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Author Topic:  Steel Guitar Rag ..... The Original
Guy Cundell


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More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 3:37 pm    
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"Steel Guitar Rag" by Leon McAuliffe. Steel Guitar 101. One of the most famous and long standing tunes of the repertoire. A bouncy number, very catchy. I first heard it on the famous Emmons "rainbow" album of about 1975(?) and have heard many versions since then , all in a similar vein.

I have just listened to a version recorded by Bob Wills in 1936 which is on a complilation "The Essential Bob Wills: Columbia Country Classics" with the composer on steel. I don't know if this is first recorded version but it is pretty early.

I was amazed at the difference between this interpretation and how it is normally played these days.

It is a "train" tune. Bob introduces it as such and that is the flavour of the opening phrase. The tempo is slower than you would expect. The bend which contemporary players make from minor third to major third never goes the whole distance! The effect is obviously to mimic the "out of tuneness" of a train whistle. The effect provides a big contrast with the next section at which point Bob hollers "Swing out".

Here is the exerpt.
Steel Guitar Rag 1936.mp3

This is probably not news to all but I found it surprising. Can someone please tell me the tuning. Is it all on one neck?
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Eddie Cunningham


From:
Massachusetts, USA
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 4:06 pm     The " ORIGINAL " Original S.G.R. !!!
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I have a C.D. on the "Yazoo" label that states a black blues guitar player named Sylvester Weaver wrote and recorded "Guitar Rag" back in the mid 20s . If you listen to Weavers early 1920s recording playing his tune it is the "steel guitar rag" !! Then Leon McAuliffe either bought the song or redid it and added "steel" to the title and put it out as his own "Steel Guitar Rag" !! Weaver never gets any credits for his song . I wish I could post the recording for you all to judge !!! Eddie "C" ( P.S. It is in a straight "E" major chord tuning . )

Last edited by Eddie Cunningham on 7 May 2009 4:39 pm; edited 1 time in total
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b0b


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Cloverdale, CA
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 4:16 pm    
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Cliffie Stone and Merle Travis wrote the lyrics. I like Speedy West's arrangement the best.
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 4:21 pm    
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You're right, Eddie... "Steel Guitar Rag" is a rip off of the earlier "Guitar Rag" by Sylvester Weaver. Wikipedia calls it a "cover" of Guitar Rag...

Quote:
"Guitar Rag... became a blues classic and was covered in the 1930s by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys as Steel Guitar Rag and became a country music standard too."


Click



I like Buddy Charleton's version with the Texas Troubadours. Leon Rhodes' plays one of the hottest guitar solos I've ever heard on that song!
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Sonny Priddy


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Elizabethtown, Kentucky, USA, R.I.P.
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 5:04 pm     steel guitar rag.
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I Had steel guitar rag On A 78rpm Record When I Was Ten Years Old. I Loved that Sound. SONNY.
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Chris Scruggs


From:
Nashville, Tennessee, USA
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 6:30 pm    
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Bare in mind the take of "Steel Guitar Rag" found on the Columia "Essential" Bob Wills CD is an ALTERNATE TAKE and was NOT the originally issued version of the song.

On the originally issued 78 rpm record of "Steel Guitar Rag", Bob introduces Leon with,"Take it away, Leon!" On the "Essential" disc, Bob says,"All aboard this train, kick it off Mr. Leon" or something to that effect.

The tuning is open E and is pretty much played entirely on the high four strings. Back in those early days, Leon carried two Rickenbacher six string Electro guitars, one in A tuning and one in E tuning (these were the two popular early Hawaiian tunings). Sometimes Leon would tune the second string of his E tuning up to C# for C# minor tuning, which can be heard on the same "Essentials" disc you have on "Bob Wills' Special" with lots of the volume pedal "pumping" effect.

Yes, Leon's version of "Steel Guitar Rag" was much slower and bluesier than later recordings by SPade Cooley's orchestra, Jerry Byrd and Buddy Emmons to name a few. This was a point of annoyance to later Playboy steel players. Herb Remington said he wanted to play a "hot" upbeat arrangement like all the other steel players were doing by the late '40s, but because Bob had a hit on it as a mid-tempo blues, he had to play it simple and slow like Leon did back in '36.

Jerry Byrd's arrangement is always my favorite, but I do love the haunting quality of the original Wills' recording.

Chris Scruggs
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Ray Montee


From:
Portland, Oregon (deceased)
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 6:31 pm     Another version of Steel Guitar Rag,,,,,,,not to be .....
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If YOU truly want to hear a version of STEEL GUITAR RAG that is second to none, one that has so much creativity within it.......you've just got to make it
a point to listen to JERRY BYRD's early Mercury record of this olde standard.

JERRY plays it three times and not once, is it the same, yet it is totally recognizeable in each and every verse.

THIS VERSION has to be a CLASSIC. Lot's of simple versions are out and about but none can match JERRY BYRD's recording.

If YOU are a true lover of steel guitar and C6th tuning, this is a perfect example for your listen to.
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 6:46 pm    
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Quote:
Leon's version of "Steel Guitar Rag" was much slower and bluesier than later recordings


I noticed that when I heard Leon play SGR in St. Louis in 1981. I was used to hearing faster versions and playing it faster with my band. It was kind of surprising.

Later versions of songs often become "the standard". For example, most bands play Jambalaya much faster than Hank's original recording. And most bands add chords to I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry... instead of hanging on the I chord for the first 8 bars of the song like Hank did.
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Alvin Blaine


From:
Picture Rocks, Arizona, USA
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 8:52 pm    
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The 1923 recording of it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plsT3v5tlg4
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 10:45 pm    
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Thanks for the link, Alvin. I'm glad to have finally heard that recording. It's an interesting arrangement: instead of playing the 3 sections of the Steel Guitar Rag in order, Sylvester played the first 2 sections a couple of times, and he played the 3rd section once as a bridge toward the end of the song. After I heard sections 1 & 2 played a couple of times I was thinking that Leon must have added the 3rd part, but no, it shows up later in the song. Also, Sylvester stays on the I chord throughout section 1 (no V chord). Interesting stuff... and interesting that Leon gets credit, and copyright, for SGR when all he did was make up a new name for an existing song. Confused This happens all the time with songs in the public domain, but Guitar Rag was only about 10 years old when Leon "wrote" Steel Guitar Rag.
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Guy Cundell


From:
More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 11:37 pm    
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Yes, thanks for the link, Alvin. It's not a surprising story. The process of borrowing is natural it is just a shame that Sylvester didn't get his just rewards though the Wiki article does say his recordings were "quite successful".

Eddie, I wouldn't mind the name of the Yazoo CD, if possible. Is it a compilation?
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Matthew Prouty


From:
Warsaw, Poland
Post  Posted 7 May 2009 11:47 pm    
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Guy,

You hit a very interesting point. You said the bend that goes from the minor third never reaches the major third (as is common today). Leon was pulling from the Blues here as a true blues scale third is 1/4 flat, sitting somewhere between the major and the minor third. Unfortunately the blues has fallen from favor in popular music and these expressive rudiments are slowly being lost.

I love those old Bob Wills recordings and some of the early videos are just incredible. The musicianship that the players showed is so impressive.

m.
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Alvin Blaine


From:
Picture Rocks, Arizona, USA
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 12:31 am    
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Doug Beaumier wrote:
Thanks for the link, Alvin. I'm glad to have finally heard that recording. It's an interesting arrangement: instead of playing the 3 sections of the Steel Guitar Rag in order, Sylvester played the first 2 sections a couple of times, and he played the 3rd section once as a bridge toward the end of the song. After I heard sections 1 & 2 played a couple of times I was thinking that Leon must have added the 3rd part, but no, it shows up later in the song. Also, Sylvester stays on the I chord throughout section 1 (no V chord). Interesting stuff... and interesting that Leon gets credit, and copyright, for SGR when all he did was make up a new name for an existing song. Confused This happens all the time with songs in the public domain, but Guitar Rag was only about 10 years old when Leon "wrote" Steel Guitar Rag.


Sylvester Weaver recorded another version of it, on April 13, 1927, and that one does the same A-B-C form that Leon did a few years later.
I think that version is on the "Slide Guitar: Bottles, Knives, and Steel" compilation CD

Document Records in the UK, has a Sylvester Weaver Vol 1 CD out, with both versions on it.
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Ron McLaren


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Buckinghamshire, UK
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 2:01 am    
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Thanks for that Alvin,
For me that re-surrects the sounds of the 'era', I think it was great!

Ron Mc
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c c johnson


From:
killeen,tx usa * R.I.P.
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 2:11 am    
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We play sgr in the Leon tempo, not the torrid break time while everyone goes to the bathroom. I have had good dancers tell me that SGR is a RAG and that they can dance a rag to it instead of skipping around the floor. For stage shows we do the fast version ala Speedy , Charlton etc. You are right Skip, Jerrys versionIs hailed by virtualy every one as the classic version. cc
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Guy Cundell


From:
More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 3:17 am    
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Chris, I am interested in whether, on the original release of SGR, the microtonal thing of not bending right up to the Maj3 is repeated or is the "train thing" just a novelty effect employed on the alternative take? As Matthew observes, there is real precision in the bend on the alternative take and I am also certain that all these musicians are well versed in the blues.
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Terry Wood


From:
Marshfield, MO
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 4:41 am    
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I remember hearing Leon McAuliffe talk about this song at the steel guitar convention back in the 70s.
He said somethhing to the effect or others did that he was only about 14 when he started composing the original melody of the song. It is quite likely that he may have heard others playing something similiar on the old battery radios they listened to back then. And thus he got the idea and started playing around with it.

Also, I do remember hearing him say of the song "Pan Handle Rag" that he composed it by reversing part of the melody of the song "Steel Guitar Rag."

I only met him and talked very briefly with him once and it was shortly before his death in 1985.

He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame 1978 the same year as Jerry Byrd and Alvino Rey. I was there and took some pictures. I had no idea at that time what all of that meant, but now realize that it was a piece of steel history.

Hope this helps shed a little light on Leon and "Steel Guitar Rag.

Terry Wood
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 9:37 am    
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Quote:
I remember hearing Leon McAuliffe talk about this song at the steel guitar convention back in the 70s.
He said somethhing to the effect or others did that he was only about 14 when he started composing the original melody of the song.


...but the problem is... Leon did not compose the original melody. He may have thought he did, but it is clearly the same melody as Guitar Rag, all three sections of the song. I still can't believe that Leon gets credit for writing Steel Guitar Rag. It's just a "cover" of Guitar Rag with a different name.

It's interesting that both Weaver and the Texas Playboys recorded on the Okeh label.




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Guy Cundell


From:
More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 11:04 am    
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That is indeed interesting, Doug, circumstantial though.

Another case that has irked me since I saw the documentary is that of "Mbube" written by Solomon Linda in 1939 which became "The Lion Sleeps Tonight". At one end gold taps on the 50' yacht and at the other death in poverty in a village that doesn't have a decent water supply.

Mbube 1939 .mp3
Lyrics were written and it is claimed that Seeger wrote the verse section but if you listen to this exerpt which is the last 50 secs you will hear what became the verse as an improvised vocal fill by the singer/composer Linda.

This Wiki article details the case and the copyright issues. It is pleasing to note the resolution in 2006, a long. long time coming, only after all the publicity, documentary and public pressure.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lion_Sleeps_Tonight


Last edited by Guy Cundell on 16 Sep 2015 3:50 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Billy Tonnesen


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R.I.P., Buena Park, California
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 11:15 am    
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I had heard only the Bob Wills recording where it starts with "Take It Away Leon".

When Spade Cooley brought his newly staffed band, including Joaquin Murphy, into the Riverside Rancho in Glendale, Ca. he used the Spade Cooley version of Steel Guitar Rag as his theme song on the nightly radio broadcasts. This was before his hit song "Shame On You". He then changed his theme song to "Shame on You". On the Warner Bros. film clip of the Spade Cooley band it starts out with Steel Guitar Rag. Also, Cooley's band added a new riff to the SGR which most of the bands started using, including Buddy Emmons.

I have also thought that there are strains of "When The Saints Go Marching In" in the SGR melody !
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Mitch Drumm


From:
Frostbite Falls, hard by Veronica Lake
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 11:48 am    
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Guy:

Here is the original issue of Steel Guitar Rag by Wills. Compare it to the version on The Essential Bob Wills.

The introductory quote is:

"Look out friends, here's Leon. Take it away boys, take it away".

I think the only time Bob ever actually says "Take it away, Leon" may be on "Little Girl, Go Ask Your Mama", which is my favorite performance ever by Leon.

Steel Guitar Rag

Billy--yeah, I hear the "Saints" also in the first few notes.


Last edited by Mitch Drumm on 8 May 2009 12:56 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Terry Wood


From:
Marshfield, MO
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 12:33 pm    
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Doug that is the first time I ever heard about this and but doesn't surprise me. I think things were alot more relaxed back in those days on copyrights and credits.

A lot of people have borrowed and taken songs and changed the words around etc., etc.

Here are a couple of examples of this Hank Williams recording "I Saw The Light," and the Gospel hymn book song titled "He Set Me Free." Check out the melodies to both tunes.

A few years ago I was told that the song "Your The Reason God Made Oklahoma," and "Rocky Top," had same or similiar melodies on at least part of the song. They had just took part of the melody and slowed it way down to record. A close friend whose name I will not disclose said that there was a legal suit filed over this one. This may or may not be true but it has happened before.

Well just some more thoughts.

Terry
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Mitch Drumm


From:
Frostbite Falls, hard by Veronica Lake
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 12:46 pm    
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Terry:

Yeah, that "borrowing" goes on a lot.

I have wondered how recently Wynn Stewart had heard "Little Rosewood Casket" before he sat down to write "Wishful Thinking" about 50 years ago.
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Guy Cundell


From:
More idle ramblings from South Australia
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 1:21 pm    
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Thanks for posting that, Mitch. Well there you are. They really are very similar. The micro tonal approach is almost the same. It is accentuated in the Alternative take (my posting) by the fact that the bend at the beginning of the second phrase (at bar 5) doesn't reach the major third where as the original take it does get there. Is that an accident? I don't think so. Coupled with Bob's introduction I don't think that there can be much doubt as to Leon's intention with the technique that he employs in this tune. But that... is my opinion. This doesn't cut across Matthew's observation about the bluesy nature of the playing. I think it is a beautiful confluence of these two factors... blues and trains .... a strong resonance of that era.
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post  Posted 8 May 2009 1:48 pm    
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... so if I record "Sleepwalk" on regular guitar... the exact same melody, and rename it "Sleepwalking" and copyright it in my name... I am the writer of that song? Laughing Maybe the answer is: what happened in the 1930s could not happen in 2009.
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