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Author Topic:  Best Steel Playing on Willie Nelson Recordings?
Jim Fogarty


From:
Phila, Pa, USA
Post  Posted 7 Jun 2020 5:53 pm    
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Playing off of the post about "Nightlife"..........

Over the years, I've acquired pretty much the entire Willie discography. It doesn't always have exact credits. So, what songs and albums would you say have the best steel playing on them.......and who plays it?

Let's make a solid list.

Thanks!
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scott murray


From:
Asheville, NC
Post  Posted 7 Jun 2020 6:33 pm    
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his Phases & Stages album from '74 is probably my favorite. it's got John Hughey all over it.

a collection of early demos called Crazy came out in 2003 with some really nice playing by Jimmy Day (and Buddy Emmons)... I associate Jimmy with most of Willie's stuff that included steel.

there's a classic early version of Funny How Time Slips Away with Pete Drake on steel. there's also Willie's early version of Night Life with Herb Remington, and I think Herb played on a song called Man With The Blues too. any others with Pete or Herb?

Willie did some duet albums in the 80s, one with Ray Price and another with Faron Young. I think Buddy Emmons was on those, and also on the I Gotta Get Drunk duet with George Jones. the duet album with Webb Pierce featured Jimmy Day.

Robby Turner played some great stuff on Willie's reggae album called Countryman, released in 2005.

almost forgot Country Music: Willie Nelson Style from '66, recorded with the Texas Troubadours... Buddy Charleton!


for a guy that's not known for using a lot of steel, Willie sure has used a lot of steel! there's plenty more examples I'm sure...
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Last edited by scott murray on 16 Jun 2020 5:26 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Steve Hinson

 

From:
Hendersonville Tn USA
Post  Posted 7 Jun 2020 6:52 pm     ...and...
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"Yesterday's Wine"!!!

Weldon Myrick wearing it plumb OUT!!!

SH
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Mitch Drumm

 

From:
Frostbite Falls, hard by Veronica Lake
Post  Posted 7 Jun 2020 8:47 pm    
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Has Willie ever written or spoken publicly about why he has only occasionally used steel guitar on his recordings in the last 40 plus years?

I get kind of sick thinking he has apparently seen fit to constantly carry a harmonica player around the world.

I haven't seen him live since about 1976 when "Red-Headed Stranger" was the rage. At the Boarding House in San Francisco as I recall. I don't remember if he had steel that night.

If I had seen 10 random gigs of his every year since 1975 (450 shows), how many of those would have had a steel on stage?

Seriously, somebody give me an estimate.

Followed by whatever you think would be Willie's explanation/justification.

You might think that he's trying to avoid being labeled a hillbilly since we all know the steel is strictly for hillbillies, but then you've got to explain the harmonica, which has long since been Cletus and Buford's favorite instrument.

I keep thinking the disdain for steel must date back to something that went on during the Jimmy Day era. I seem to recall reading something about issues, but I don't remember the details.


Last edited by Mitch Drumm on 7 Jun 2020 9:11 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Jim Fogarty


From:
Phila, Pa, USA
Post  Posted 7 Jun 2020 8:56 pm    
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Mitch Drumm wrote:
Followed by whatever you think would be Willie's explanation/justification.


Maybe he figures he already has a keyboard in the band?!?!? Laughing
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Stu Schulman


From:
Ulster Park New Yawk
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 5:24 am    
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Don't forget Tommy Morrell on "Lucky Ol' Sun".
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 6:52 am    
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There a number of Willie songs that have interesting steel parts to listen to, even if you wouldn't call them good examples of how steel is 'supposed' to be played. 'Previous Memories' is an example. It has an extended steel solo - by Jimmy Day, I think. 'She's Not For You' is another example, the steel part that opens it is compelling, even though I probably wouldn't copy that style myself.

In my opinion, 'Angel Flying too Close' to the Ground has the finest use of steel guitar.
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Mitch Drumm

 

From:
Frostbite Falls, hard by Veronica Lake
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 7:31 am    
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The best steel I've heard in a long time from Willie is on "Stay Away From Lonely Places" on last year's CD "Ride Me Back Home"... a song he first did in the 60s.

Who is it on steel????

I just reviewed his earlier years..for me the best steel is all by Jimmy Day, particularly on the Pamper demos--"Let's Pretend", "Building Heartaches", "New Way To Cry", "I'll Stay Around", etc.

Even in the first 6 or 8 years of his career, a lot of his songs just don't have steel at all.
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Sonny Jenkins


From:
New Braunfels, Tx. 78130
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 7:40 am    
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I liked Willy's music best in late 60s when he was around San Antonio a lot,,he had Jimmy on steel and David Zettner on bass. Jimmy and David were always good friends,,and I'm glad to say were both friends of mine. David was living in one of Willy's houses when he passed away. In the 80s when I tried to get a steel guitar club going in this area Jimmy and David came down a couple of times to try and help promote it,,,both great guys.
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rick andrews

 

From:
Westminster Co 80031
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 9:04 am    
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John Hughey on Phases and Stages and Emmons on that Ray Price collaboration.
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Mark Eaton


From:
Sonoma County in The Great State Of Northern California
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 9:23 am    
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Even though he was close to completely retiring from playing with the exception of the occasional steel guitar show, Buddy Emmons was still Buddy on a pair of his final sessions on Willie's You Don't Know Me - a Tribute to Cindy Walker in 2006, and Last of the Breed from Ray Price/Merle Haggard/Willie Nelson in 2007.

I recall an article regarding the Cindy Walker album that even though Buddy was finished with sessions despite the phone ringing on a regular basis requesting his presence, he played on that album as a favor to his old friend Willie Nelson.

Apparently Buddy didn't hold it against Willie that he provided a good living for harmonica player Mickey Raphael over the years rather than carry a steel player on a regular basis. Wink
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Dave Zirbel


From:
Sebastopol, CA USA
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 9:38 am    
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I haven't many Willie records but I love Jimmy Day on The Troublemaker, which is a gospel record. So subtle, sweet and soulful.

Steel solo at 3:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8byUJPeqEk&fbclid=IwAR3UpnCA5rwiSucqDuJ0NPbG2idbkl4cmD4En-3hcquJXwjhf0PbxTACfTA
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 9:52 am    
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Aside from the harmonica issue, I would rather hear steel for a reason than just from habit.
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Curt Trisko


From:
St. Paul, Minnesota, USA
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 10:09 am    
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Dave Zirbel wrote:
I haven't many Willie records but I love Jimmy Day on The Troublemaker, which is a gospel record. So subtle, sweet and soulful.

Steel solo at 3:15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8byUJPeqEk&fbclid=IwAR3UpnCA5rwiSucqDuJ0NPbG2idbkl4cmD4En-3hcquJXwjhf0PbxTACfTA


I remember the first time I heard that song. I was driving on a Sunday morning scanning through the radio stations. A classic country station had a weekly program going of church-y themed songs. Such an unusual and striking steel solo.
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Steve Hinson

 

From:
Hendersonville Tn USA
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 10:24 am    
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"The Troublemaker"is a good one too!

When I heard"Precious Memories"I had to sit down and learn it-I never liked to do that,but that one is something special!

SH
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Jack Stanton

 

From:
Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 3:07 pm    
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Jimmy Day on Shotgun Willie has some great stuff, but Phases & Stages is off the hook!
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Douglas Schuch


From:
Valencia, Philippines
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 3:37 pm    
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This one is much more recent, but\ that is Paul Franklin and the rest of the Time Jumpers on Willie's tribute album to Ray Price, "For The Good Times".

https://youtu.be/tTgmTv-l_Yc

I've played harmonica for many more years than I have pedal steel, so I don't mind the harmonica - when it's good, anyway. Mickey Raphael is not my favorite harp player. Sometimes he's awesome, sometimes I just wish he'd shut up!

This one is definitely an album a steeler should listen to, though.
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Bart Bull


From:
New Orleans, USA/Paris FR/Berkeley USSR
Post  Posted 8 Jun 2020 5:57 pm    
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In the mid-90s, Willie Nelson put out a starkly beautiful, fully realized album called "Spirit."
It was sparse, no Mickey or steel, and the next to last track was named . . . "Spirit of E9."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QN3FvROBTkg

And because it was Willie — no steel, just Bobbie's old fashioned church piano, Johnny Gimble's fiddle, and Willie on acoustic.

What did it all mean? Well, other than that maybe they needed a five-minute instrumental to finish off the album, maybe instead it really meant that......
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Brett Lanier

 

From:
Vermont
Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 7:01 am    
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“Why Are You Picking On Me?”

It’s an early one, great steel all the way through with a perfect break. I’ve never seen it written that it’s Buddy, but it sure sounds like him.

https://youtu.be/1Yc55ZCyhS8
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Barry Blackwood


Post  Posted 9 Jun 2020 7:40 am    
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Quote:
Over the years, I've acquired pretty much the entire Willie discography. It doesn't always have exact credits. So, what songs and albums would you say have the best steel playing on them.......and who plays it?


Too subjective. General consensus seems to be Jimmy Day - I'll certainly go with that. Cool
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Jim Pitman

 

From:
Waterbury Ctr. VT 05677 USA
Post  Posted 14 Jun 2020 2:37 am    
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Cool song Brett. I agree on Emmons but someone down the page replies Jimmy Day.
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Jim Pitman

 

From:
Waterbury Ctr. VT 05677 USA
Post  Posted 14 Jun 2020 2:50 am    
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I'll take a stab at why Willie abandoned the PSG eventually.
Like Waylon Jennings told his bass players "you do a 1 to 4 walk up, you're fired", Willie was sensitive to the way, whether deserved or not, pedal steel pigeon holed your music as strictly country. I recall hearing his Read Headed Stranger record in 76 and concluding this is a direction changer for country music. It got picked up by quite a few college radio stations because young people liked it in fact. Willie garned a new audience with that record. Ironically, I myself became interested in the PSG and so did quite a few of my friends who listened to Poco/Pure Prairie League/Commander Cody/etc.
Mickey Raphael's harmonica playing against Willie's lyrics and melody became an iconic signature that Willie wasn't willing to part with I'll bet.
This is all conjecture but it was my thinking at the time.
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Darrell Criswell

 

From:
Maryland, USA
Post  Posted 14 Jun 2020 1:05 pm    
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I bought a single neck BMI from a guy in Dallas about 1980. He said it was one that Willie's harmonica player Mickey Raphael had traded in for another one. He told me that after I bought it so I have no reason to doubt him.
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Herb Steiner

 

From:
Spicewood TX 78669
Post  Posted 14 Jun 2020 6:09 pm    
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Darrell Criswell wrote:
I bought a single neck BMI from a guy in Dallas about 1980. He said it was one that Willie's harmonica player Mickey Raphael had traded in for another one. He told me that after I bought it so I have no reason to doubt him.


I've known Mickey Raphael since before he started working for Willie and I've never known him to own, or want to own, a pedal steel. Not that it couldn't have happened, but... just sayin'. Wink

Willie's choice for the harmonica was explained by Willie in several books and articles by him, but basically it's this: he saw Price using the steel guitar as his instrument to "have a conversation with" onstage and on his recordings. Willie liked Mickey's back-and-forth vocal style Mickey employed when working for BW Stevenson, so he decided on the harp as his "conversation" instrument of choice.

I for years had thought that the guitarist and steel player on "Things to Remember" was Pete Wade on guitar and Buddy on steel, based on some of the Opry Pet Milk videos of Pete and Buddy playing his blond Sho-Bud with Price (ca. 1962-63) but upon listening to the tune today, I've changed my opinion to feeling it could be Jimmy on steel. And he was having a good day of it if it was him.

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Steve Hinson

 

From:
Hendersonville Tn USA
Post  Posted 14 Jun 2020 6:34 pm    
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Smile

Last edited by Steve Hinson on 15 Jun 2020 3:45 am; edited 2 times in total
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