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Author Topic:  Is Steel Guitar Fading Away?
Barry Blackwood


Post  Posted 11 Jun 2019 7:42 am    
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Quote:
It appears we are still just waiting for the phone to ring which most likely is not going to happen.


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Donny Hinson


From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 12 Jun 2019 7:33 am    
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Glenn Suchan wrote:

Donny, your list is not entirely correct. There are artists from that list who not only had steel on their albums, but were very audible if not iconic to the recordings.

Stonewall Jackson's 1959 album, The Dynamic Stonewall Jackson
"That's Why I'm Walking"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79JJNGV7AN0
"The Carpet on the Floor"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YcA56KpPSb4
"Life To Go"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zJ2qeKnImNs

and his entire 1979 album, Bad Ass. Here are a few tracks from that album:
"Alcohol of Fame"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGjG5BlVrjU
"The Pint of No Return". (Co-written with Johnny Paycheck)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX-Y5cuYs5Y
"Jesus Took the Outlaw Out of Me"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPco4MhcmAw

Roger Miller's legendary album, A Trip in the Country features Buddy Emmons' masterful artistry on the entire album. Here are a few tracks:
"A World So Full of Love"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ban1gKd_HSk
"Tall, Tall Trees"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sZRWlPV1ns&list=PLzBDtDLSlWnI7jNupwS5RLwOktrStl6dQ&index=1
"My Ears Should Burn (When Fools Are Talked About)"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ-canM0IXM&list=PLzBDtDLSlWnI7jNupwS5RLwOktrStl6dQ&index=5
"Invitation to the Blues"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7U2bmW4CiA&list=PLzBDtDLSlWnI7jNupwS5RLwOktrStl6dQ&index=11

Jim Ed Brown's hit, "Pop a Top"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOlZgr9vwgY

There might be more songs recorded by these and other artists from your list which featured prominent steel playing. These examples were off the top of my head.

Keep on pickin'!
Glenn


Thanks for the corrections, Glenn! I had forgotten that Stonewall did have a couple of hits with steel guitar, so I'll take him off my "list". Embarassed

As for the Roger Miller album that you call "legendary", it's legendary only to steel players. It was a flop - not a single song from that album even charted (meaning: was in the Top 100). So, even though it featured Buddy Emmons, it never got any airplay. Therefore, his name will have to remain on my "list". Neutral In a like manner, Willie Nelson had a couple of albums that featured pedal steel. However, even though he's had more number-one songs than I have fingers and toes, exactly none of them featured any steel guitar, and only two of his charted songs featured any steel at all (to my knowledge, anyway). So even though these two artists may have liked steel guitar, I can't really say they did much for it. Crying or Very sad

And yes, Jim Ed Brown did have that one charted song that featured steel guitar prominently, and one other song ("Morning") that had a little A&B mashing. But that's really not much for a career of recording for more than 20 years. Nevertheless, I'll take him off my "list", too. Mr. Green

But the whole point of my "list" (and the remaining 27 artists on it) was that you don't really need a steel for a successful country song...or country music career, for that matter. I could easily add another dozen artists to my "list", but I think I only need the group Alabama to prove my point.

Many thanks for your post! Very Happy
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Roger Rettig


From:
Naples, FL
Post  Posted 12 Jun 2019 9:01 pm    
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I agree. Steel doesn't define country music - it's just one of the available flavours.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 6:50 am    
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Back when those songs were hits, you could go out to the local dance hall on a weeknight and hear a 5 or 6 piece band with fiddle and steel play them how they were supposed to sound.🤠
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Nicholas Babin


From:
NYC
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 7:10 am    
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Millennial here, I think there's a couple negative contributors but probably some reason for optimism too.

Negatives:

Its not the time commitment to learn, its the start up costs! We're all broke between rent and student loans. Even a basic steel setup is $1500 between instrument, amp, volume pedal, etc. That's real money for a lot of folks, especially when you can get a regular guitar setup for $200. Even winds and brass are significantly cheaper buy in. You've got to really want to learn it to justify that sorta cost.

I think it fading from radio country usage, particularly from the rise of synth use, is hurting awareness. Off the top of my head, only Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, and Chris Stapleton seem to regularly use one. Even among my musician friends, unless they listened to country their whole life, they only have a passing knowledge of it. My non-musician friends are usually like "wtf is a pedal steel?" when I tell them I'm learning it. And before y'all blow me up with "it has applications besides country," it definitely does, but I don't know anyone my age who is a Jazz connoisseur. Country is comparatively mainstream.

Reason for hope though:

Most of my let's say "friends who care about music" listen to a lot of acoustic and folk trending stuff. There may not be a lot of PSG on these tracks, but it could easily blend in with them. (And, notably, the few I've introduced to older (60s to early 2000s) country have really enjoyed it.)
Based on the above, I really think the PSG could be an instrument prime for rediscovery. Unfortunately its also a chicken/egg thing since more younger folks would be interested in maybe learning it if it was more familiar, but if more younger folks played it might be more commonly used in bands full of young people.

Flame suit on.


Last edited by Nicholas Babin on 13 Jun 2019 7:55 am; edited 1 time in total
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 7:26 am    
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Good points, Nicholas.

The cost issue has been mentioned, maybe not in this thread but in others. Older folks note that for what it is and what it takes to build, a pedal steel is still very much a bargain. They forget what it was like being a broke-ass 22 year old, either just out of college or trying to make rent and eat and keep a job. Or worse yet, a 13 year old having to beg Mom n Pop for a $2K instrument that doesn’t get taught in school. I saved up paper route money for my first 6-string guitar, and nowadays kids can’t even get paper routes.

There’s the old “start out on lap steel for a couple hundred bucks” standby quip too. That didn’t fly for me, but I was not enamored with the instrument the ways some people apparently were.

Exposure to psg for younger crowds will happen for them the same way it happened for us older folk so many years ago when we were young - by seeing your favorite bands (local or big time) with a guy whose name you actually know sitting behind a steel guitar. Maybe that will be you, Nicholas.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 7:35 am    
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Nicholas Babin wrote:
Based on the above, I really think the PSG could be an instrument prime for rediscovery. Unfortunately its also a chicken/egg thing since more younger folks would be interested in maybe learning it if it was more familiar, but if more younger folks played it might be more common used in bands full of young people.

Flame suit on.


Laughing Thanks for your response. I was almost trolled into responding yesterday, but then saw that I already posted earlier in this thread.

It's really not complicated to see why pedal steel occupies the place it does today. There's just a lot of cognitive dissonance and lack of self-awareness among us about it. I'll throw some gasoline on the fire by mentioning a big one: Buddy Emmons made a lot of players in the past want to get D-10s. A D-10 worked great for Buddy, but it's not what the music community needs. Can anyone argue that steel guitar wouldn't be in a lot more musicians' arsenals if S-6s or S-8s were popularized and mass produced? And let's not BS ourselves that many musicians wouldn't be just fine with that simpler setup.

And for people on here that want to argue that it's due to a moral difference between the baby boomers and younger generations... please stop and check yourself. The baby boomers are not being treated well by the people writing history.
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James Mayer


From:
back in Portland Oregon, USA (via Arkansas and London, UK)
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 8:21 am    
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These threads usually serve to prove the generation gap is not about musical tastes but about attitude towards change in the medium. AM radio? FM radio? TV? We have the largest library of music (or any other media) at our fingertips, 24 hours a day. If you aren't cutting the cord, you are asking to be fed mainstream, lowest-common-denominator crap.

I hear the same thing happen about movies. People who are stuck in the marketing slave cycle complain that all new movies are just re-makes and reboots with no new ideas.

Curt Trisko wrote:

And for people on here that want to argue that it's due to a moral difference between the baby boomers and younger generations... please stop and check yourself. The baby boomers are not being treated well by the people writing history.


Correct.
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b0b


From:
Cloverdale, CA
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 9:18 am    
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Curt Trisko wrote:
Can anyone argue that steel guitar wouldn't be in a lot more musicians' arsenals if S-6s or S-8s were popularized and mass produced? And let's not BS ourselves that many musicians wouldn't be just fine with that simpler setup.


I absolutely believe that. Ten closely spaced strings are intimidating, and more than are necessary to play excellent music. I think that folk-rock is where the instrument does best today. I played an S-8 in that genre for 6 years. It just fits.

Now, convince a manufacturer to build and promote a modern, stage-worthy S-8.
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 11:36 am    
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Ditto that. It'd get a lot of youngsters to the level of their incompetence and encourage as many to go on to S10 or 12.
And it will look the same to the women.
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b0b


From:
Cloverdale, CA
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 12:56 pm    
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Charlie McDonald wrote:
Ditto that. It'd get a lot of youngsters to the level of their incompetence and encourage as many to go on to S10 or 12.
And it will look the same to the women.

Actually, mine looked the same to most people, even musicians.
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Donny Hinson


From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 4:08 pm    
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Fred Treece wrote:

The cost issue has been mentioned...Older folks note that for what it is and what it takes to build, a pedal steel is still very much a bargain. They forget what it was like being a broke-ass 22 year old, either just out of college or trying to make rent and eat and keep a job. Or worse yet, a 13 year old having to beg Mom n Pop for a $2K instrument that doesn’t get taught in school.


Maybe the 13 year-old would have a hard time convincing mom and dad to spring for an outfit. But most young people today, those between 16 and 25, always seem to be able to afford spending on smartphones, tats, fancy wheels and exhaust systems for their "ricers", $100-$200 jeans and athletic shoes, earring studs, and other "image items". Actually, it's more of a question of priorities. When I started over 50 years ago, the $375 for my first pedal steel came from shoveling snow, fixing radios and TV's for the neighbors, and playing music. (Playing at local churches and rec centers, making $6-$10 a gig.) I was still going to school, and wouldn't get a license or a car for another 4 years.

Had me a steel guitar, though! Wink Wink
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 7:03 pm    
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Congratulations, Donny. I’m glad everything worked out for you.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 13 Jun 2019 7:07 pm    
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Donny Hinson wrote:
Actually, it's more of a question of priorities.


I would've loved it if someone would've told me to get my financial priorities straight and buy obscure music gear. Laughing
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Donny Hinson


From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 14 Jun 2019 4:09 am    
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Sounds a little tongue-in-cheek, Curt. Wink But isn't it a fact that what draws most pedal steelers to the instrument is it's uniqueness. We chose playing the instrument because it was different, and not everyone else was was doing it. That makes us a little different ourselves and adds a little "something" to our own personalities that you don't experience from just following the crowd.

With hands, fingers, feet, and knees going in all different directions, it takes a certain (strange?) mindset to attempt to master this instrument. Some do it because it's different, and a few do it probably not realizing how challenging it really is.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 14 Jun 2019 6:05 am    
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Donny Hinson wrote:
Sounds a little tongue-in-cheek, Curt. Wink But isn't it a fact that what draws most pedal steelers to the instrument is it's uniqueness. We chose playing the instrument because it was different, and not everyone else was was doing it. That makes us a little different ourselves and adds a little "something" to our own personalities that you don't experience from just following the crowd.

With hands, fingers, feet, and knees going in all different directions, it takes a certain (strange?) mindset to attempt to master this instrument. Some do it because it's different, and a few do it probably not realizing how challenging it really is.


That's true - and I think you'd have to agree with me that it's also a reason why there aren't more players. I don't think we can have it both ways, where we stroke our egos about how inaccessible and complicated it is and then lament that it's not more popular.
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Steve Spitz


From:
New Orleans, LA, USA
Post  Posted 14 Jun 2019 3:47 pm    
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When I started, my local market didnt need any more guitar players, and nobody played steel. That helped with the motivation.

Not sure if that is the case today.
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Matthew Walton


From:
Fort Worth, Texas
Post  Posted 15 Jun 2019 10:01 am    
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Fred Treece wrote:
Older folks note that for what it is and what it takes to build, a pedal steel is still very much a bargain. They forget what it was like being a broke-ass 22 year old, either just out of college or trying to make rent and eat and keep a job.

Yeah, some folks forgot there's a difference between being a bargain and being affordable. A brand new Lamborghini for $50 000 would be a hell of a deal, but no way I could afford it without a loan! Very Happy

Donny Hinson wrote:
But most young people today, those between 16 and 25, always seem to be able to afford spending on smartphones, tats, fancy wheels and exhaust systems for their "ricers", $100-$200 jeans and athletic shoes, earring studs, and other "image items".

I always see this imaginary person brought up. I have yet to meet one in real life. It's this kind of "kids these days" attitude that alienates folks my age and makes me want to get off the forum, despite it being exactly what your parents said about you.

The older I get, the more I realize how privileged I was to have parents who were both willing and able to support me in all my musical endeavors, steel guitar included. I'd be lying if I said I didn't (and still don't) practice nearly as much as I should and could, but I love the instrument and all it can do, and hope to perform with it more and more as time goes on.
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Bob Carlucci


From:
Candor, New York, USA
Post  Posted 16 Jun 2019 5:31 am    
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Donny Hinson wrote:
But most young people today, those between 16 and 25, always seem to be able to afford spending on smartphones, tats, fancy wheels and exhaust systems for their "ricers", $100-$200 jeans and athletic shoes, earring studs, and other "image items".


Matthew Walton wrote:
"I always see this imaginary person brought up. I have yet to meet one in real life. It's this kind of "kids these days" attitude that alienates folks my age and makes me want to get off the forum, despite it being exactly what your parents said about you".



Never met one huh??.. I can introduce to to hundreds, including a few of my own sons...
I know a lot of young people that are this way exactly.. Always broke, but blowing money on $5 coffee, $5 "energy drinks" several times a day, fast food daily, Vaping supplies daily, Only the latest and greatest smart phones, CRAP cosmetic "upgrades' for the car, $$2000 wheels and tires, etc etc, etc..The woods are FULL of them,,, bob
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Richard Sinkler


From:
aka: Rusty Strings -- Oakdale, California
Post  Posted 16 Jun 2019 7:01 am    
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Roger Rettig wrote:
I agree. Steel doesn't define country music - it's just one of the available flavours.


I cringe and start going into convulsions when someone says "it ain't country if it doesn't have a steel guitar (and/or a fiddle)".

Country music is a style, not a room full of certain instruments that are playing that style.

A lot of GOOD (old & new) country has been made without a steel guitar. I've developed my mind to like certain types of music that doesn't have a steel guitar, not narrow myself to only songs that have a steel guitar in it.
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Richard Sinkler


From:
aka: Rusty Strings -- Oakdale, California
Post  Posted 16 Jun 2019 7:08 am    
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Nicholas Babin wrote:
Millennial here, I think there's a couple negative contributors but probably some reason for optimism too.

Negatives:

Its not the time commitment to learn, its the start up costs! We're all broke between rent and student loans. Even a basic steel setup is $1500 between instrument, amp, volume pedal, etc. That's real money for a lot of folks, especially when you can get a regular guitar setup for $200. Even winds and brass are significantly cheaper buy in. You've got to really want to learn it to justify that sorta cost.

I think it fading from radio country usage, particularly from the rise of synth use, is hurting awareness. Off the top of my head, only Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, and Chris Stapleton seem to regularly use one. Even among my musician friends, unless they listened to country their whole life, they only have a passing knowledge of it. My non-musician friends are usually like "wtf is a pedal steel?" when I tell them I'm learning it. And before y'all blow me up with "it has applications besides country," it definitely does, but I don't know anyone my age who is a Jazz connoisseur. Country is comparatively mainstream.

Reason for hope though:

Most of my let's say "friends who care about music" listen to a lot of acoustic and folk trending stuff. There may not be a lot of PSG on these tracks, but it could easily blend in with them. (And, notably, the few I've introduced to older (60s to early 2000s) country have really enjoyed it.)
Based on the above, I really think the PSG could be an instrument prime for rediscovery. Unfortunately its also a chicken/egg thing since more younger folks would be interested in maybe learning it if it was more familiar, but if more younger folks played it might be more commonly used in bands full of young people.

Flame suit on.


I don't believe it was because of the synth. It was just the "evolution" of the songwriters, producers, money grubbers at the record company. I hear way more guitar in country these days than synths.

Add to your list: Brad Paisley, Reba McIntire, Joe Diffie, Vince Gill, Luke Bryan, Josh Turner, Martina McBride, and the list goes on. There are many artists out their that carry a steel guitar on tour.
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Roger Rettig


From:
Naples, FL
Post  Posted 16 Jun 2019 7:33 am    
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Back in the mid-'70s when I was being entranced by the pedal steel playing on Poco's records as well as those spots on the Steely Dan albums where Skunk Baxter made his mark I wouldn't have given you a 'thank you' for a non-pedal lap steel 'to get me started'. I wanted the real thing straight away!

Upon further consideration, though, I wish now that I had taken that route. I'd have been a better player by now if I'd started with a real 'bare bones' steel and learned slants as well as where the scales lay on my primitive instrument.

Too late now, of course. Why didn't someone play me a Tom Morrell record back then??? Smile
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Charlie McDonald


From:
out of the blue
Post  Posted 16 Jun 2019 9:55 am    
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I know everything Roger just said. Somebody mentioned Pteradactyl Ptales and I didn't grab it. Lap steel should be some sort of requirement.
But yeah, you got to make that sound right away, and only pedal steel does it, which is something else I don't understand.

I think Richard has it right:

Quote:
Country music is a style, not a room full of certain instruments that are playing that style.


In the mountains where it grew up it was whatever instruments were available. Why there was a proliferation of banjoes I also don't understand.
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Mike Perlowin


From:
Los Angeles CA
Post  Posted 16 Jun 2019 11:02 am    
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Roger Rettig wrote:
Steel doesn't define country music - it's just one of the available flavours.


And country music doesn't define the steel. Or at least it shouldn't. Tom Bradshaw wrote about the stereotyped steel guitar 30(?) years ago. It's still true.

The pedal steel is not a country instrument. It's an instrument, period. It can play any style or genre, and its only limitations are those of its players.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 16 Jun 2019 12:02 pm    
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Mike Perlowin wrote:
The pedal steel is not a country instrument. It's an instrument, period. It can play any style or genre, and its only limitations are those of its players.

For me, my limitations involve the fact that I can play most anything I want on guitar. I took up pedal steel so I could play things that can only be done on steel - the sounds that are unique to it and can change the character of the music being played. I will never be a great pedal steel player that can play anything he wants on it. That is not my goal. It is not my goal to keep the instrument from fading into oblivion either, but maybe I can do my little bit for the cause while inadvertently contributing to the perpetuation of the stereotype 🤠
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