Monday, November 10, 2008

Pedal Steel

Although typically defined as a type of guitar, the pedal steel guitar is actually an unusual instance of a stringed instrument becoming a keyboard instrument. The pedal steel is an electric guitar placed on a narrow table with legs, usually plucked with fingerpicks, with foot pedals and knee levers changing the pitch of the strings that are played with a steel bar. In America, the origin of the pedal steel guitar—perhaps the most recognizable instrument in country music—dates back to the Panama-Pacific International Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915, when Americans were introduced to the Hawaiian steel guitar and the way it was played, flat on the lap and fretted with a piece of metal or bone or the back of a comb. Within a few years, steel guitar music became a national craze, augmented by the phonograph record. By the late 1930s, the electric steel guitar, now with pedals and manufactured by Rickenbacher, Fender, and others, had become strongly associated with American country music, even though its origin was Hawaiian. Thus country music is, in fact, an eclectic form of world music. In 1953, Bud Isaacs and Webb Pierce recorded “Slowly,” revolutionizing the use of the pedal steel guitar in both country and popular music in America.

In country music, the pedal steel is the musical equivalent of drunken self-pity, a form of self-indulgence in which one entertains the belief that one’s life is sadder and more difficult than everyone else’s—as the old adage says, suffering transforms the common man into a philosopher. Hence the pedal steel gives expression to inner emotional turmoil. The 1950s recordings of Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, collected on the highly prized CD Stratosphere Boogie: The Flaming Guitars of Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant (Razor & Tie), influenced countless pedal steel guitarists who followed, and prepared the way for the pedal steel to be employed in rock music—by The Byrds, The Rolling Stones, The Flying Burrito Brothers (check out “Christine’s Tune” here), and many other bands.

Some Exemplary Recordings Featuring the Pedal Steel:

B. J. Cole, “Clair de Lune,” Transparent Music (Hannibal)

Jimmy Day with Ray Price, “Crazy Arms,” on Hillbilly Fever! Vol. 3, Legends of Nashville (Rhino)

Pete Drake, “Lay Lady Lay,” on Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline (Columbia)

Josh Dubin, “First Song for Kate,” on Bobby Previte, Claude’s Late Morning (Gramavision)

Buddy Emmons, “Silver Bell” Amazing Steel Guitar: The Buddy Emmons Collection (Razor & Tie)

John Hughey, “Last Date (Lost Her Love on Our Last Date),” on Conway Twitty, 20 Greatest Hits (MCA)

Bud Isaacs, “Slowly,” on Webb Pierce, King of the Honky-Tonk: From the Original Decca Masters, 1952-1959 (MCA/CMA)

Sneaky Pete Kleinow, “Christine’s Tune,” on Flying Burrito Brothers, The Gilded Palace of Sin (Edsel)

Ralph Mooney, “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” on
James Burton and Ralph Mooney, Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’ (See-For-Miles)

Speedy West, “Stratosphere Boogie,” on Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, Stratosphere Boogie: The Flaming Guitars of Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant (Razor & Tie)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Doc Umland....speaking this type of music, if you ever get a chance to listen or see the lincoln nebraska based band 4020 (fourty twenty) I highly sugest them, best use of steel pedal in a long time