The Big E – Buddy Emmons Tribute
By Martin Jones
Just wondering if anyone else got to see the Buddy Emmons tribute at Americana Conference and Festival in Nashville this year? It was possibly the best thing I saw at Americana this year. I wrote up a quick review at the time:
As part of the Americana Music Association conference that winds up in Nashville today, a tribute to pedal steel icon Buddy Emmons was held at the Country Music Hall Of Fame. It turned out to be a spectacular and affecting event with guest musicians including Dan Dugmore, Tommy White, Buck Reid, guitar legend Duane Eddy and Buddy himself.
The tribute was centred around the release of a new tribute album, The Big E: A Salute To Steel Guitarist Buddy Emmons, produced by Steve Fishell, which features performances from Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Duane Eddy, John Anderson, Raul Malo and Emmons’ original mentor Little Jimmy Dickens.
The evening opened with some rare home movie footage of Emmons’ early career followed by a detailed explanation of the technical advancements Emmons made to the pedal steel with practical demonstrations from Reid, Dugmore and White. All the players expressed how nervous they were performing with Emmons sitting in the front row watching as they demonstrated the split levers and the diatonic tuning that Emmons invented.
Everyone was invited to share stories about their experiences with Emmons. Reid recalled how he turned up to his first real studio session as a pedal steel player only to be intercepted at the studio door by Emmons carrying his set up pedal steel. It was just a prank and Emmons laughed and went and put his pedal steel back in his van.
One of the best stories was how Dan Dugmore’s wife tracked down Duane Eddy when, as a Nashville phone operator, she came across him making a collect call and asked him where to find his album. Eddy personally dropped a copy over to Dugmore’s house the next day, which happened to be Dugmore’s birthday, not realising that Dugmore would turn out to be one of the best pedal steel players in the world.
Emmons himself also had some incredible stories, recalling his first recording session with Ray Charles, who took him into the studio to run through a few ideas with him. At the end of the rehearsal, Charles shouted, “Yeah baby, you know what the old man likes!”
The respect and affection for Emmons from both the audience and musicians was moving.
Emmons himself retired from performing some years ago around the time of the death of his dear wife Peggy. It was revealed that all profits from the tribute album, The Big E, will be donated to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in Peggy’s name.
First published on the website of Rhythms Magazine, www.rhythms.com.au.