“When J. Griffis Smith joined the magazine last year as Photography Editor,” says Senior Editor Lori Moffatt, “one of the many benefits was this: Griff is a fine guitar player, and he often practices on his steel guitar during lunch breaks. Sometimes if I’m feeling stressed, the melodic, haunting strains of Griff’s Dobro makes me feel better.”
“Griff suggested that we cover the annual Steel Guitar Jamboree in Irving in the magazine, and one of our interns, Kate Hull, jumped at the chance to write a brief story for the February issue. I decided to learn more about the steel guitar myself, and I telephoned two legends in the field—first, steel-guitar legend Herb Remington, who played with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys from 1946-1950 and now makes steel guitars and pedal-steel guitars in Houston, and DeWittt “Scotty” Scott, President of the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri. “
The steel guitar is such a haunting
instrument; there is nothing you can’t play on it.
“I first got acquainted with the steel guitar in 1946,” Scott says. “I was about 16, and I heard a tune on the radio called ‘Drowsy Waters’ by a player named Jerry Byrd. It was so beautiful that I called the radio station to ask what it was, and from then on, I was hooked. The steel guitar is such a haunting instrument; there is nothing you can’t play on it. It started off in Hawaiian music, then it went to country, rock…all the different genres.
“I started in business in 1964, “Scott continues, “with a store called Scotty’s Music—we sell steel guitars and related products like sheet music. And in 1968, we started Scotty’s International Steel Guitar Convention, which now brings about 3,000 people to St. Louis every year. The convention grew so much that we founded a hall of fame in 1978—Jerry Byrd, Alvino Rey, and Leon McAuliffe were the first three inductees. Today, you can see plaques devoted to all the 60-plus inductees in the lower level of the Millennium Hotel in downtown St. Louis.”
Remington—who wrote the well-known songs ‘Remington Ride’ and the “Boot Hell Drag’—wasn’t too interested in talking about his own history, saying, “I’ve been around a long time, and my bio is pretty much well-known,” but he did elaborate on the convoluted history of the instrument he has mastered over the years.
“The non-pedal steel guitar grew from the Hawaiian model, which came to Hawaii from the Portuguese. Probably what happened is that somebody put a bone on the string and liked the sound, then someone eventually—probably in the 1920s— put an electronic pickup on it, and an amplifier. Then with, in the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood embraced it in movies with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour, and Hawaiian music was heard throughout the United States. “
In the next few decades, Remington toured with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, traveled the country with a Polynesian band, and eventually settled in Houston, where he makes handcrafted guitars (about 30 custom orders per year).
“There are still a lot of great players,” says Remington. “Personally, I don’t have an ear for hillbilly music or rock and roll. I like the Latin beats, the “girl from Ipanema,’ that kind of thing.”
See the full article in the February 2010 issue.