Lloyd Green – The green revolution
ND: Roy Drusky hired you as his assistant when he ran [the music licensing company] SESAC’s Nashville office on Music Row, but you did more and more sessions.
LG: The very first week I was at SESAC with Roy, I played on two master sessions and one demo. One was for Chart Records [whose] offices were across the hall. I recorded my first album for Aubrey Mayhew the second week on the Row: a Gordon Terry album for Ambassador Records. I stayed [at SESAC] about three and a half years. It got to where I was never in the office and one day Roy called me and I knew what it was about. I said, “Roy, let’s save the conversation. We’ll go to the office and I’ll write my letter of resignation.” This was 1967. I was makin’, in 1967 dollars, $50-60,000 or more a year.
ND: What inspired you to develop your own style?
LG: I was tryin’ to play like Buddy Emmons and Jimmy Day. I was cuttin’ [a session] for Columbia and [guitarist] Grady Martin was session leader. On this song, I kept blowin’ the intro. Grady stopped the session, looked at me and said, “Lloyd, if we wanted Emmons or Day, we’d hire them! You got a thousand ideas floatin’ around in your head if you’ll just relax and play em.” It was a moment of truth.
ND: Warner Mack’s hit “The Bridge Washed Out” on Decca put you on the map after Mack heard you play your wilder licks on some demos…
LG: Warner said, “Who’s that playin’ steel? I’m not interested in the song but I’m sure interested in that steel player. I’ve written a song [his] style fits perfectly.” And he called me. He told [producer] Owen Bradley, “I found the steel player for this.” Owen was using Pete Drake on everything. Warner said, “Pete can’t play this.” He reluctantly let Warner use me. Me and him already worked the song out. [Studio bassist] Bob Moore said to me, “Son, that’s a career for you right there. There’s a career-launcher. There’s your sound!”
Owen, he’d push the [intercom] button, and say, “Turn them goddamn highs offa that steel! They’re killin’ my ears! You got too much volume!” I think he was furious Warner forced him into usin’ me instead of Pete. I worked a lot of sessions for Owen for years after that, and he never again treated me that way.
Fast forward three months, and the record comes out and immediately goes to #1 and my career was launched. I didn’t stop for the next twelve or thirteen years, workin’ three and four sessions a day.
ND: Once Mayhew founded Little Darlin’, you were a key component…
LG: The top-level goal was to make Paycheck a major artist. Aubrey said, “I’m gonna make you the most famous steel player since Speedy West.” You look at those Little Darlin’ Records, you’ll see almost every one, “steel guitar by Lloyd Green” — in an era they didn’t put musician credits on [records]. I had total freedom, and anything I played, man, was never questioned.
The problem — Mayhew would never take a second take. If we got an entire take, that was it. Consequently there’s a lot of flaws on those records, but they’re magical ’cause they were so different than regular Nashville records.
ND: How’d you come up with those licks and that incredible tone?
LG: I woke up every morning and my brain was just racing with ideas! I couldn’t wait to get in the studio. Those were the best moments of all, when I had total freedom — nobody to get in my way, and just let me play those ideas. They weren’t done narcissistically, because I was keyin’ off the lyrics and the singer, song, and other musicians in the studio.
I knew my guitar so well that all I had to do was think about how to get these ideas — how do I fit this into the song? Everybody that learns to play steel, you have to follow a certain traditional format, because it’s a difficult thing to learn to play. You’re incorporating both hands, both feet, both knees, your regular vision, peripheral vision, and you gotta think about all this. I compare it to flyin’ a helicopter, but with talent.
ND: What steel and amp did you use on the Little Darlin’ material?
LG: The first nine months I recorded, I had a double-neck Bigsby Shot made into a Sho-Bud for me. It sounded great — I used it on “The Bridge Washed Out”. But boy, it was tough to keep in tune. It broke strings terribly. Shot said, “I’m gonna build your first real Sho-Bud,” and by January 1965 he’d built my first: a model called a “Permanent.” I used that from 1965 until 1967.
My first amplifier, an Ampeg, sounded timid and mellow. I asked [session guitarist] Harold Bradley and he said, “I need to get you a Fender.” I had him order me [one] from Manny’s Music in New York, a Fender Deluxe with a 12-inch D120F JBL. The total price was $225. That’s what I used from late 1964 until some time in 1968 when I got my first Fender Twin Reverb.
ND: How’d Music Row view the Little Darlin’ releases?
LG: Nobody took Little Darlin’ seriously in Nashville. It never was [said], but there was a tacit disapproval [thinking], “These guys are not serious. They’re just in there jivin’ around, man, with off-the-wall stuff.”
Well, we were not jivin’ around. We were explorin’ new territory. It was a purposeful, thoughtful process. They were gonna stick to the party line and cut records which were the sound of the day, much like today, man.
ND: What about your other guitars?
LG: My second Sho-Bud in 1967 was the “Fingertip” model I used on the live In Person album with Charley Pride and on the Byrds’ Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, same year , about six months apart. A Baldwin Sho-Bud [made for distribution by Baldwin piano and organ] was my third guitar, from 1970 to May of 1973, on all the great Faron Young records, Mel Street, Jerry Lee, Lynn Anderson, Freddie Hart. I can tell the difference when I hear that sound — the very best steel I ever owned in my life, and it was just so rich and elegant.