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Weldon Myrick Interview

Weldon Myrick

This interview by Gib Sun took place at the North Tennessee Steel Guitar SuperJam, July 1, 2003.

Gib: What a pleasure it is having you here for the Steel Guitar Rag!

Weldon: It’s my pleasure. Do you know that that particular song is what I opened up my Jakejam with that I started in my home town of Jayton, Texas, on October 18th? Jake is in between Abilene and Lubbock. Anybody in that area can come and join us and pick. There is lots of singing and picking. It last most of the day on that Saturday.

Gib: Boy, you answered a big question in my mind. You know; you look like a Texas boy.

Weldon: Well, I guess my statue fits the part. I was born and raised there, and the town was great to me growing up. This jam is a free show for everybody. They appreciate it, and I appreciate it. They even named a street after me showing their appreciation of what I did and the business.

Gib: Weldon Myrick, the humble man he is, is a hall of fame member. I see your plaque on the wall every year, and you are a well appreciated man. What was it; forty-two years with the Opry?

Weldon: Actually, I count when it was regular, and that’s thirty-two years. I loved every minute of it. They had no idea I’d paid them. It was time to move on and let somebody else have the reins.

Gib: The thing that sticks in my mind is the great work you did with Connie Smith.

Weldon: I tell you, that was a God-send for me. It opened all the doors. Bill Anderson, of course, who I was working for at that time, he made all that happen. I’ve always appreciated him and her. I appreciate Mr. Bill Ferguson, Connie’s producer. He was an old steel man himself. He and I got along really well. We did some things together, like the Choctaw Indian reservation in Philadelphia, Mississippi. It was a great rapport. I did lots of things for RCA in those days, and Bob said being an old steel player himself was one of the reasons he liked to turn the steel up real hot on those recordings.

Gib: You’ve sure given a lot to this industry. How did you get started growing up in Jayton, Texas?

Weldon: My brother was twelve years older than I am. He was living in Lubbock, Texas. Back in those days, the Hawaiian sound on a steel was real popular. They had the Awaho instruction schools, and you could get instructional material from Jerry Byrd, Leon McCulliffe and a few others. He was taking lessons and learning to play. He came to Jayton to visit the folks and left it at our house. I heard him play that thing. I’d heard it on the radio. I was eight or nine years old, and I didn’t know what I was listening to until I heard that. That was the sound. I couldn’t sleep that night thinking about that sound. He saw how crazy I was about it, and he left it with me and said, "I hope you can do good with it." Of course, we couldn’t tune it, but he would come back occasionally and tune it up. He had lost the bar, so I used my dad’s pocket knife and slid around on the strings just learning how. It wasn’t a very expensive guitar, but my dad took me to Lubbock to a music store where he bought me another guitar. They let me pick one out, and I picked a little Rickenbacker Bakelite model that had the little medal plates on the front of it. Jerry Byrd played one like that, and at the time I didn’t know he did, but I just loved the sound of it. The man at the music store said, "This boy has made an excellent choice. This is a real good guitar." I kept learning, and I had some buddies that would pick, and they would get me to come over with them. There were two guys that were older than I was. One of them had a machine that cut those little plastic disc called a rec-a-cut. We’d just sit in there and record those plastic disc. We’d play Back up and Push, Rubber Dolly and those things. I was trying to learn to play Steel Guitar Rag, and we’ve got copies now where he had saved those things. I had a buddy of mine here in Nashville take some of those and make cassettes out of them and preserve them a little longer. That’s how I got started listening to the radio and record player and stuff. I met a fellow named Ben Hall. He has a recording studio here in Nashville now. At the time, he lived in Breckenridge, Texas, and he had a jamboree every Saturday night. He heard me play. I was fourteen at the time, and he said, "I’d like for you to play for me on this jamboree." So I would go down there and pick with him. He had one of those machines himself. He had everything set up in his dirt floor garage, and we’d cut those disc. He’d say, "You’ve got to keep a steady volume. You can’t be picking light here and hard there. I can’t pick it up right." So he was really teaching me what became my forte; that’s recording. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was a heck of a background to get me going.

I see Ben quite often. In fact, I was over at his studio here in town yesterday doing a session with a young man from Texas who was doing demos of songs he had written. Jesse McReynolds was playing mandolin, and I played Dobro on the session.Gib: Who did you have your first really big job with?Weldon: That would be after I came to Nashville. Prior to that it was locals. I did get to backup an Opry show in Lubbock one time. I played behind Minnie Pearl. She actually sang two or three songs. Jim Reeves and Ferlin Husky. Ferlin gave me nice long break on one of his songs, and I really appreciated that. I was thrilled to death to be on that show. That was the big time when I was growing up. I picked with some guys who later became really big artist. One was Buddy Holly.

Gib: Was that in the Waylon era?

Weldon: Yes! Waylon and I picked together on a television show each Saturday with a girl named Hope Griffith. She was twelve or thirteen years but sang wonderfully. After I graduated from high school, we did some things together at Ben Hall’s studio in Big Spring.

Gib: Those have to be huge memories for you.

Weldon: They really are. I got to meet Billy Walker, who was performing on the Louisiana Hayride, and Hank Lockland on a radio station in Lubbock. The station was located in a cotton field. They were purely country and had a great listener base. Every Sunday, they would have what they called a Sunday Party. Anybody that wanted to could come out and pick and be on the show. It was good to get to know them because after I got to Nashville and our paths met, we had that little bit of background. Even today, I pick with Billy Walker. We go out and play some shows. In fact, Saturday night we did the reunion at the Louisiana Hayride, and that was one wonderful thing for me. I used to listen to that show in the 50’s, and I thought the sound was so wonderful. It had that natural big room sound, and it still has that sound.

Gib: You are one of Russ Hick’s big idols. He made me promise to ask you about the fuzzy steel guitar story.

Weldon: After I came to Nashville, I bought a Fender 1000, and I decided I needed to put a new finish on it. So I sanded off the finish that was on it and put another finish on it. Before it had time to set and dry good, I had run into Bill Anderson at the Grand Ole Opry, and we set up a date for me to audition for a job. He invited Walter Haynes and Little David Wilkerson, a piano player, as judges on whether I could do it or not. Bill was coming off his big hit Still, so I was real excited about the tryout. We went to his office in the Hubert Long building. When I started to take my guitar out of the case, I pulled it up all the fuzz in the case stuck to it, and it just looked hairy. Bill said, "What in the world is that?" I said, "I don’t really know. I think the thing wasn’t really dry and everything stuck to it." It looked like it needed a shave or a haircut. I did audition and Walter said, "He’ll do a fine job for you." So Bill booked me on a demo and said if I do okay on the demo, for sure you’ve got the job. One of the songs he put on it was Peel Me a Nanner.

Gib: You played on a song with a major artist where you didn’t use a bar. You used a tube of lipstick!

Weldon: That’s correct! Carol Lee Cooper, who is the girl with the backup singers in the Grand Ole Opry, has a daughter named Vanessa. Vanessa at the time, was just a young little girl, and she had an empty lipstick tube. It was metallic and sort of favored a bar. She gave it to me and said you might want to try this. I did, and it had a particular sound to it. So I was carrying it around, and I was recording with Reba McIntyre, and she did a song called Little Rock. I used it on that recording, and I guess that’s the only one I used it on, but it had a particular little sound about it.

Gib: Would you call yourself primarily a studio musician?

Weldon: That’s always been my main bag, recording. I do like playing out live. Of course, the Grand Ole Opry was live, and I enjoyed that all those years. Steel shows, I enjoy that. What I don’t enjoy is not being able to do the things that I used to do, and I guess that is just a natural thing. I’ve had a tough time dealing with that, but I’m doing better with it now.

Gib: Johnny Bush. Was that just studio work with Johnny Bush? Some real innovative steel sounds.

Weldon: Several of the things I did with Johnny were produced by Ray Pennington. In those days, we tried to be a little different. Somebody wanted to hear something that was a little bit different or unusual. Unlike what you hear today, many artist sound so much alike. It’s hard to tell whose singing; sounds like they could be using the same track.

Gib: The first true instrumental of yours that just blew me away and does so everytime I hear it was Connie’s Song. I’m surprised you were able to get that recorded back in the old days.

Weldon: I contrived that little medley after Mr. Bob Ferguson had called me and said he’d like to do some instrumentals on me. The deal was that RCA would lease it from me, but I had to do it. Hubert Long financed my session to do that, and then they leased it. Since it was Connie’s singing that actually got me the deal, I combined three of her songs and called it Connie’s Song. The backside was called Charlotte. That’s where Bill was doing a TV show that we did quite a few of, and that was the theme song we used. The way that came about is he always loved Rose City Chimes. Ralph Emery was using that as a theme on his late night radio show. Bill said if he could have something similar to that, but not that. So that’s what I came up with.

Gib: How did you get started at the Opry?

Weldon: Well, when I got into it, it was an open house. Anybody could go down and work the Opry. If they walked in the door, and one of the artist said, "Hey! How about working my spot tonight?" Then you got the job. I had been working with Bill Anderson and when I left his band, I was working an office for the Emmons Guitar Company out on Dickerson Road in Nashville. I went down to the Opry and noticed that Hal Rugg was the only guy that was still going down there. Pete had quit going down, and Lloyd and a few others that had been going down there were just not appearing. Of course, the spots didn’t pay that much, but I just loved Opry. I said. "You think I could play some spots with you down here?" He said, "Man, that would be great. I don’t have time to use the restroom. I’m just sitting out here constantly." He said," Let’s go talk with Ott Divine." He was the manager at the time. I said, "Great!" I asked Ott about it, if I could come in and help out. He said, "Man, we’d love to have you down here; come on." So I did, and I did that for 6 or 7 months, and then Connie formed a band. I asked Ott, "Can I get a leave of absence so I can try this out and see how it works?" So I was gone about 5 months picking with Connie. Then I saw it was going to be more lucrative for me to stay in town. Because of her records, I was getting some calls to record. I left Connie’s band and went back to the Opry, and Hal was still the only one there. I said, "I’m back!" Hal said, "Great! Glad to have you." I stayed for 32 years.

Gib: The NTSGA is a club with a lot of camaraderie and kinship and creativity. You guys get along so well.

Weldon: We do. Hal and I helped Sonny Burnette get in at the Opry. He was doing the Ralph Emery early show and the Opry on the weekends. The three of us worked side by side doing our little string parts and working with various artist for all those years together. We never had one falling out over anything. We had artists that would switch us. They’d say, "I want to use you instead of Hal or Hal instead of Weldon." We never had any hard feelings of that. It just seemed the natural thing to do. There wasn’t any hint of it.

Gib: Doesn’t a lot of that come from the instrument itself; so creative that I don’t think pickers quibble over showing each other licks. I’ve seen you guys talk for hours about how you do things.

Weldon: I tell Hal everytime I see him, "Hey, I haven’t learned a new lick since you left the Opry." He would just laugh cause we would learn a lot of stuff from each other. Hal is an accomplished musician. He gets pretty deep with it, a lot deeper than I ever dared to go. Because of recording being chief in my mind, I have mentally stayed simpler in what I wanted to do. Eventually, for what ever reason, he quit the Opry. Then it was Sonny and I for a few years, and then he left. He left because of his pension, and he had a bad hip. It was getting so hard for him to carry his guitar out on the stage. So it was just me for the last several years I worked it.

Sonny worked with Webb Pierce for years. After Slowly came out, he went to work with Webb and played Webb’s steel guitar, which was Bigsby pedal steel guitar. Bud Isaacs cut Slowly and three or four other sides with Webb, and all those years it was Sonny Burnette. Without any knowledge who played it, most people have never given Sonny the credit for some of the things he did. He actually did the follow up to Slowly which was More and More. They told him, "We want to use the steel in the intro like Slowly, but we don’t to use that lick." So he sort of reversed the lick if you recall. He also did a recording with Webb and Red Solvine Little Rosa, he did that, just numerous hits Webb had in the 50’s.

Gib: Alan Jackson’s Chatahoochee. Wasn’t that you?

Weldon: I did Chatahoochee. I think I did most of the songs on that particular album. Pete Drake made a statement one time that stuck with me. He said, "The main thing to do when you are recording is to try to make a difference. Make a good difference that makes that record commercial." I’ve always thought about that. I’ve tried to use that philosophy.

Gib: Well, congratulations. You really get it done.

Weldon: Thanks, Gib.

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