Jerry Byrd

byrdByrd’s Expedition

Richard Weize Archives

At 30 tracks, “Byrd’s Expedition” is the second-longest (after a five-disc Bill Monroe box) of 20 or so releases to date from the boutique startup launched last year by Richard Weize, founder of Germany’s highly regarded country/rock ‘n’ roll reissue label Bear Family.

Spotlighting the early recordings of perhaps the greatest lap steel player, the compilation draws on Jerry Byrd’s instrumentals for Mercury from 1949 through 1954, focusing mostly on country songs but also including recordings in the Hawaiian genre, which the guitarist later almost exclusively worked in. Byrd’s ax of choice during this period was a Rickenbacker Electro seven-string lap steel (except for a six-string model used on the first few numbers), made of a plasticlike material called Bakelite.

“Expedition” is curated by award-winning music historian/collector Dave Samuelson of Battle Ground, Ind., who also provided (with some assistance from Swedish collector Lars Lundgren) original discs that were used when master tapes and/or copies of masters could not be located or were unsuitable.

Christian Zwarg of True Sound Transfers, a shellac expert, remastered the archive material provided by Universal as well the 78s, 45s and LPs provided by collectors, most of which he also transferred.

These are Byrd’s first recordings as a soloist and virtually all are credited to Jerry Byrd and the String Dusters, with about half recorded in Cincinnati (1949-51) and half in Nashville (1952-54, often featuring Chet Atkins on lead guitar).

Many originated as singles that became part of compilations such as 1952’s “Guitar Magic” and 1958’s “Steel Guitar Favorites”;  others were recorded expressly for 10-inch LPs such as 1950’s “Nani Hawaii” and 1953’s “Byrd’s Expedition” (whose title song was written for Byrd by Jethro Burns).

Good New Music caught up with Zwarg and asked him about the source material:

“The majority of the material was provided to me in digital format, some tracks from Universal archives, others from collectors,” he said by email.

“… Some of the earlier (master tapes), however, turned out to be analog dubs from disc masters, probably made in the 1960s when these tracks were first issued on LP. I did not use all of those, because modern digital dubs from these discs in a few cases gave better sonics — many of the old tape dubs had been “improved” with an extra layer of reverb, and we avoided these. Other, slightly later recordings were indeed master tapes in the usual sense of the word, and yet other titles were only available as vintage 78- and/or 33⅓-rpm discs.

“… I did not use any digital noise reduction, just declicking/decrackling for the disc sources and careful EQ adjustment, to faithfully preserve the original sonic ambience of the tracks. You invariably lose some detail with any kind of single-end denoising. To not denoise, unless absolutely inevitable to achieve listenable quality on very poor sources, is standard practice both at my studio and for the RWA label.”

Producer Dave Samuelson offered some insight into the genesis of the project:

“I’ve been part of Bear Family’s stable of writers for nearly 30 years,” he told GNM in an email. “I pestered Richard Weize about compiling a comprehensive Jerry Byrd box for years, especially while the steel guitarist was alive and could provide valuable insight into the sessions and musicians.”

Asked which songs had to be transferred from discs, Samuelson answered:

“… When this project began, Richard Weize sent me a list of what Byrd Mercurys he had. … (He) did not have a copy of ‘Byrd’s Expedition’ — my own copy of that (1952) 10-inch LP was in VG- shape, hardly a decent source for a digital restoration. Released not long before 10-inch LPs were phased out of the marketplace, it’s not an easy album to find. It took me five years to find one. Fortunately, Weize obtained a copy in better shape from a Swedish collector. Weize’s source copies of ‘St. Louis Blues’ and ‘Steel Guitar Rag’ were drenched in echo that Mercury later added; I supplied 78s and 45s for both titles. The LP reissue of ‘Twilight Blues’ had mistracking problems about a minute into the tune, either a flaw on the master tape or due to a faulty lacquer. I supplied a 45-rpm pressing that yielded a better transfer.”

Speaking of the old 10-inch LP format, other songs on this compilation made their way onto two other 10-inch records: “Nani Hawaii” (1950, Jerry Byrd with Danny Kuaana and His Islanders) and “Guitar Magic” (1952). But “Byrd’s Expedition” was the only one recorded specifically for that format.

“Only the three 10-inch LPs were issued while Byrd was contracted to Mercury,” Samuelson shared. “However, Byrd later implied that the sessions for ‘Byrd’s Expedition’ were conceived as an album, and they probably were. However, the finished release included at least one master from an earlier session and some tracks were set aside for singles. All four of Byrd’s 12-inch Mercury LPs were compilations; I highly doubt Byrd had any input on content.”

Samuelson also was able to tell GNM exactly what percentage of songs here have been previously issued on CD:

” ‘Steelin’ the Blues’ appeared on a CD anthology marking 50 years of country music on Mercury Records,” he said. “Two other tracks appeared on a Japanese CD reissue of ‘On the Shores of Waikiki,’ Mercury’s first 12-inch release of Byrd’s Hawaiian material. Twelve others appeared on a Cattle CD bootleg. If you discount the latter album, 90 percent of this material has not appeared on CD. If you include it, the answer is 50 percent.”

The collection eases into the country instrumentals, starting off first with the lone vocal number (“Steelin’ the Blues,” a rousing Byrd original featuring Rex Allen singing his own after-the-fact lyrics), then a sublime Hawaiian cut (“Maui Chimes”) before taking on a country-proper instrumental (the lively “Byrd’s Boogie”). Things really get underway with “Wabash Blues,” featuring call-and-response guitars between Byrd and an overdubbed Byrd, who answers himself with some amazing wah-wah pedal.

Moving on to 1950, “Steel Guitar Rag” is a fine update on Leon McAuliffe’s 1936 showcase with Bob Wills, itself based on a 1923 Sylvester Weaver guitar instrumental. Byrd likewise covered the 1920s jazz standard “South” by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra, which had become a jukebox favorite in 1944, nine years after the pianist died. “South” benefited mightily from twin leads by Byrd and String Duster electric guitarist Zeke Turner, plus short-but-sweet solos by an unknown pianist and Turner.

From 1951, Byrd again dabbles in Les Paul-style overdubbing to great effect on “South Sea Moon,” a number he learned off a syndicated broadcast disc by one of his main influences, Hawaiian guitarist Dick McIntire. Also from the same session (Turner’s last with Byrd) come kicking-the-can Byrd original “Blues Boogie” and a smooth interpretation of Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians’ “Cocoanut Grove,” both featuring Owen Bradley on organ.

The balance of the collection, comprising the “uncredited Chet Atkins” era, includes songs where Byrd and/or Atkins employ overdubs, such as Byrd original “Gold Coast Blues” and ‘Fats’ Wallers’ “Jitterbug Waltz.” Byrd’s “This ‘n That” boasts Nashville fiddlers Tommy Jackson and Dale Potter. “Hula Blues” is a cover of a 1920 standard written by Johnny Noble (who took a Hawaiian-ragtime subgenre and developed it further into a Hawaiian-jazz sound). And the twangy “Georgia Steel Guitar” is a Georgia Peach Pickers cover.

Samuelson’s liner notes in the accompanying 52-page booklet contain a wealth of historical information. But GNM reached out to Joe Goldmark — a San Francisco-based pedal steel guitarist and principal in retailer Amoeba Records who’s an avid record collector (see vinylbeat.com) and author of the “International Steel Guitar Discography” — for an artist testimonial.

“Jerry was a musician’s musician,” Goldmark replied by email. “He was called the ‘master of touch and tone’ because he always played the right part, and played it beautifully.

“He didn’t feel the need to transition to pedals in the late ’50s like most steel players did, because he was a master at slanting the bar to create sliding double stops, much like a fiddler would do, and what the pedals do on modern steels.

‘It’s fun to listen to Hank Williams recordings and hear the difference between the gorgeous ‘Byrd’ recordings and the stark ‘Don Helms’ recordings. They’re both perfect in their own right, but you can really hear the imagination and beauty that Jerry Byrd brought to a recording.

‘A lot of his work dried up in the 1960s in Nashville, as producers wanted a more modern sound. He was still featured on albums when a country artist recorded a Hawaiian album (Hank Snow, Marty Robbins, etc.), but he wasn’t earning a good living. So in the early 1970s, he followed his dream and retired to Hawaii where he continued to play casuals and play in hotel bands until his death in 2005.

“I can tell you from personal experience that Jerry was also a wonderful and humble guy who always had a kind word for beginners and fellow musicians. I met him and also corresponded with him, and got some long letters with good musical advice in response to some of my albums that I sent him.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Steelin’ The Blues (Rex Allen, vocal)
2. Maui Chimes
3. Byrd’s Boogie
4. Wabash Blues
5. Steelin’ The Chimes
6. Steel Guitar Rag
7. Hilo March
8. Panhandle Rag
9. St Louis Blues
10. Three-String Swing
11. South
12. Twilight Blues
13. South Sea Moon
14. Blues Boogie
15. Cocoanut Grove
16. Kewalo Chimes
17. Limehouse Blues
18. Gold Coast Blues
19. This ‘n’ That
20. Kohalo March
21. Jitterbug Waltz
22. Byrd’s Expedition
23. Paradise Isle
24. Wang Wang Blues
25. Hula Blues
26. Georgia Steel Guitar
27. Honolulu March
28. Turner’s Turnpike
29. Hawaiian Sunset
30. Texas Playboy Rag

Total time: 1:16:48

External links
artist fan site
amazon.com
Bear Family

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Joe Goldmark

The Wham of That Steel Man!

Lo-Ball

Joe Goldmark is the keeper of the instrumental pedal steel guitar flame. On his last album, 2007’s “Seducing the ’60s,” he branched out by including guest vocalists on half the songs. Now, for his ninth solo album (he also was a member of Jim Campilongo and the 10 Gallon Cats as well as the Twangbangers), he branches out further with a double album — a vocal disc and an instrumental disc.

The vocal disc features Keta Bill. “I’ve known Keta for about 20 years,” Goldmark told Good New Music by e-mail. “She’s (music critic) Joel Selvin’s ex-wife. She was in (’80s R&B big band) the Zasu Pitts Memorial Orchestra and (ZPMO’s later incarnation) Big Bang Beat. … I wanted a rock-and-roll singer rather than a jazz or country singer for this album. (Guitarist) Gary Potterton and I supply the country sounds.”

As on prior outings, Goldmark displays his penchant for covering classic rock numbers. On the vocal disc, he covers Creedence Clearwater Revival, Buffalo Springfield, Bobby Fuller, the Beach Boys, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Blind Faith, among others. He also throws in tracks of more recent vintage by Jeff Buckley, Teenage Fanclub and Dr. Dog.

The lion’s share of the instrumental disc, by comparison, is made up of Goldmark originals. The rest is covers of the Beatles, Dmitri Tiomkin, Burt Bacharach, and Dave and Ansel Collins.

Goldmark’s résumé explains his impressive musical taste — he’s an avid record collector with a website containing an LP label guide, LP price guides and an album cover gallery. He’s also a partner in San Francisco record shop Amoeba Music.

For a change of pace, he plays lap steel on “Long As I Can See the Light” and Dobro on “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Supporting musicians add fiddle to “Caroline No,” “Glass Beach” and “Tsunami,” and horns to “Long As I Can See the Light,” “Guns of Navarone” and Goldmark originals  “The Ska’s the Limit” and “Zanzibar.”

Best song on the album: “Sexy Sadie,” featuring John McFee (Clover, the Doobie Brothers) on slide guitar.

Tracks

KETA’S SIDE
1. Long As I Can See The Light
2. On The Way Home
3. Let Her Dance
4. Caroline No
5. I Don’t Want Control Of You
6. Beware Of Darkness
7. Most Likely You Go Your Way
8. Lover, You Should’ve Come Over
9. We’ll Meet Again
10. Ain’t It Strange
11. Can’t Find My Way Home

JOE’S SIDE
1. The High Road
2. Palomino
3. The Ska’s The Limit
4. Riptide Rock
5. Sexy Sadie
6. Zanzibar
7. Glass Beach
8. Guns Of Navarone
9. Any Day Now
10. Dede’s Delight
11. Pasta Puttanesca
12. Double Barrel
13. Tsunami

Total time: 1:14:11

External links
artist’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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Bill Stafford

Unforgettable Melodies

self-released

staffordThey call him Mr. Smooth for good reason: His stylings are like silk. What’s more, his tone can’t be topped and he likes to mix things up with unexpected staccato bursts.

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)gnm_end_bug

Total time: 38:19

External links
artist’s website
artist’s order page

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Mike Headrick

Heart of the Night

Country Discovery

One of the things that made late ’60s/early ’70s country rock so great was pedal steel guitar. There was something pleasantly anachronistic about hearing that old-fashioned sound amid electric guitars and hard-chargin’ rhythm sections.

Intrepid fans just discovering the instrument via country rock and thirsting for more could track down output by such classic players as Jerry Byrd, Speedy West, Pete Drake, Leon McAuliffe, Lloyd Green, Buddy Emmons, Tom Brumley, Red Rhodes and Jaydee Maness, all of whom cranked out instrumental albums featuring covers of popular hits in which the pedal steel took the place of vocals.

Headrick offers the best of both worlds, cherry picking from country rock’s finest to fill an album of instrumental covers: three by Poco, three by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, two by the Eagles and one each by Pure Prairie League and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

Hearing the pedal steel carry the melody rather than embellishing it enables a new level of appreciation — there’s not as much of a “distancing” factor involved as there would be, say, in listening to a pedal steel rendition of “Danny Boy” or “Moonlight Becomes You.” Listeners quite possibly could forget they’re hearing an interpretation, since the originals featured the instrument to such a high degree to begin with.

Highlights include Headrick’s use of the Pedabro (a type of Dobro fitted with a pedal and played like a pedal steel guitar) for Jerry Garcia’s parts on “Teach Your Children,” and harmonicat Charlie McCoy’s guest solos on “Rose of Cimarron.”

Tracks
1. Take It Easy
2. Amie
3. She’s No Angel
4. Heart Of The Night
5. Teach Your Children
6. Bad Weather
7. Henry
8. Ol’ ’55
9. I Don’t Need No Doctor
10. Rose Of Cimarron

Total time: 41:39

External links
artist’s website
CD Baby

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Michael Perlowin

Spanish Steel

self-released

The journey off pedal steel guitar’s beaten path continues with Perlowin’s third release: First he proved the instrument capable of rendering classical standards with unspeakable beauty on “Firebird Suite”; then he tackled Leonard Bernstein’s multicultural “West Side Story” with such aplomb it was like hearing the masterwork anew; now he takes listeners on an auditory voyage to the Mediterranean and unearths some sublimely exotic “Spanish Steel.”

First up is Manuel de Falla’s 1915 ballet “El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician),” a 22-minute tour de force embellished by sitar and five-string banjo, the former bringing the composer’s use of Middle Eastern modalities even more to the fore. The steel-to-guitar ratio overall is down from Perlowin’s previous two albums, with multitracked guitars on some of “Brujo’s” movements rivaling Mike Oldfield’s groundbreaking work on “Tubular Bells.”

Next on the itinerary are three shorter pieces, led by “Asturias,” previously known as “Leyenda” or “legend.” Originally written in the early 1890s for piano, Isaak Albéniz’s composition arguably is the quintessential Spanish guitar piece. Andres Segovia began playing it in the 1920s, and the Doors used it to great effect half a century later as the intro to their “Spanish Caravan.”  

The third movement of Joaquín Rodrigo’s obscure 1967 “Concierto Andaluz for 4 Guitars” follows, with Perlowin using pedal steel solely to cover brass and woodwind parts. The result is his highest guitar quotient yet, a 50-50 blend.

“Spanish Steel’s” final shorter piece actually is Peruvian: “Fantasia Inca,” written by the great South American classical guitarist Julio Martínez Oyanguren and performed here entirely on multitracked pedal steel. Having scoured libraries coast to coast in vain for sheet music, Perlowin created his own arrangement, using a recording by flamenco legend Sabicas as his starting point. Those familiar with Peter Green’s exquisite instrumental “Oh Well (Part 2)” for Fleetwood Mac will be especially pleased.

Last but not least is the 15-minute “Capriccio Espagnol,” written in 1887 by Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. A brilliant orchestral showpiece requiring considerable virtuosity on the part of each player, Perlowin is up to the task, making it a mammoth production requiring 109 tracks at one point.

Tracks
1. El Amor Brujo
2. Asturias
3. Concierto Andaluz For 4 Guitars
4. Fantasia Inca
5. Capriccio Espagnol

Total time: 53:41

External links 
artist’s website
CD Baby
Steel Guitar Music

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