Legendary Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons Dies
One of the most influential steel guitar players in country music, Buddy Emmons, has died at the age of 78.
Emmons passed away on Wednesday (July 29). He was known as "The World's Foremost Steel Guitarist."
Emmons was born on Jan. 27, 1937, in Mishawaka, Ind. When he was 11 years old, his father purchased him a six-string lap steel guitar and signed the young boy up for lessons. Soon after his introduction to the steel guitar, Emmons began figuring out how to play country music on the instrument, citing Hank Williams’ steel player Jerry Byrd and Herb Remington as his major inspirations.
The musician began performing with local bands in South Bend, Ind., and left high school at the age of 16 to pursue his passion. During that time, he moved around and ended up playing with musician Casey Clark -- and soon, as luck and talent would have it, Little Jimmy Dickens heard Emmons play. Dickens sent a telegram to Emmons (who was living in Detroit at the time), flew him to Nashville and took him to WSM's Studio C for the "Friday Night Frolics." He played the Grand Ole Opry that Saturday, and a steel guitar star was born.
“It was like a lightning bolt struck,” says steel guitarist Steve Fishell. “You can see photos from that day with Dickens onstage and other steel players like Jimmy Day waiting in the wings, watching Buddy. His execution was flawless, and his ideas were brilliant. It was like nothing ever heard before on the Opry stage. Buddy was dropped into the hottest band in country music, and it was an incredible launching pad for him.”
After a year with the successful singer, Emmons formed the Sho-Bud Company; it became one of the most successful steel companies in the business.
The guitarist also performed with Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours and Ray Price's Cherokee Cowboys, as well as with Roger Miller. He recorded the first serious steel guitar jazz album in 1963, played for the Everly Brothers for 10 years and did session work with Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, George Strait, Ricky Skaggs and many more influential country stars.
Emmons was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1981. His musical versatility is felt in many areas of music, from country and country rock to swing, jazz and folk.
A repetitive motion injury caused Emmons to stop playing full time in 2001, but he did choose to record with some favorite artists, play at steel guitar shows and perform on A Prairie Home Companion until his death.
Buddy’s wife Peggy died in 2007. He is survived by two granddaughters, Crystal and Brittany, and two grandsons, Levon and Buddie III. The Boot extends our condolences to his loved ones.
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