and it�s the only thing you care about, you�re going to have to put up with some humor, history, twisted and straight personalities of us players and who we work for.  This should keep these newsletters as interesting as anything you can read, especially if you like the music business and what us steel players and musicians have to go through to stay in the business.

In the past several months I have shared a lot of strange stories with you that myself and many of my friends have gone through, so like I say, if you think I�m saying a lot of weird things, I feel that they need to be said or I wouldn�t be saying them.  After all, most of you are in this business in one way or another, so I�m just letting you know that what I have gone through is something you can expect to go through also if you haven�t already.

When it comes to money I�m sure as musicians, we�ve all been taken advantage of by someone we thought we were getting paid to work with or for.  Usually it�s a club owner that stiffed us and I have been taken advantage of by bandleaders and fellow musicians that claim they didn�t owe me anything because they were stiffed on the other end.

How about big time record companies in Nashville?  Believe me, they�ll get you as quick as anybody will.  Famous jingle companies in all cities have a way of thinking, �We�ll just hire a steel player and not pay him because it didn�t cost him anything to work here.�

I got nailed one time by a very large jingle production company from Dallas, Texas.  They insisted that I fly to Dallas for a major jingle session, strings, horns, backup choirs and the whole big deal.  I paid for my flight to Dallas, ground transportation to the studio, worked six very hard hours and when I packed up to leave and asked for a check, they said, �We�ll send it to you.  What address do you want us to send it to?�

Guess what?  I never heard from them again even after many phone calls to try to collect.  This was supposed to be a substantial amount.  The name of the jingle company was Pams.  Finding out later it was a major company that was in the throes of bankruptcy after being successful for many years, instead of me making $2100, I ended up losing about $900.  This was in the spring of 1974.  Money meant more then.

This happened again in Nashville with a friend that was doing a major jingle for a California company.  I went into Monument Recording Studios on Music Row and the string players were all tuning up, the rhythm section was all in place.  I proceeded to setup and in a few minutes we were running down the first highly orchestrated chart.

It was a wonderful session and musically something I could be proud of the rest of my life, but when I called the Union to see if my check was in there a couple weeks later, they replied, �No.  We�re having trouble collecting it from the California company that produced it.�

I said, �How can this be?  It was a Union session with the best Nashville musicians I�ve ever worked with on the session.�

The Union replied, �Well, we�re working on trying to get the money for y�all.�

After waiting several more weeks I called the Union again only to get a threat that they may be fining me for working for a company they couldn�t collect from.  I never did get the money and I never did pay any Union fines.  Well anyway, this is life in the big city.  So if you�re having trouble collecting from a small club in your home town, don�t worry because they usually pay better than a lot of the big labels do in the big cities.

I know I�m going to get some flak for this newsletter from some big labels I�ve worked for, but if they haven�t paid me, I�d like to hear from them.  If they have paid me, then I really welcome a phone call from them.

I remember working 24 sessions in December of 1975 and only getting paid for two of them.  The reason being the petroleum prices at that time were raging fiercely and the labels could not get petroleum to make the 33 and 1/3 or 45 rpm records.  The musicians that cut the records were at the end of the money chain, so we are the ones that got stiffed.

But things aren�t always bad.  I remember one time getting booked for 15 three hour sessions in one week.  The Monday I was supposed to start doing them, the girl in the record label�s office said that the album that we were going to do had been cancelled, but they would go ahead and pay us for the sessions anyway as per Union agreement.  

I hustled as hard as I could and booked 11 sessions for other companies.  At the end of the week I had made more money than I ever have since for one week�s worth of being a studio musician.

Today it�s very hard for a hard working, busy studio musician, especially steel guitar, to book over 7 or 8 sessions for the entire week.   Things are a lot different today than they were when I was coming up through the recording ranks.  I liked it a lot better back then.

Walking into a session and hearing two or three Martin flattops singing together, the sweet sound of an electric Gibson through an Echoplex and a twenty year old Fender amp and a real 11� Bösendorfer or a Baldwin piano.  Things were definitely very musical back in those days.  Nowadays, for the rhythm guitars they�ll hire three Telecasters with fuzztone.  Is this progress or is it a fast, cheap, dirty way to produce something called �cool�?

Looking back into history and what has been recorded in Nashville in the last five years, then looking back at the mid-sixties when songs like Roy Orbison�s �Pretty Woman� were recorded, I can�t see where we�ve made any progress, but we have to keep trying no matter what.

I still love steel guitar even though the business might be turning left and I�m still going straight.  Do I recommend anybody else getting in this business?  Absolutely yes.  Get in, make money and have fun.  Maybe someday you�ll be looking back at these first of the century days telling everybody how wonderful these old days were.

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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