Vintage Guitar Magazine article from the August 1993 issue.

Steel Guitar Jazz

Some of you undoubtedly glanced at the title of this months "SPOTLIGHT" and thought - Steel Guitar Jazz??? Huh????? I admit, typically most people don't think of the steel guitar as a jazz instrument. (I know what you're thinking - you're supposed to play country or Hawaiian music on a steel guitar.) I've always been intrigued by things that depart somewhat from tradition/convention. Recently I heard a live radio concert broadcast that featured banjo stylist extraordinaire Bela Fleck (and his great band the Flecktones) and he mentioned that no matter what type of room they play - they always play at least one tune that is totally out of character for that setting. Steel Guitar Jazz is an album tailor-made for Bela's type of thinking.

Prominently printed on the front and back covers of Steel Guitar Jazz is the following: The birth of a new instrument in jazz and the presentation of a remarkable guitarist - Buddie Emmons. Steel guitarist Buddie Emmons is an extraordinary musician. He's played with Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, Jimmy Dickens and the Country Boys, Danny Gatton and Lenny Breau to name just a few. He's well known as the co-founder (along with Shot Jackson) of Sho~Bud Guitars. He's also a designer and builder of Emmons steel guitars. Prior to the recording of Steel Guitar Jazz (in 1963) Buddie was primarily known as an exceptional country steel player. (I have a couple of singles that Buddie recorded for Columbia in 1956 and 1957 that really swing!) The release of Steel Guitar Jazz certainly changed/broadened Buddie's musical resume to include steel guitar innovator. Although western swing players had been playing their own blend of country and jazz for a long while, this album was certainly one of the very first (if not the first) recordings which featured the steel guitar as the lead instrument in a true jazz ensemble - with piano, bass, drums and saxophone. And Buddie's steel is right at home in this setting. In fact, he makes it sound so perfectly natural that you'll wonder why it took until 1963 to record an album like this.

From the opening track, the up-tempo original "Bluemmons", to the exceptionally fine version of "Cherokee" (one of the nicest versions of this tune that I've heard), to saxophonist Sonny Rollins' "Oleo" (a nice groove on this one), to the mellow "Where or When", to the simply gorgeous rendering of "Witchcraft", Buddie's touch and tone are incredible. And his improvisational skills are those of a true jazz musician. A lot of his solos sound like horn lines - swooping, melodic, even chromatic at times. And he employs judicious use of "licks and tricks". There is an amazing "lick" in "Any Time". It reminds me a bit of Chet Atkins two octave arpeggio "super lick" - which Chet does very rapidly using hammer-on's and pull-off's. And in "Indiana" Buddie plays some great melodic single notes while effortlessly segueing into a fine chord-based interlude.

The arrangements are wonderful too. I'm partial to "Any Time", which starts out with a few bars of subtle swing and then breaks into a rollicking affair. I also like "Witchcraft", which is exquisitely delicate and features some fine piano work as well.

I think standard six string guitarists can learn a lot of cool voicings, subtle/tasty bends (work that Bigsby y'all), and nice glissando technique by listening to steel players. Steel Guitar Jazz offers a great opportunity to "go to school" and learn from one of the best steel players/musicians in the business. And it really doesn't matter what style you prefer - country, jazz, rockabilly, fingerstyle - whatever. These techniques will enhance whatever style you play.

NOTE: If you're a fan of steel guitar, stay tuned for future "SPOTLIGHT" columns. We'll shine the light on Jerry Byrd, Bud Charleton, Speedy West and others.

* Steel Guitar Jazz is available (in stereo) on Mercury LP SR 60843.

(This recording in it entirety is included in Amazing Steel Guitar.)

Vintage Guitar Magazine "SPOTLIGHT" Columnist
Host of Frettin' Fingers ("The Guitar Music Show")
Heard every Wednesday night on KSER - 90.7 FM in Seattle, WA 

Thanks to Jim for sending me a copy of this
article and his permission to use it!