It doesn’t hurt that his pedal steel is a single-neck Excel Superb S-14 (as in 14 strings), custom-built by Mitsuo Fujii of Tokyo, who approached him in St. Louis about 10 years ago at the International Steel Guitar Convention and asked, “If I make you steel guitar, will you play?” The rest is history.
Gus van Sant must have been impressed with Stafford’s playing, too, because he enlisted him to do the music for his 1991 film, “My Own Private Idaho,” for which Stafford won an Independent Spirit Award. He also received the Jerry Byrd Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.
Impeccably recorded in Nashville at Gene Breeden Studios, “Unforgettable” is pure instrumental pedal steel backed by drums, bass, keyboards and Breeden on some very clean-sounding electric lead and acoustic rhythm guitars. Breeden, by the way, was the young upstart in 1971 who persuaded Red Simpson to cut a track by a songwriting postman called “(Hello) I’m a Truck” for his small Portland Records label.
Here’s “Unforgettable’s” track lowdown:
1. Unforgettable (one of Nat King Cole’s best-remembered songs; written in 1951 by Irving Gordon)
2. Almost Like Being in Love (from the 1947 Broadway musical “Brigadoon”; written by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe)
3. Lovely Hula Girl (sung by Alfred Apaka in the 1954 Universal short “Hawaiian Nights” starring Mamie Van Doren and Pinky Lee; written in 1952 by Randy Oness and Jack Pitman)
4. Kind of Love (aka “The Kind of Love I Can’t Forget,” a 1946 tune by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys; written by his fiddle player, Jesse Ashlock)
5. When I Dream (a No. 3 hit for Crystal Gayle in 1978; written by Canada’s Sandy Mason Theoret)
6. My Window Faces the South (first popularized by Rudy Vallee and later covered by Fats Waller, Bob Wills, Willie Nelson and Commander Cody, among others; written in 1937 by Jerry Livingston, Mitchell Parish and Abner Silver)
7. That’s All That Matters (aka “That’s All That Matters to Me,” a Hank Cochran song covered by Ray Price in 1964; Mickey Gilley took it to No.1 in 1980)
8. Making Plans (Voni Morrison and Johnny Russell co-write, covered by Charlie Louvin, Dave Dudley and Loretta Lynn; Porter Waggoner and Dolly Parton’s duet went to No. 2 in 1980)
9. Sweet Memories (Mickey Newbury composition from his 1968 debut; covered by Webb Pierce, Willie Nelson, the Everly Brothers, Ray Price, Jerry Reed and Andy Williams, who got a hit B-side out of it in 1970)
10. Callie’s Song for Ruby (Stafford original written for his parents, who were kind enough to give him the rest of his older brother’s pedal steel lessons when the instructor informed them they were wasting their money and offered to refund the balance)
Total time: 38:19