Lloyd Green – The green revolution
Lloyd Green and his pedal steel guitars were present at creations that still resonate throughout American music. Born in Leaf, Mississippi, in 1937, Green moved with his family to Mobile, Alabama, in 1941. A Hawaiian steel prodigy at age 10, he evolved into a straight-ahead country accompanist. Green’s distinctively aggressive style first blossomed on Warner Mack’s 1966 #1 “The Bridge Washed Out”, and he fully realized that style in the mid-’60s as head arranger for Aubrey Mayhew’s insurgent Little Darlin’ label — the antithesis of the Nashville Sound. Green’s musical audacity spun a web of stabbing licks, sharp tonality and keening chords around Johnny Paycheck and other Little Darlin’ singers.
At the same time, as part of Nashville’s A-Team, Green was capable of great subtlety and nuance. His playing graced Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E”, Jeannie Pruett’s “Satin Sheets”, Charley Pride’s legendary In Person album recorded at Panther Hall, the Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, Freddie Hart’s “Easy Lovin”, most of Don Williams’ hits, and John Anderson’s “Swingin'”.
He conquered an inner ear problem that forced his retirement from sessions in 1988, but he didn’t return to studio work until 2003, with a younger A-Team now dominant. Nonetheless, he’s recorded with Alan Jackson (“Remember When”) and found a new niche with Americana acts including Ricky Skaggs, the Grascals and Dale Watson.
NO DEPRESSION: You began playing steel at age 7?
LLOYD GREEN: There was a course prevalent throughout the south and southeast and various parts of the United States in the 1940s called the Oahu Hawaiian music course. And they gave “test lessons” to see if anybody had any talent and they would encourage them to take the lessons. The lessons were a buck fifty a week and they didn’t accept anybody under 14 until they did this test with me and made an exception.
I became the “poster child” for the Oahu course when I was about 10 years old. By then I bought my first electric Hawaiian guitar — a Rickenbacker, probably 1943-44 model, and an Oahu amp. Each week there were two songs. One would be a Hawaiian song and there was one pop song of the day. I had a photographic memory so the teacher would play these songs for the following week and I could play it exactly like she played it. By the time I was 9 I could play better than my teacher.
ND: What about country?
LG: The first steel guitar I ever heard on records was Little Roy Wiggins playin’ with Eddy Arnold, and I thought, “Boy, that’s just fantastic,” so I learned all that stuff. Then I heard Jerry Byrd. He was the first steel guitar artist. I still feel that way. He had all the ingredients of tone, intonation, emotion, artistry and sound. Then I heard Don Helms with Hank Williams.
ND: You added a homemade pedal to a Fender lap steel after hearing Bud Isaacs play pedals on Webb Pierce’s 1954 hit “Slowly”.
LG: I had a double-neck Fender that I had made my own pedal [from a Model-T Ford] for.
ND: By the time you got to college in 1955, were you playing country?
LG: I was playing around Mississippi while I was in school [with] Justin Tubb, the Wilburn Brothers, the Browns, Hank Locklin. It really whetted my appetite. One night, I turned on the Opry and I said, “I could play anything those people can play. And I’m going to Nashville.” My parents were devastated. I was going to get this out of my system, play for a year, and I’d have probably got my degree.
In the meantime, I met Dot and we got married six or seven months after I got to Nashville, and we’re still married. I got here December 26, 1956. I got a job the first day I got here, with Faron Young. Our first date was in Albuquerque in an ice arena.
The first show he said, “Son, I like your playin’, but that piece of crap you’re playin’ onstage” — my Fender — “is a huge embarrassment to The Great Faron Young. You can’t play that piece of shit on my show.” He said, “I got a triple-neck Bigsby with one pedal,” and that’s what he let me use the year and a half I worked for him.
ND: The first hit you played on was George Jones’ “Too Much Water…”
LG: That was after the first tour with Faron in February 1957. George was on the tour and hired me to do his next session in March. It was really primitive analog recording. I said, “This is where I need to be.” It was six long years before I ventured into the studios again.
ND: What were you playing after leaving Faron?
LG: A Rickenbacker double-neck Shot Jackson [Sho-Bud co-founder] had given me and put two Sho-Bud pedals on it. Shot felt sorry for me and he said, “If you want this guitar I’ll just give it to you.” It worked better than the homemade [pedal] on my Fender.
ND: You quit altogether for a few years.
LG: That was really the dark period of my life. I was only 21, and two years of trying to survive playin’ on the road was enough. I found a job sellin’ shoes, put my guitar up, didn’t touch it or take it out of the case. I got promoted to assistant manager in Little Rock. Dot and I felt like we were in prison. I said, “I gotta play music again.” We came back to Nashville. We made that decision after Easter 1963. By Easter of ’64 I was recording and had a nice double-neck Bigsby.