Country Music

S1 E5 | CLIP

Music Row's A Team

Music row musicians discuss their days as members of the fabled “A Team,” describe the mechanics of the pedal steel guitar, and perform excerpts from some of their biggest hits – including one or two surprises.

AIRED: September 22, 2019 | 0:10:07

- Well when you get to play a recording session

you really, they just, sometimes will say

well bring a banjo.

Uh, bring a gut string guitar.

Bring your tic tac, bring this or that.

And that's it.

And you walk in, and then you can either do it

or you can't.

You play the song and we write down the chords,

and then that gives us a framework.

That's our foundation of the house.

And then we start playing,

and then we build the rest of the house.

- They were able to keep it fresh

even if they were giving you the same thing

that you wanted from your last record.

You know, I want that same style

because I'll want to sound,

I want my style to come through.

They were able to do that but also,

give you freshness and a new lick

every once and a while, that you weren't expecting.

- Listen to the lyric and let your licks

and feel determine what you play.

You learn to play in between the lines, the singer.

The singer is the main thing and you know,

I just always considered the musicians as support.

- Some times they don't know what's there

in their fingers until they do it.

Until they're asked to do it.

Until they're allowed to do it.

- Kinda the amazing thing is that most of the A team,

I was probably the only guy, and Buddy Harman

the drummer, that could read music.

All those other guys are what I call back porch pickers.

In other words, they learned to play

just sitting on the porch or by playing.

- By not having to read arrangements,

which we could do, we had to get the feel

of the song, and if it's a quiet place

we might "ohh" or do a single unison line.

And when you build into the bridge "ahh ahh ahh"

sometimes we'd sing words, sometimes we wouldn't.

But it went according to the message in the song

and the feel of the song overall.

So, as the artist goes, so went the Jordanaires.

- The week for me was 15 to 20 sessions a week.

Which was three hour sessions.

They start at 10am, with a break for lunch.

2pm session to 5, and break for dinner.

And 6pm session to 9, break 10pm to 1am.

That was the four session and that

was a typical week, a day for us.

The top session players of the era.

And that doesn't mean we were in the

same studio either.

I might be in four different studios for

four different sessions.

- You know, I was a guitar player.

I was pretty comfortable with keyboard, you know,

because of Chet's suggestion

I learned to play vibraphones.

I was on a session with him once and he said

"I don't hear harmonica on this.

Why don't you go out there and

play a couple notes on the vibes."

And I said, Chet I don't play vibes.

He said "You can do it. Go on out there."

So I went out there and I, two vibe sticks.

And I said, man this is fun.

So I got serious about it and I learned to play.

I play a little sax a little trumpet

Trumpet on 'Rainy Day Women #12 & 35' by Bob Dylan.

Baritone sax on 'Pretty Woman', Roy Orbison.

The tuning guitar on 'Detroit City', Bobby Bare.

Of course I played bass on three Dylan albums

and on Jeannie Seely 'Don't Touch Me'.

On Charlie Rich 'Mohair Sam'.

Played organ on 'Easy Loving' Freddie Hart.

Played vibes and bells on 'Blue Velvet' Bobby Vinton.

But more harmonica than anything else.

- Pedal steel is capable of so much variety

that I think other instruments are limited by,

just because they're less complex.

They don't have all the mathematical

stuff involved with pedals, the change pitch.

Only guitars or, you playing a harmonica.

Charlie McCoy,

m akes magic with his harmonica

but he's still limited to that little harmonica.

- No, I don't play pedal steel,

I like to sleep at night.

Have you ever looked at the bottom

of one of those things?

- This one has ten strings on the top

and various knee levers and floor pedals.

But it's played, instead of like a guitar with fingers,

you use a metal bar in the left hand and

two metal picks and a plastic pick.

- Looks like a mad scientist worked on it.

- Then you get into the floor pedals

which are pretty much basic

for the E-9th commercial tuning,

which is heard on most records.

It's these three pedals here.

- Get somebody, if you ever get a chance,

get them to turn their steel guitar over

and look at the bottom of it.

You'll be amazed.

- Then you get into the complicated part of knee levers.

Which are under the guitar.

Anyway I just raise the first string

a half tone with a pitch.

(pitch sounds)

With is from F sharp to G.

And then my left knee, going right,

I raise my two E strings to F.

(chord plays)

So, you got things going every direction.

Then the right knee I'm lowering

the second string a half tone.

(chord plays)

With a stop and a tune in it

I got another half tone on the same knee lever.

So I can go a half or a whole tone.

(scale plays)

Then the right knee I'm only lowering

the 8th string a half tone.

(guitar strings play)

And from that you got all the mathematical

potential that's in the universe.

- Who came up with this?

Ya know, it's like an engineer,

some engineer from outer space or something.

(energetic steel guitar plays)

- Then the ending was,

(plays enchanting steel guitar)

And that's sort of the way we did those things.

- Well when I was called to play on

'Orange Blossom Special' with Jonny Cash

and it was, always been a fiddle tune

and I was trying to figure out how to

kinda get the same mood that the fiddle does.

And on the chorus part the fiddle always

goes into that recognizable train little thing.

So I decided to try to replicate the

(upbeat harmonica plays)

Kinda like that.

And that's when I, at the end of the session

Johnny Cash asked me how I did it

and I showed it and

I gave him those two harmonicas.

But here's a little quick sample of

(fast-paced harmonica plays)

Somebody asked me, did I have a very favorite song.

I've recorded 38 solo albums and

"Do you have a favorite song out of solo albums?"

I said, believe it or not, I do.

(somber harmonica plays)

- [Interviewer] Which is?

- 'Shenandoah'.

Oh and just for the heck of it, one more.

(bluesy harmonica plays)

'Ashokan Farwell'.


Wyld Ryce
WQED Sessions
WLIW21 Specials
We Sing
United in Song: Celebrating the Resilience of America
Under a Minute
Tree of Life: A Concert for Peace and Unity
Tis the Night with Ben Folds & Friends
The Set List
The Lowertown Line
The Jazz Ambassadors
The Experience with Dedry Jones
The Black Church
Sunshine Blues