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Author Topic:  EXCLUSIVE: Chapter 14 from “Buddy Emmons: Steel Guitar Icon"
Fish

 

Post  Posted 5 Sep 2022 4:27 pm    
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I’m proud to present exclusively to members of the Steel Guitar Forum Chapter 14 from Buddy Emmons: Steel Guitar Icon
entitled “Night Life."

The publisher, the University of Illinois Press, wholeheartedly endorsed the idea to debut a chapter here on The Forum on the book’s release date, September 6, 2022. I'm especially happy the book's release follows Labor Day, which for years was the holiday weekend DeWitt "Scotty" Scott hosted the International Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis.

From Buddy Emmons: Steel Guitar Icon by Steve Fishell. Copyright 2022 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with Permission of the University of Illinois Press.

Use promo code F22UIP to get a 30% discount when you purchase from the University of Illinois Press website: https://go.illinois.edu/f22fishell

Please note: italicized sentences throughout this book are Buddy’s own words, taken directly from his previously unpublished memoirs written between 1988–1992 and given to the author on March 28, 2010.

Special thanks to Bob Lee and The Steel Guitar Forum for helping to co-ordinate this sneak preview.




Last edited by Fish on 5 Sep 2022 4:56 pm; edited 3 times in total
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Fish

 

Post  Posted 5 Sep 2022 4:35 pm    
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CHAPTER 14 "Night Life" Part One

Linda Ronstadt remembered the first time she heard Buddy Emmons. “I was in a country club someplace in Tucson—I think I was about seventeen. The jukebox was playing and all of a sudden “Night Life” came on. And I went, ‘What is that?’ I was there with a pedal steel player I was dating at the time. He said, ‘Oh, that’s Buddy Emmons. He’s the best one.’ And I went ‘Wow!’

“So I bought that record and just listened to it over and over again because that opening [sings ‘do do do doooo, do do doooo’] and the way it changes the inner harmonies, it’s amazing. It was voicings and a texture I’d never heard before on the pedal steel. I was completely smitten.”

Ray Price, with his rich, expressive voice, was by 1963 in his prime as the premier male honky-tonk singer. That year he recorded his landmark album Night Life for Columbia Records, one of the earliest concept albums in country music. Together, the songs on Night Life create a patchwork storyline that starkly captures the bitter loneliness of the road and its life filled with beer joints, one-night stands, sorrow, and regret. The six-minute-long title song, written by Willie Nelson, became a perfect vehicle for Price’s dark, bluesy vocals and for Buddy’s nuanced, haunting pedal steel. The Night Life album—which also featured a song written by Nelson and Emmons entitled “Are You Sure”—reached #1 on the Billboard country album charts, becoming a honky-tonk classic.

The “Night Life” arrangement came about during a Texas tour. The song was scheduled for a session in Nashville, so Ray wanted us to arrange it so we could play it on our dance jobs and check out the response. Ray’s signature style was the shuffle with a walking bass line. Neither would have fit the slow bluesy feel of “Night Life,” so I came up with a set of chords used in jazz; turnaround chords were typically used at the end of a verse to set the song up for the second verse. Buddy liked “Midnight Sun,” a tune written in 1954 by Lionel Hampton, Sonny Burke, and Johnny Mercer. It featured some unusual jazz turnaround chords right before the song’s second verse.

I’d never heard them on the intro of a song, so I chose them for the “Night Life” intro. It was nothing like Ray had ever done before, but neither was the song “Night Life,” so I thought I’d have a little fun with it. I figured what the heck; it would be only four chords we’d have to change. Meanwhile I was using raised 9ths and augmented 11th chords in my fills, knowing they could be eliminated when it came time to record.

When [we rehearsed it] at the session, Ray had enough band members there to know the arrangement, so we played and the producer listened.
Session piano legend and Country Music Hall of Fame member Hargus “Pig” Robbins said he was “scared to death” when he first heard the intro. “They started playing all those big jazz chords in the intro and I was thinking, “What am I going to play against all that?” Once I got into it I just played some honky-tonk blues: it started feeling natural to me to play, like in a nightclub. I’m a three-chord hillbilly man; it was as close to honky-tonk jazz as I could get.”

Buddy used his Sho-Bud steel and Grady Martin’s tremolo amplifier on the session. “He wanted to use that sound. He went over and manually controlled the tremolo as I played the chorus. He just stood by the amp and regulated the speed.”

When we finished, I waited for producer Don Law to say, “It was good but we should change some of the chords.” Instead he pushed the talkback button and said, “We like it; let’s do it.” I almost fell off my chair. We had just broken every rule on a country music recording session.

Ray Price remembered liking Buddy’s “Night Life” intro from the start: “It helped make the song. Buddy was never a drawback; he was right there with me. Whenever he plays, we look at each other and we smile because we both are enjoying what we’re doing.” Buddy often described how Ray’s voice could push him to new musical heights. “Ray’s heart and soul was so much in tune with mine on sessions, it brought about a quality in my playing that otherwise would never have surfaced. We had a silent rapport with each other. The better he sang, the better I played; the better I played, the better he sang.”

The album’s “Are You Sure” came about in an unusual way. “Willie [Nelson] and I entered a bar on Broad Street in Nashville one hot afternoon to blow the foam off a couple of beers,” remembered Buddy. “We found a booth and started engaging in what I call ‘shop talk’ when a guy walked up and slipped into the seat beside me. I thought he was a friend of Willie’s and I guess Willie thought he was a friend of mine, so neither of us said anything.

“Meanwhile, every time the guy shifted positions he would nudge me into a wall to the left of the booth. When it became clear that he wasn’t Willie’s friend, I looked at him and asked, ‘Are you about where you want to be?’ He answered, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Are you sure?’ to which he gave me another yes. I don’t remember what Willie or I said after that, but the guy was up and out of the booth shortly thereafter.

“When the dust settled, Willie looked at me and said, ‘That’s a good title,’ or something like that, and I asked what he meant. He said, ‘Are You Sure, that’s a good song title.’ Then he followed with, ‘I’ll write it and give you half.’ I laughed it off and told him he didn’t have to do that and he replied, ‘A title is as good as a song; I’ll do it.’ It was a point in my life when I was standing in the middle of everything I owned, so it was all I could do to act cool about it. After a couple more beers, which Willie probably paid for, we left.

“A few months later I was in the recording studio with Ray Price when Ray came up with a song called ‘Are You Sure.’ After we rehearsed it a couple of times we took a break and I asked Ray who wrote ‘Are You Sure.’ He told me it was a Willie Nelson song. I couldn’t believe my ears, but I kept my mouth shut when he didn’t mention my name as co-writer. When the record came out it had Willie’s name as the writer because that’s the way Ray turned it in. Later I started receiving checks from BMI as co-writer and found that Willie was true to his word.” When Willie learned that Buddy wasn’t listed as a co-writer, he went to Columbia Records, to BMI, and to his publisher and had everything changed to reflect Buddy’s co-authorship.

Dale Thomas—a steel guitarist and singer from Cedar Rapids, Iowa—first met Buddy Emmons in Nashville around 1959. Dale stayed in touch with Emmons, and whenever Buddy appeared on tour in the area, Dale would attend. In 1963, at a Ray Price concert in Cedar Rapids, Dale went backstage after the performance to say hi to Buddy. As Dale remembered, “Buddy said, ‘Hey, we’re at the Holiday Inn tomorrow. Why don’t you come on over and we’ll play a little bit.’ My friend Jim Hemingway came along and we arrived the next morning and went to Buddy’s room.”

Dale was stunned to see Buddy wearing a cast on one leg.

“There he was laying in the bed . . . I don’t remember if he had a full cast or if it was just wrapped. He laid his steel guitar across his lap, propped himself up with a couple of pillows, and we started. I was playing my flattop guitar, and Buddy was playing with no pedals on his C6 neck. He just kept going and going. I have never heard anyone play with more creativity and cleanliness than he did that day, laying there with his foot in a cast.”

Fortunately, Dale Thomas brought along a tape recorder and captured the moment, a rare chance to hear Buddy Emmons in his prime during the early ’60s, just a couple of months before the release of his celebrated recording, Steel Guitar Jazz.

Thomas donated his recording to the Country Music Hall of Fame. It can be heard here: https://digi.countrymusichalloffame.org/digital/collection/musicaudio/id/9093/


Last edited by Fish on 5 Sep 2022 4:53 pm; edited 5 times in total
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Fish

 

Post  Posted 5 Sep 2022 4:43 pm    
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CHAPTER 14 "Night Life" Part Two

And what about that cast on Buddy’s foot?

When asked about it in 2010, Ray Price remembered instantly: “Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He was setting up on a railing [at the hotel] on the second floor and he was jumping around and did a flip backwards off that son of a bitch and broke his foot when he hit. Of course, he couldn’t play. But he wasn’t all that wild, he was just ‘full of it,’ that’s all I can say.”

Buddy remembered it this way: One night after a road gig, the band was partying in a motel room. I decided I needed something off the bus. As I walked out the door, I looked both ways for the quickest route to the stairs, which were the same distance in either direction. I looked over the side of the banister and decided straight down was the quickest route. I sat on top of the banister and pushed off with both hands. When I hit the ground a pain shot from my right heel to the top of my head.

From his hotel room, Johnny Bush heard Buddy land. “We heard this ‘clump,’ so we looked out. He was laying on the grass looking straight up and pointing at his ankle. He said, ‘Honest to god, boys, I’m hurt.’ We said, ‘You know, the minute we go down he’s going to jump up and run around and have the last laugh.’ So we just went back to our room and shut the door and started talking again.”

I was on my back at least ten minutes yelling for the guys upstairs to help me. They would come out of the room once in a while and peer over the banister to see if I was still there and then go back in. Every time one would appear, I’d say, “Honest to god, boys, I’m really hurt.” Each time, they would laugh and disappear.

“After a few minutes he didn’t show up,” remembered Johnny Bush, “so we opened the door and looked out again. He had no shirt on, frost on the ground. We went down there and helped him up. We tried to get his boot off and couldn’t because his ankle was so swollen. He was really in pain. We were right in the middle of a tour and Buddy was going to be incapacitated.”

I suffered a broken heel out of the ordeal. At the hospital, Darrell McCall’s mission was for me to have the largest and ugliest rubber heel on my cast they could find. The doctor complied.

Johnny Bush remembered having fun with Buddy’s broken foot. “We stuck labels to [his cast] like ‘My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You,’ ‘Crazy Arms,’ songs that related to legs and arms. On the bus between San Antonio and Houston we took his crutches and threw them out the window. [laughs]”

Gi Gi Emmons remembered that the cast didn’t remain on Buddy’s leg very long. “There was a Deejay Convention coming right up, and Buddy didn’t want to go with a cast on his leg. He took a hammer and a saw and cut that cast off only about three weeks after his fall. I was crying and beg- ging him not to do it, just sobbing,” said Gi Gi, “but, by golly, he went to the convention without a cast on his leg. It was still fresh. I was terrified; I was afraid he’d never walk again. Buddy never wanted to show any flaws that he couldn’t deal with in life.

In many ways, Buddy was living the lifestyle depicted in the Night Life album. Drummer Jan Kurtis, Buddy’s roommate during the Ernest Tubb days and later with Ray Price, recalled how Buddy liked to stay out many a night after shows and lock horns at local jam sessions. Jan didn’t drink, so he would invariably be asleep at the hotel when Buddy rolled in late at night. “You’d never know it, but he roared pretty hard,” recalled Jan. “Lord knows I’ve woken him up many a morning to get him on the bus and he was just totally out of it, sick and puking. I’d get a wet rag and come in there and wipe his face down. I’d go ‘Come on Buddy, let’s go. Jump in the shower; you’ll feel better. The bus leaves in thirty minutes. We gotta get down and get something to eat.’

“I remember one morning we were leaving and he’d been out all night. Ray [Price] said to Buddy, ‘It’s your turn; drive now so you don’t have to drive at night.’ So Buddy got behind the wheel and as soon as he did he just puked all over the steering wheel. Ray said, ‘Clean it up and go back to your bunk. Jan, drive!’ [laughs]

“If he’d had a fight with Gi Gi then he would bring that up, maybe. But Buddy was closed-mouthed, very private. I think what got to Gi Gi was that he stayed out all night for days on end and ‘roared.’ That bothered her more than anything.”

“Buddy never did stay at home a lot,” said Johnny Bush. “Three or four days at home was a record for him. He had to be downtown. He was king of the hill and had to prove it. Gi Gi would call me crying and ask me to go and find him. I’d go straight to Tootsie’s, and there he’d be. It’d be snow on the ground and he’d be in there barefooted. I’d say ‘Buddy, where’s your boots?’ He said, ‘Well, somebody wanted ’em, so I gave them away.’ It’d be like he’d been gone for three days and I’d have to con him [by saying], ‘Gi Gi is not mad at ya.’ They had two kids, Buddie and Tami, and I said, ‘She wants you to come home.’ It was snowing, you know, so I’d load his ass up in the car and take him home.”
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Craig Stock


From:
Westfield, NJ USA
Post  Posted 8 Sep 2022 2:34 pm    
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I didn't want to respond to this post since it is so great, but I think it needs to be at the top of the Steel Players section as a Sticky or whatever, but as we say,

TTT
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Regards, Craig

I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet.

Today is tomorrow's Good ol' days
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James Stewart Jr


From:
Vero Beach Florida
Post  Posted 9 Sep 2022 11:36 am    
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After reading this ---I know I'll be ordering the book.
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1975 Sho~Bud Pro III Custom (8-7)
1981 Peavey Session 500
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John De Maille


From:
On a Mountain in Upstate Halcottsville, N.Y.
Post  Posted 9 Sep 2022 1:57 pm    
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I got my book yesterday and it's hard to put down. A lot of interesting stories.
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Scott Denniston


From:
Hahns Peak, Colorado, USA
Post  Posted 9 Sep 2022 4:36 pm    
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I'm on a road trip and read this book now every chance I get. Can't put it down. I'm not going to read chapter 14 yet. I'm just enjoying the book so much and I'm not there yet. This is rare for me. GREAT BOOK!
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MIchael Bean


From:
North Of Boston
Post  Posted 9 Sep 2022 5:00 pm    
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I'll refrain from reading it here, since I ordered it a couple of days ago. I'm looking forward to this!
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https://www.instagram.com/michaelbeanmusic/
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joe long

 

From:
San Antonio, Texas
Post  Posted 13 Sep 2022 8:10 am    
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This book is excellent. I have read it twice and just amazed at the content.
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J D Sauser


From:
Wellington, Florida
Post  Posted 14 Sep 2022 4:56 am    
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Thanks!

BE's analogy to Midnight Sun is worth while listening to.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_Km0VXg58A

you can hear the turnaround...
it tells "the book" about BE's listening menu!

... J-D
_________________
__________________________________________________________
A Little Mental Health Warning:

Tablature KILLS SKILLS.
The uses of Tablature is addictive and has been linked to reduced musical fertility.
Those who produce Tablature did never use it.

I say it humorously, but I mean it.
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Bill McCloskey

 

From:
Nanuet
Post  Posted 14 Sep 2022 5:42 am    
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Just bought the kindle version. Great so far.
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Eharp Player
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Fish

 

Post  Posted 14 Sep 2022 3:21 pm    
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Thank you everyone! I am so grateful for your kind words. This is very humbling.
I appreciate all of your generous comments.

Steve
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Terry Wood


From:
Marshfield, MO
Post  Posted 14 Sep 2022 4:08 pm    
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Steve Fishell,

Your book is a Masterpiece! I am a writer myself, and I can't put your book down.

Thanks for all of your work.

Terry Wood
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Bob Watson


From:
Champaign, Illinois, U.S.
Post  Posted 14 Sep 2022 8:08 pm    
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Steve, I want to thank you for all of the hard work you've put into this wonderful book. It has a conversational feel to it that reminds me of of sitting around a table with a bunch of musicians telling stories about their favorite steel player. Great job!

Last edited by Bob Watson on 15 Sep 2022 9:54 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Dave Campbell


From:
Nova Scotia, Canada
Post  Posted 15 Sep 2022 2:46 pm    
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buddy's dedication and passion for the steel comes through so well in the book that it's inspiring. i've been in an on again off again funk with the steel since covid blew up my routine. i've been reading the book and listening to the material with fresh ears and have been spending a lot more time in the seat with a smile on my face.
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Bruce Bouton

 

From:
Nash. Tn USA
Post  Posted 15 Sep 2022 9:40 pm    
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This book is a must read for any serious musician..
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John De Maille


From:
On a Mountain in Upstate Halcottsville, N.Y.
Post  Posted 19 Sep 2022 8:09 pm    
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I just finished reading the book and I must say, Steve, you knocked it out of the ballpark.
So many insights on Buddy and his life's travails. Excellent read!!!
However, after reading it, it makes me ask for more. Not that you didn't delve deeply, which, you did. It's just my wonderment about the man and deep appreciation for what he did for the steel world. But, I must say again, it was well written and a fantastic read.
Thank you, Steve Fishel.
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