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Russ & Laney Hicks Interview

Laney & Russ Hicks

The following interview by Gib Sun appeared in the "Steel Guitar Rag" in 2003.

Gib: We’re at the NTSGA Superjam with Russ Hicks and his beautiful wife Laney. Am I saying that right?

Russ: Yea! I say Laney darling, but you can say Laney.

Gib: Good thing for you. Did he get it right?

Laney: So far, so good for him. Darling works everytime.

Gib: We’re talking to a musical family. I caught you guys at the Jim Murphy benefit. What a sound! Laney sings so good, people forgot to listen to the steel guitar picking.

Russ: That’s been happening alot here lately. When we arrived at the Chattanooga show, Laney went to the room, and I went to the venue where we were playing. I couldn’t even make it to our booth before four people asked me if Laney came or not. This is hard on the old pride.

Gib: You’re an awfully fine steel guitar player, but she’s a real good singer. If you’ve never gotten to hear her, make sure you get out there and hear her. You guys really do good music.

Laney: I appreciate you saying that.

Russ: You were talking about the Big Murph benefit. Holly, our daughter, was out there with us that night and sang You Don’t Know Me. We’re very, very excited about a project we’re just finishing up, Laney’s first gospel CD. Tresea Sweeney, Mike’s wife, is going to put the CDs together for us. We’re just truly excited about the fact our two daughters each sang a song on this album.

Laney: Those girls are definitely the best music we ever made.

Russ: That’s true.

Gib: I don’t think I should get in this one.

Russ: I can’t wait for you to hear it. I’ve been involved in thirteen steel guitar albums.

Laney: Your lucky number.

Russ: I was born on Friday the 13th. Can you believe that? But anyway, I can’t wait to get this CD in your hands. We’re really excited about it. Not just hyping the CD, it’s a very emotional and spiritual thing for us. Naturally, that’s what a gospel CD should be, but it means so much to us because of our daughters singing on it.

Gib: What songs are on it?

Russ: We call it Laney Hicks/Softely and Tenderly. Naturally, that’s on it. There’s five what I call standard gospel tunes: Nothing But The Blood Of Jeses, In The Garden, Satified by Martha Carson.

Laney: Several worship and praise songs. Stand On Holy Ground, and then a couple of songs that Wayne Moss wrote. Wayne Moss, who is a genius, and God just spoke through Wayne when he did a song called Whataya Say that I love. I think it may be one of my favorite because of the music on it.

Russ: Another thing he did called Only Time for Love.

Laney: Holly sings that.

Gib: Gotta have a copy.

Laney: The steelers are going to like it because the engineer Bob McCracken, who really knows what he’s doing, really mixed that steel guitar up there.

Russ: I might have had something to do with that.

Gib: When and how did you guys get started in this business?

Russ: I got started in the hills of West Virginny....

Laney: Because there was nothing else to do up in those hills.....

Russ: I got started in the early sixties. I played lead guitar before I even got a steel. The reason I started playing steel in the first place was because of Buddy Emmons. He’s the king to me. A lot of other players, not to take away from the other ones, everybody’s got their thing to offer as far as the steel guitar is concerned, but Buddy Emmons is the reason I started playing steel.

Gib: What was your first steel guitar?

Russ: My first steel guitar was a Gibson ElectraHarp. I was in my late teens. In my early teens I was a rock n’ roll guitar player. That Gibson ElectraHarp burned up in a fire at a club I was playing, and I finally got an Emmons steel guitar. When I got that Emmons, I met Weldon at the Emmons factory. At about that time, he was quitting the road playing with Connie Smith to do the staff on the Opry. He told me to come to Nashville and audition for Connie, and luckily I got the job. That’s what got me to town.

Gib: What a thrill it’s got to be to look back at the days with Connie Smith!

Laney: He loves her.

Gib: Now how long have you guys been an item?

Laney: We were given a good solid six months, twenty-three years ago. It’s been twenty-three wonderful years.

Gib: Did I hear that right?

Russ: Yahoo!

Gib: Russ is a smart man. He just put his arm around his sweet wife.

Laney: He’s squeezing me so I don’t say anything different.

Russ: I’m just so pleased that you realized that darling.

Gib: What are your thoughts about the NTSGA Superjams?

Laney: It’s good to be among these people. These people are like us, and they love music. It’s where our friends are.

Russ: I don’t think there is a member here that doesn’t realize that on this stage tonight, and everytime we have a Superjam, that they’re not listening to the best in their town. They’re listening to the best in the world. Very little jealousy. I think all the steelers recognize that regardless what level a steel guitar player has developed to, he has his own thing to offer on the instrument. That is synonymous with steel guitar; it is as individual as the player. Every level has its own sound, and that’s just the great thing about it.

Laney: From a singer’s perspective, steel guitar to me is an instrument that each individual player brings his personality and his soul to it. It’s such a soulful instrument anyway. I think these guys are singing. They’re playing, but they’re singing especially when you get to a steel guitar show, and they carry all of it. If you know them personally, you almost know when you hear that person play that personality takes over in what they bring to the song.

Gib: Russ, what a huge step coming out of the hills of West Virginia, and falling into the Connie Smith show!

Russ: To me, it was like starting at the top and after that having no place to go. I had dreamed of someday being a part of that. Listening to all the records that Weldon Myrick played on was just great. It would be the dream of any steel guitar player to play with Connie Smith or with my other favorite, Ray Price, because of all the stuff that Buddy had done with him. Would you believe that after I worked with Connie for awhile, we did alot of tours with Ray Price? I got to be around Buddy Emmons a whole lot. It was like getting to go to steel guitar heaven. Buddy quit working with Ray Price and started playing bass with Roger Miller. I had done so many shows with them that I knew Ray’s stuff. Just as soon as Buddy went to California to do the bass gig, I got that job with Ray Price. It was really tough leaving Connie, but I believe the only one I could leave Connie for would be Ray Price.

Working with Price was great. At that time, he had five fiddle players. Buddy Spicher was the leader. They did all these string arrangements on his records so we could do them live. Sometimes I would play viola parts on the steel, and it was a whole lot of fun. After a year or so, Price insisted all his musicians be based out of Dallas, Texas. I was starting to work into the studio thing because of my connections, and I couldn’t do that very well from Dallas. That’s why I left the organization, moved back to Tennessee. I was starting to get enough studio work to justify staying in Nashville.

Gib: Did you fall into a job right away?

Russ: I lucked into a club job. That was in the early 70’s. Probably $40 to $50 dollars a night, but that adds up to a couple hundred dollars a week that you can count on. Scale at that time was probably $60 or $70 dollars a session. So two sessions coupled with the club thing was enough to make a living. Charlie McCoy was my main connection. I did a session with him and Kitty Wells at The Barn. He found out I was from West Virginia, and he’s from West Virginia. You talk about politics. You get somebody like that in your corner, and things start happening. The 70’s and 80’s was when I did most of my studio work with lots of people. Then after that, I eased into not doing so many.....

Laney: You eased right into Hee Haw.

Russ: That again was due to Charlie McCoy. He was the music director of Hee Haw. That happened in 1980 to 93 when it folded. I was mighty lucky.

Gib: What was Laney doing all that time?

Laney: I was dreaming the same dream he had. It’s real ironic that Russ was brought to Nashville by Connie Smith. I was listening to every move she made. I think I knew the Weldon Myrick licks as well as he did because I was living for the next intro on the radio, cause I knew that Connie Smith would be right after that. I grew up with the same dream, I wanted to come to Nashville, Tennessee. I started singing on a local TV show when I was seven years old and sang every year until I graduated high school. I came to Nashville and signed with Monument Records. They wanted me to be safe. Red Foster was a real fatherly figure, and he put me on the road with Charlie McCoy. So straight out of the chute, I was with people I had dreamed about. The first show I did, Connie Smith was on that show. I really wanted to know her, but I didn’t want to know her that night. Russ was in the band on the first showcase that I did in Nashville during the DJ convention in 1977. He said sweet things to me that night. Ruined me. I made the mistake of liking him.

Gib: This is storybook kinda stuff.

Laney: You know, it really is. In fact, I’ll tell you. About a year ago, a friend of ours sent us an old tape of a Grand Ole Opry performance from back in the 60’s of Connie Smith introducing her new steel player, Russell Hicks. I sat there and cried like a baby just listening to that. I knew what it meant to him at that moment to be on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry with his favorite girl singer. And I knew how much it meant to me. We have lived a dream. We’ve been very lucky.

Gib: You guys have got it made. I can tell by looking at you, you’re proud of each other and still glad to be in the same room. That is cool!

Laney: We are lucky that we think alike. We like the same things, and the things that he doesn’t like that I do like, he’s learned that I’m normally right about those things.

Russ: Wisdom comes with age; doesn’t it?

Laney: He is a musician, and he realizes that even though he physically built the house we live in, but he does understand by the laws of the land, I let him live in that house. Russ’s other thing is carpentry.. He physically built the house, and I love the house.

Gib: 24 years and 2 daughters, right?

Russ: Right, who are showcasing on the new gospel album. It’s almost more than I fathom sometimes.

Laney: We just about cry when we hear it.

Gib: Russ and Laney Hicks, I just want to say thanks. It’s been an honor talking to you. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody look so happy in a long time.

Russ & Laney: Thanks, Gib.

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