|March 30, 1954 - May 14, 2000|
I never knew Gary personally but, when I was first getting started on the steel, I taped a couple of the Marty Party shows on TNN. I don't know how many times I rewound Gary's licks trying to sound like he did.
I got to see him once with Marty Stuart at the Merlefest here in North Carolina a couple of years back. When Marty introduced Gary, he said something like, "He's playing pedal steel at a bluegrass festival. Men have been killed for less!" It was all in good fun, but I know Gary was holding back that day.
Here are a few quotes from Gary that illustrate what a generous person and true hero of the steel guitar he is:
"About 1965, my dad took me to the Longhorn Ballroom to see Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys play. I walked up to the bandstand and Buddy Emmons was sitting there tuning up. He started to play a tune called 'Hold It' which is a C6th song. He just played a few passages. From that point on, I knew I had to play the steel guitar."
"My dad was a guitar player and he got me started. I can't really remember ever starting! I was very young."
"I first started playing the 6-string lap guitar in about 1965. That was my first guitar. Bobby Garrett was my first teacher. He had a music store down in Dallas, Texas."
"My first steel guitar gig was probably around 1967. By that time, I had an 8-string pedal guitar. It was a custom-made guitar someone had built and I bought it from Maurice Anderson. I practiced on that for a couple of weeks and got a job at a VFW."
"The first artist that I really toured with was Hank Thompson. I was in Hank's band for about 5 years. We did one live album from L.A. In fact, it was released, but I don't know what ever happened to it. That was about the extent of my recording with Hank."
"I, like a lot of other players that grew up listening to Bob Wills and other swing bands, prefer the C6th tuning. I love the C6th tuning. It truly fascinates me. In fact, my first road job required me to play entirely on the C6th tuning. I was just a green kid and it was very hard for me because I was much more proficient on the E9th tuning. I got through it and learned a lot from that experience. But, in order to get the really pretty-sounding things, there's nothing like the E9th neck. They do have their own place in music. The C6th tuning fascinates me to this day. It is kind of hard to incorporate that tuning into commercial music situations. Somehow, I always find a way to fit a little bit of it in."
"I saw Bob Wills play a number of times. I was also engineer on several of the records that the old band played on. I also engineered most of the Tommy Morrell albums that are out now and he got a lot of the old Texas Playboys back together for those sessions. To tell you the truth, overseeing the project and trying to get it all on tape and just making things right for those guys was a lot more gratifying to me than actually playing."
"Even though I played guitar and bass first, I feel very comfortable playing the steel. I was born to play the steel guitar. It just seemed to come to me naturally."
"Don't give up. The main thing is to just keep going. You're going to hit a lot of dead-end roads along the way. There have been times when I thought I'd never get through a particular barrier. You just have to keep breaking down walls and pressing on. Keep your enthusiasm up and just keep trying. That's really what it takes to learn this instrument -- persistence!"
God bless you Gary. Thank you for the inspiration.
Scott Murray, Waynesville, NC