Lynn Owsley
Interview
By Barry Barnes
of Nashville Now & Then

January 13, 2009
Hendersonville, Tennessee: 

Where are you from in Texas?
 

   “I’m from Alabama.” 

I thought you were from Texas?

   “A lot of people think I’m a Texan, but I’m actually from Alabama.” 

Where at in Alabama?

   “A little town called Lanett. That’s right near Kawliga. You’ve heard Hank (Williams) sing about Kawliga. It’s about half way between Montgomery and Atlanta, Georgia, the middle of the state on the eastern border. We’re rich in Civil War history down there and country music history.”  

How so?

   “The first set of Texas Troubadours were from Gadsden, Alabama. Now, that was a well kept secret for many years, the Texas Troubadours from Alabama. Ernest was from Texas, but he was the only one of the group. He had the name, of course, Texas Troubadours. 
   “The original Texas Troubadours were Chester Stoddard from Gadsden, Alabama, Kemo Head, he was the steel player. He was with Peewee King for a time, then Ernest got him. There was a third member of the Troubadours, Toby Reese. He was from Gadsden, Alabama. 
   “One of Ernest’s very early songs was one called, The Last Letter. That’s one that brought Jack Greene to fame when Jack recut it. The Last Letter was written by an old songwriter from down home there in Gadsden. He was never a Troubadour, but he hung out with ‘em in the early days. Rex Griffen was his name. I think he may be in the hall of fame, if not, he ought to be.” 

What was the story? Ernest was a member of their band when they played the Opry, but they liked Ernest so much they all ended up working for him?

   “They played alternating Sundays. One Sunday they’d be in Atlanta, Georgia, for a show and the next Sunday they’d be in Birmingham, Alabama, back and forth. On Saturday nights, they had to drive to Nashville to do the Grand Ole Opry cause a couple of them worked for Peewee King. They brought Ernest Tubb down there to do Sunday in Birmingham and he had to stay over to the following Sunday to do Atlanta, Georgia. He come to the Opry with ’em. People here heard him, they had been hearing of him. He got a guest spot on the Grand Ole Opry. Well, he was just a singer with this band. It was actually Chester Stoddard’s band. They came to the Grand Ole Opry and Ernest worked the Grand Ole Opry. Ernest hit really big that one night, Ernest just knocked them over. The next week all those guys were working for Ernest instead of him working for them. The band got changed over to the Texas Troubadours.”  

That’s how they became the Texas Troubadours?

   “Ernest wanted them all and they all stayed together.  They were doing well on their own.”

 This is in the 1940’s?

   “That was probably in 1940. Now, Ernest did not become a member of the Grand Ole Opry until ’43. I’m guessing ’42 or ’43. It was just a short time until Ernest became a member. They generally have somebody like that on as a special guest for several appearances before they ever ask them to join.” 

What were some of the first songs you remember hearing on the radio or hearing at dances, at home? What got you into music?

   “My dad and granddad were both fiddle players. I was left handed, so they got me a fiddle when I was a little kid. I couldn’t play their fiddles, so daddy figured it would be best to just turn the strings around and reverse them to where I could maybe handle it. I began to play fiddle. They got me one when I was about six years old.
   “We had a dobro guitar and a piece of an old banjo. For a time, our next door neighbor was the Gosdin family. They all picked and that was Vern and Rex, the Gosdins. Well, Vern’s uncles, Rebbe, had a radio show in Montgomery. It was Rebbe and Rabe. Rabe was a Perkins, he wasn’t a Gosdin. One of the brothers was named Burgess. Vern and his brothers, Vern’s older than I, they had a fiddle down there in the old barn hanging on the wall. They let me play with that old fiddle. It wasn’t no count. They finally gave it to me. That wasn’t the one we turned around cause it was too big. They got me a little one.
   "I began to play with the family some, but I would always keep migrating back to that old National dobro. I would take one of mother’s Case knives. I didn’t have a bar. I’d break the blade out of it and play that guitar backwards. That’s really how I got started.
   “Now, listening to things, one of the first things I ever remember being really impressed with in music was Roy Acuff. We did listen to the Opry. I always liked Roy Acuff doing the train songs, the fiddles in it. 
   “Then, he would sometimes feature Shot Jackson and all the time feature Oswald. Shot was more of a flashy player than Oswald, probably more precise. Shot had a steel guitar and sometimes he’d come with his Sho-Bud  instrument. Of course, I couldn’t see it on the radio, but I could only imagine. That’s what I want to play. One of them things that sounds like that. 
   “I was probably about twelve when my dad got me a Supro Double 6, a double neck six-string guitar. I got it off down in the barn after I had it about a week. It was that mother of pearl, what we would call mother of toilet seat (laughs). We didn’t have a drill. I got me a brace and bit and was putting holes in it when daddy come in the barn. He said, what in the hell are you doing? I’m going to make it sound like them on the radio cause they got them strings that they can twang it and move it around. He said, you’re ruining a perfectly fine instrument. Oh, it’s going to sound so good when I get done with it (laughs). 
   “I think he gave probably a hundred to a hundred and fifty dollars for it. That was a lot of money back then. I did mutilate the guitar and got me a piece of chain and some stone bolts and run ‘em up through there, put me a pedal on the bottom and had a chain going up to the stone bolts. I could step on the pedal and it would pull them strings. That’s what I wanted. I could raise the strings.”  

You did all that yourself?

   “Yeah, of course, at the time I was doing this, I didn’t know, you could go and buy them all ready made. The Fender Company was building ‘em, the Bigsby Company, and even Gibson.
   “The only steel guitar that we’d see around home was non-pedals. Later on after I got out and about, I found a few other people that had done almost the same thing. I got my first real pedal guitar when I was about sixteen.” 

Once you got it set up yourself, who was the first person or two that could really give you pointers, you could ask questions?
 

   “Every now and then we’d see a TV show. I also could hear them on the radio. It was hard to find country music on the radio, really, other than the Opry. One of my mother’s cousins played one, Harold Sanders, there in Chillsburg. He had worked for a time with Hank Thompson out west, playing some swing. He was eighty miles away. He was my nearest contact to somebody that could tune one. 
   “He told me about a guy that lived about forty miles away, Bill Freeman. I would go see Bill every chance I got. Then, over in Columbus, Georgia, there’s a man there named Fate Woodham. In the early days, he worked with Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. He did not play pedals, but he knew the tunings. He could tell me. He couldn’t show me nothing, but he could tell me tune this this way, tune that that way. 
   “Those three guys helped me to get started after I got a pedal guitar, that Fender 1000. My first job with a big artist was Lefty Frizzell. I played some joints and clubs, things prior to that, but the first big Nashville artist was Lefty Frizzell.” 

What year was that?

   “Probably about 1967. Steel players were rare down home. After I went into it and devoted time to it, within just a matter of maybe a year, I started getting every job that I could get even if I booked a job as a fiddle player. I wanted to play steel, but I’d ask ‘em when I booked a job, can I bring my steel? Have you got a steel player? When I wasn’t playing the fiddle, I’d go to the steel and back and forth.” 

You got jobs playing fiddle too? You were good enough to get on stage with either instrument?

   “I was in pretty good demand as a fiddle player. When I got that steel guitar, a beginning steel player is tough on ‘em. It’s tough on the bands to listen to you. Daddy used to tell people that when he got me that first steel, homes in our neighborhood were all upper middle class and high dollar for the times back then. He said when that boy started to learn to play steel guitar, you could come run and pick up one just by paying the back taxes on the house (laughs). 
   “My daddy really did not want me playing steel. He tried to discourage me from it in the early days because he felt like I was a good fiddle player and it would take focus away from the fiddle. He didn’t want me doing it. When I first started playing one he used to tell me, boy, I can’t even recognize the song you’re playing. What you doing? He was like Ernest Tubb later on after I got into it (the music business) some. He would tell me, play the melody, play it so I know what it is. If I can’t recognize it, it’s no good. Ernest Tubb would say almost the same thing. Ernest would say, stick with the melody. It will be the hardest thing you ever do in music playing a simple melody line. 
   “Now, after fifty years, I hear ‘em all the time. There’s tons of musicians that can’t play a melody. They simply can’t play a melody.”  

That helped you develop as a musician. First, advice from your dad, then Ernest years later saying the same thing.

   “I learned to play the song Down In The Valley. Down home that same song is known as Birmingham Jail. Somebody wrote Birmingham Jail to that melody. I think it was Jimmy Davis. My daddy was singing one day, I played it on fiddle, played it fine. Sit down with a steel and play it with him, he’d say I wouldn’t even know what that was if I wasn’t singing it. He got on my case about it. He said I wouldn’t recognize it if I’d a just heard you doing it. I wouldn’t know what it was. That kind of got my attention. He was exactly right cause I was doodling around hunting the melody. It’s kind of difficult for me to describe in certain ways, but he was exactly right. 
   “Nowadays, I look for the melody. I try to find the melody and try to play it. The musical greats, the great musicians throughout history in all kinds of music, I’m not saying that I’m great, but the great ones are the ones that can find a melody and play it. Once you find the melody, it’s all right to branch out from it. If you weave in and out of it, that’s fine too, but you got to be able to play that melody, to do that. The ones that can’t play the melody, you can’t really understand them. I can’t. Ernest was a lot like my dad in certain ways. Ernest and daddy were among the first to tell me that. 
   “Charlie Louvin, I worked with him in the early seventies. I was still green when I worked with him. Charlie Louvin let me know immediately. We were on the Grand Ole Opry and all. He said, now, with that electric instrument, you don’t cover up my lines. What you do with a steel guitar or any lead instrument is you find where the singer is and try to play something to compliment what I do, then we can feed off each other if we get the feel for it. He’s exactly right with that to explain it that way.”  

He didn’t just do it to be the boss, he did it because it’s what would work?

   “Right, to help better his show too. I was in Special Services before I come here. This guy in Alabama was in Special Services too. Walt Dotson, Big Red, he was another one that would tell me, look, when I get through with this line, I want you to come in here and you do this and bring attention to what I just said, then get out. Let me come right back with the next line. He was exactly right, basically the same thing Charlie said, but he didn’t explain it like Charlie. 
   “He knew what he wanted. In garage bands, local bands, you find ‘em when they learn to play something, they all play it at once. It’s really a team effort to play a good selection, a good song, to tell a story, a ballad, it takes the whole bunch. If you have discipline on that stage, use feel, and timing with the instruments and accent what the vocalist is doing or the instrumentalists is doing, everything works out so much better. Your listeners enjoy it more. If it sounds like a Chinese fire drill, it’s not really working. It took a while to learn that. I see it all the time. A lot of them still don’t know that. 
   “Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons, both, I heard them say several times, the great session players will say that sometimes on a session you can be more noticeable by what you’re not playing. Knowing when not to play rather than when to play, if you know when not to play.” 

It takes a talent to know when to hold back or when to jump in?

   “It’s hard for me sometimes. Something feels so good you want to get on out there. You got to recognize the fact that if you got a singer in the middle of the stage, if he or she is doing something there, it’s their ballgame. 
   “That was one of the things that I think made Ernest so great. Ernest Tubb in particular, when he stepped back from that microphone, he would feature a soloist or whatever. He would generally call your name and he made household names out of us. He wanted you to get that spotlight. He would share it with you. He thought if the whole thing was well rounded and well presented, that everybody was a star. 
   “His method nowadays has changed. I see artists on TV all the time. You hear a steel, a fiddle, or guitar doing a solo and the camera stays right on the vocalist. That is not on account of the camera man. A lot of times the vocalist insists on that or the manager. The focus seems to be on that one person. I feel like they’re losing a lot of talent that’s on stage with ’em. They are. There’s so many angles to it, but that’s one of them.” 

You mentioned Lefty being your first major job. What’s your chronological order of who you were with? Where’d it go from there?

   “I got to appear in late ‘66 with a guy just starting out. I’ll never forget. I thought it was wonderful and still do forty years later. They came to our hometown, Ernie Rowles, he worked for years here with Ray Price, George Jones, particularly Mel Tillis, also Stonewall (Jackson). I hired him for his first job here, but he’s a couple of years younger than I am. We used to work in his daddy’s band down in Alabama. We were little kids. His daddy had a band and we would go watch ’em. Freddy Hart was in the band, Curly Chaulker played steel, Ray Crawford played fiddle. Ernie and I grew up watching this kind of stuff. He became a bass player and songwriter. His daddy booked Merle Haggard. I had me one of them Fender 1000 guitars. Haggard  and the whole bunch showed up to play his daddy’s club. We opened for ’em. I think it was close to the holidays. He had a song that had just come out, I Kept The Wine And Threw Away The Rose. I had learned that song note for note off the record. On their third set that night, his steel player, Norm Hamlet, who’s still with him by the way, asked me if I’d like to play with Haggard. He asked me, can you play my guitar? I had one just like it. I was a kid and I thought that was the greatest thing in the world. I got out there with Bonnie Owens and Merle Haggard and the Strangers. I just got to play the one song, but I got pictures of it. I was in the big time from that point on. 
   "Ernie didn’t get to play bass, though. He wrote two or three hits for Gene Watson. He used to try to get me to help him on songs. We rode up and down the highways for a million miles. I never did get into it that heavy. He made a lot of money with it. I was always busy doing something else, tinkering with the steel or something. He’d come up with these ideas. I’d say, well, I’m going over yonder. I’ll see you later. When I’d get back he’d have it wrote.” 
 

When were you with Tater?

   “I was with Tater in the 70’s. Prior to that, I worked in Columbus, Georgia. I worked with a guy called Curly Money. I recorded with him and he went into the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame about three years ago. He was not a big well known name, but he was one of the pioneers of the Rock-and-Roll thing. I played steel on some of it. On the strength of what we did in the studio back then when I was just a kid, he made the hall of fame.

   “He had a nephew that played guitar. He was fourteen. He was a great little guitar player. I knew that he had something special. Of course, I wasn’t but sixteen. I’d sneak him out of the house. He was in an upstairs bedroom. I’d put a ladder up there, go play a club at night when we wasn’t even supposed to be in ’em. He’s known as Rick Wayne today up here. His real name is really Wayne Money, spent the last thirty years with Porter Wagoner. There’s another one.”

 

All these people are guys you’re knowing while growing up in Alabama or Georgia?

   “We grew up kinda in the shadow of Hank Williams. Chet Atkins was born and raised across the river from where I was born, like ten miles. We had quite a heritage right there with Curly Chaulker, Don Helms, Jimmy Day, Jim Vest, Lloyd Green, Glenn Andrews, the list just goes on.

   “Mike Johnson is here now. We brought him up when he was just a kid. He’s from down home. We just got him a job with Mel Street and he stayed with Mel for years.  He went on to Bill Anderson and stayed with Bill for eighteen years. Mike’s still around. We’re right proud of Mike. I’m proud of him cause I had a little hand in kinda dragging him up here and twisting his arm and showing him what I learned.”

A little twist of encouragement?

   “It gets back to some of these stars. I’m jumping around here… (That’s fine with me.)

   “When I come here, I worked with Wanda Jackson, Charlie Louvin. I spent a couple of years with Stonewall Jackson.

   “I was with Tater a couple of times, but on brief occasions. I didn’t stay with him that long.

   “Worked with Billy Walker and stayed with Billy one season, kinda jobbing around. I did some jobs with Marty (Robbins) when he was between steel players. I never did take the job full time. The year that Marty died, he offered me the position again. I turned him down. He offered me more money than Ernest was paying me. That was in April of ’82.

   “Marty and Faron (Young) was saying, that old man is gonna die and leave you with a big mortgage, a house full of kids, and a bunch of bills one of these days. Then where you gonna be?

   “I told him, well, I’m gonna stay with Ernest. If that happens, I’ll just have to figure it out when it does happen. That was in April and in November of that year Marty died. If I’d taken the job, it wouldn’t have lasted very long at all. Ernest went on another two years. I stayed with the Ernest Tubb Family on into the 90’s.

   “I actually worked the record shop before I ever worked with Ernest. I was doing the Midnite Jamborees, working Opry spots. Back then they would let you kinda like freelance. At the old Opry, we’d just go down there and go back stage. A lot of the artists would just kind of put a band together on the spot, walk out on stage, and play. You just sign a time card and they’d let us do it. We was all union. They started cutting back on that when they moved to the new Opry.

   “At one time I would get Webb Pierce’s spots, sometimes Billy’s, sometimes Stonewall, Charlie Louvin. We kind of had little accounts and if you was around, they said, hey, I want you. That was a little anchor position. After that was over, a lot of us would have a club job somewhere. It took it to live cause back in those days the spots only paid like eleven dollars.”

For two or three songs?

   “Generally, one or two songs. If you were in line for a spot, you’d do two songs. If you were a guest on a spot, you’d do one song.

   “I had a lot of weeks when I first come here, especially in the winter time, a lot of weeks that I had to live on twenty-two, maybe thirty-three dollars. I managed to get by if it was slim. It didn’t pay all that good.

   “It’s just a work of dedication, I guess. I never did take any days jobs. I didn’t take on bulldozing jobs or go do carpentry work or laying asphalt. I stayed on as a musician, either steel guitar or fiddle, or something related to music.

   “There was a time or two that I’d go out and drive for certain artists. If they needed a driver or if somebody was sick, I would fill in. Even with Ernest, I would do that sometimes. Even today, I still do it, if somebody calls.

   “I went out as a steel player with a kid out of Detroit, Bobby Richie, then later on became his bus driver (laughs). I worked some with Kid Rock. I played with him first, then he was still at that time in a van and a trailer. We got him elevated to a bus where he’d be more comfortable. The driver wasn’t that comfortable, he was jerking us around too much. I said, I can do better than this. Let me have it (laughs).

   “He went to two busses. I bought a couple of busses, then leased them back to him. I was the steel player on some of it, sometimes I’d be the driver. Whatever he needed, I’d do. Whenever he goes on the road now, he’s got six busses. He’s up there now.

   “About the same thing with Uncle Cracker. Are you familiar with Cracker?”

He did a Drift Away remake.

   “I wanted to do that with him. He’d do it on the live shows, but I was not on the recording. I was on the album called Double Wide. That’s me playing steel on that.”

How’d a Texas Troubadour end up playing with Uncle Cracker and Kid Rock?

   “That happened completely by accident. Jeremy, my son, who’s a drummer, he knew who they were. We were in Florida. It was on a lazy summer Sunday, a hot Sunday. We were going to this island in the swamp. The only way to get there was airboat. I had an airboat. They came in with a van and trailer, a whole bunch of musicians. We were watching them get out, stretching out, and getting the kinks out. Jeremy said, that’s that new artist, that guy, Kid Rock. We could see ’em about three hundred or four hundred feet away. 

   “This guy came over , he was a guitar player, he just come over and struck up a conversation with us. We were talking and they wanted to go to the island and have a cookout. There were no boat operators to get ’em down there and there was six or seven of them. My boat could carry about four, so I run about two or three trips. We carried steaks, charcoal, beer, and ice.

   “We’re talking to this guitar player, so I said, I’ll take y’all down there. He said, we’re hoping to take off next year. We got everything in place to hit the big time. We’re looking for a steel guitar  player (laughs).  He didn’t know that I was one. I was just gonna run a boat for them. I told him that I play steel and he said, the hell you say. No, I play one.

   “It was right by my house. I said, come on in the kitchen. I had a guitar sitting there in the kitchen, amp, and all. I turned it on and sat down and played something. He said, don’t move. Kid Rock hadn’t even come in the house. He went back out there and got him. He was down by the boat. He brought Kid over there and I was introduced to Bobby Richie.

   “We sat there. He had a flat top. We played a couple of things and had a cookout that day. The next day I was playing the House of Blues at Walt Disney Studios with them. It just happened very sudden. They were not expecting to find an ol’ country boy with a ball cap and dirty jeans that would be a steel player (laughs). They thought I was a boat operator.”

That’s incredible!

   “ That’s how it happened. They brought me to Pontiac, Michigan. It was Bobby’s idea. Kid Rock, Bobby, I still can’t call him Kid. He’s got a tattoo on his right arm that says, Paul. The first six months, I called him Paul. I thought that was his name till I learned it was Bobby Richie. Paul was a tattoo in honor of a cousin of his that got killed named Paul.

   “They had a little guy that traveled with us named Joe C., a midget. He passed away about five or six years ago. When he passed away, all of ‘em got tattoos with Joe C.. I mean all the rest of ‘em did. I really like him, I knew him, but I didn’t want the tattoo.”

Everybody that I’ve met that worked with Ernest has said he’s like a second dad to ‘em. How big a shadow did he cast on you Texas Troubadours?

   “A second dad to us? As much as we worked with him, it’s more like a first dad. I spent more time with Ernest Tubb than any of his kids ever did. I probably spent more time with Ernest Tubb than I did with my own daddy because of the way we worked those years. We were together three hundred days a year. We were only home maybe sixty to sixty-five days. We didn’t work that many, we might work two hundred and fifty to two hundred and seventy-five, but the other were travel days.

   “We were together on those busses on the road. It’s kinda like Willie says on his song,On The Road Again, like a band of gypsies we go traveling down the highway. Well, we were like a family. 

   “It was not all honey and roses. We’d fight and argue (laughs), but we all loved each other. Heaven help an outsider start anything with us (laughs). It wasn’t a good idea to try to break up anything with us either (laughs), like a domestic situation. We’d turn on somebody that got in, an outsider. I think it was just due to the fact that we were together so much. We worked together, played together, stayed together, ate together, everything was together.

   “When Ernest’s own children were around, I kinda tried to make myself scarce and give him a chance to spend time with his children. He’d invite me to go play golf or something; I’d make excuses when I didn’t have nothing.

   “After Justin passed away, I learned more. I always kind of thought that I would be in the way. Missy Lane told me after  Justin passed away that I was one of Justin’s very favorite people. I said I never knew. He had a hard time communicating with people. He could do it in a song, but Justin wasn’t the kind of person on a telephone, or shake hands and hug you, tell you bye, I love, you. That wasn’t happening.

   “Ernest kind of the same way to a certain extent. I told him more than once and I think he appreciated that too. Not only was I his employee, steel player, whatever,there was always that boss/ employee relationship, I loved that old man. I was also a fan of his. He was a fan of mine. I think he loved me. It was as close as you can be without being blood kin, I suppose.”

That’s pretty tight?

   “Like I said, I spent more time with him  than any of his kids ever did. I spent more time with him than my dad got to spend with me, so a second daddy is a pretty good way of describing that.”

I want to ask you about the Nashville Tennessee Steel Guitar Association. How important are organizations like that for keeping you guys united, whether older or newer players?

   “The North Tennessee Steel Guitar Association is now the Nashville Tennessee Steel Guitar Association. We changed the name. We actually started this thing in 1971 or ‘72.”

It’s that old?

   “It was defunct for several years. The members of it, we were all on the road, busy doing things, sessions, whatever. We were mighty busy, but we had it in the seventies. We were doing little jams like we do nowadays, and shows. It was a lot of fun, but we were so busy.

   “Dewitt Scott , in St. Louis, took it over. For a long time, the steel guitar was the only instrument with a hall of fame for its players. Last year, I think, they started a hall of fame for fiddlers in Alabama. The hall of fame for steel guitarists was started out of our Nashville Steel Guitar Club. One of our members here, Jim Vest, it was his idea. It came to pass.

   “Some of the people we talked to about it said it will never happen, but we knew how hall of  fames happen. That was in the 70’s, probably about ’75 or ’76. It got to be more than we could handle down here because of our jobs. It was too hard to get us together in one pile. 

   “Seven or eight years ago, Nick Reed from Springfield bought a steel and suggested we put another club together. He asked me about it. I told him I’m probably too busy to help, but I’ll try to support you every which way I can. I have been very supportive. I haven’t served as an officer or anything and don’t really want to, but I do enjoy what we do. We got enough of a treasury now a days that we’re bringing in steel players from around the country and from around the world to entertain us. That’s fun.

   “You got to go to some. You’ve seen our little buddy, Joanthan Candler?”

He lives out in Arizona?

   “Yuma, Jonathan is blind and he plays the instrument. He’s amazing. He’s only sixteen years old!

   “We got a gentleman from County Donegal (Ireland) every year. We got three or four from Australia. A month ago we had three from Japan here. Did you meet them? We had Buck Masaki, Slim Akira, one more I can’t pronounce.”

And they play over there in bands?

   “Yeah, one of ‘em can sing real good country music, but he couldn’t speak English. He does it as a hobby. He’s a bank president in Tokyo. He had dinner with us here. They asked me about coming to Tokyo. We haven’t finalized it or confirmed anything yet. I would love to go if I could work it out. I’d be happy to go play for them.

   “I introduced them to Hank Sasaki. At least Hank could talk to them. He helped us a lot with the interpreting. They came out to the Long Hollow Jamboree when they were here. One of those guys played a set for me out there and impressed everybody. He’s a good player.”

You’ve been with Lefty, Ernest, Stonewall, Tater, etc., is it just in your blood to get out and go to an open jam on a Tuesday night? Do musicians just have to play? Is that part of it?

      “Yeah, I got to have my country music fix one way or another (laughs).”

How long have you been part of the Long Hollow Jamboree?

   “For many years. I’ve been kinda hanging out with those guys back when Bill Goodwin had it. He was out there with ’em. I’d go by and visit some. He was a cowboy actor, a movie star. I think he still lives here. He’s about 90 now.

   “A lot of actors and actresses like Nashville. A lot of ’em are quiet. There’s still some here.. For a time we had up there by the hollow, Patrick Duffy had a house up on the hill by the holler.

   “I was not a regular back in those days. I was busy doing other things. I’d go by whenever I could. I would pop in the back door and just say hi a lot of times.

   “One night several years ago, Ray Price and I were coming up Long Hollow Pike in a pick-up truck, blue jeans, tennis shoes. We weren’t dressed to go anyplace. I told him that Ernie Rowles was playing bass over there for Eugene that night and they’re going to be doing a lot of Ray Price songs.

   “Jeremy, my son, said, Ray, if you would walk in there, it would be like God walking in to a prayer meeting (laughs). Ray said, oh, if I walked in there it would just shut them down. It would be a circus. He didn’t want to do it. When he appeared in public, they’d mob him. They really would.

   “We were on our way to another thing, but we stopped. I pulled my truck right up by the back door and let the windows down where we could here. We sat there about twenty minutes and listened to ’em. They did three of his songs while we were sitting there. Anyhow, they took a break and Ray said, I guess we better be going. Don’t you want to see Ernie? They’ll be coming out in a minute. He said, no. I’ll have to explain this all again. I’m not going in there, but Ray Price sat out there and listened.

   “Bill Monroe, he was a regular visitor. He’d come in and he’d hang out with us. He could do it. Now, down home, where Ray’s from, there’s a few little places down round Mount Pleasant, Texas, that he’ll go to. There’s not many public places that he can go and relax because he’s got such a following. He enjoys it though, he enjoys talking to people, but one on one. If he’s going to appear though, he’s going to want to have on a tuxedo or some cowboy boots. He’s going to want to be dressed and all that.”

He just doesn’t want to appear in his jeans and tennis shoes?

   “That’s how he was dressed, though. You watch him on the ranch down there, you’ll see him with a tuxedo and pair of cowboy boots on. Now, I’ve seen that a lot of times. I’ve spent parts of two years with Ray Price. We’ve been friends a long time.

   “I was with him and the late great Jimmy Day. That’s my cohort there (points to a picture on the wall). In the steel guitar world, there’s been very few bands that ever had twin steels. The Troubadours did it on three occasions. Jimmy and I, Buddy (Emmons) and Bobby Garrett did twin steels for a time. Jimmy and Buddy did twin steels for Ray. Pee Wee Whitewing and Bobby White did twin steels for Hank Thompson. They had a kickin’ band back in the 60’s with Hank Thompson playing twin steels.  

   “Saturday night, I got to do twin steels with Wayne Hobbs up there in Crossville, the Big Southfork Opry. That was really fun. When you get two disciplined players on steel guitars that can do it, it sounds like an orchestra.

   “It was reminiscent from some of the things on the Opry. The Opry used twin steels a lot, but it’s rare to find two players that can do that with the discipline required for it. I’m very proud to have been a part of two or three of ‘em.”

You’ve done a lot. What has been your guiding principle through it all? What’s gotten you through the last forty years?

   “I don’t have no principles (laughs). I hardly ever have guides either. I’m flying by the seat of my pants (laughs). It’s tough for me to answer. A guiding principle, I got to think on that a minute.

   “I hadn’t have to answer one like that before. I guess the music is what guides me. It would have to go back to the music, what we just talked about, the fellowship, visiting. Kinda like Don Helms (would say), I’ve been at it so long and I’ve got so many friends around. I love to play the music and I love to meet my friends. The music is a way for me to get back to ‘em every now and then. That’s one of my guides. That’s one of the ways I make decisions about doing things.

   “I’m going with Johnny Bush to Phoenix, from here to Phoenix and back is going to take about ten days out of my schedule to work four days (laughs).”

You driving out?

   “I’m going to drive out with Ronnie Dale and come back to San Antone with Johnny, then from San Antone back here. I’m getting free rides on it. I got flights if I wanted to fly it, but I don’t like flying with my guitar. I’d rather drive it, stop along the way and visit with friends, fans, relatives, or make new friends. While I’m out there, I’m going to spend a day or two with Jonathan Candler.

   “I do want you to get this, what I’m about to say now. I can only thank God for letting me have the opportunities and the life that I’ve had. I’m not rich. I don’t have a whole lot, you can see that, but I’ve been richly blessed. I guess the best way I can say it, I’ve never really made it, but I really got it made (laughs).

   “The steel guitar has taken me to places that I would never gone without it. I have met people and talking to you, like under the tree, Kid Rock. I have been able to meet people through the steel guitar and because of the steel guitar and the music that never would have happened to me if I was a farmer in Alabama or auto mechanic in Georgia or whatever else.

   “I came to Nashville the first time to get a guitar worked on. It was the weekend Martin Luther King got killed. There was civil unrest and all kinds of things going on. Roger Miller and Glenn Campbell invited me to a party at the King of the Road. They were big stars, Jerry Reed, I was invited. I was just a kid and couldn’t believe it. Can I go? Yeah, come on.

   “I just got in the crowd and come up here from Atlanta on a Saturday night. The next day was Easter Sunday. I was going to get Shot (Jackson) to work on my guitar. Anyhow, that was April of ’68 and I’m still here. I never went back.

   “He started working on my guitar that Monday and introduced  me to some of Wanda Jackson’s players. They were heading out to Louisiana, no, Biloxi, Mississippi, Gulf Port, Kingsley Air Force Base. They had a show down there. They wanted me to go. I said, well, if y’all take me through Atlanta, which was way out of the way, to pick up clothes and whatever I needed. They agreed to it. I’ve got to call some people in Atlanta, mainly the Georgia Railroad and tell ’em I won't be on that run any longer. I was working on call as an extra, as a brakeman. I hadn’t been on the job long. I was mainly pickin’ around Atlanta cause I was an extra. The steel guitar has taken me to places that I would never have gone without it.”  

NN&T

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