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Lloyd Green Interview

Lloyd Green

The following interview by Gib Sun took place in November 2001 in Nashville, Tennessee and appeared in the Steel Guitar Rag.

Lloyd, thank you so much for joining us in the Steel Guitar Rag, and how are you doing tonight?

I know we talked about doing this for a long time and I’m so grateful that we’ve finally had the opportunity to sit down and get together on this.

What a great show, you, Tommy White, and Johnny Cox put on tonight on the stage of the Bell Cove.

Gib, anytime I get the chance to play with Tommy White I’m always going to take the opportunity and avail myself. To have Johnny Cox with us was a special pleasure too.

This is the third time that I’ve seen you and Tommy White together, and everytime has been incredible, not to mention the video that you and Tommy did together. I’ve probably gone through that video a dozen times. What a great night that was when you and Tommy recorded that but no better than what you did tonight!

Thank you very much, Gib. The video was a great joy for me to do with Tommy. Everytime I get to play with him is always a challenge, and he’s so great.

When I grew up, the name Lloyd Green first presented itself to me just after you did Gene Watson’s Farewell Party. What a terrific song!

Well, thanks. That was about 1978 or 79 I think when that record was big. That was one of those things that we did at the end of the session. They needed one more song for a filler for the album, so nobody got in our way. They just said, "Play it," and we did it in ten minutes in one take. It was one of the great ones.

Hard to believe that you had no preparation. That intro is just a classic.

The guys that were doing the session in those days, we were used to doing 3 or 4 songs a session. We were working 3 or 4 sessions each day, so it wasn’t really a challenge. It was something we did without thinking about it. If there had been any new musicians on that session, it would have been a lot different story. We were so used to working together. All we needed was one time to hear the song, do our song chart with the number system that we were using, and we were ready to cut it. Sometimes in those situations you get an average record, but, occasionally, a magical thing would happen. That’s the kind of record you can not plan. You could never, ever sit down and outline a record like that and make it work. It just has to be a spontaneous thing.

Great musicans, great singer.

Gene Watson is certainly one of my favorite 2 or 3 singers to ever record with. Mel Street and he are my favorite.

Speaking of Mel Street, the set that Lloyd Green, Johnny Cox and Tommy White did tonight began with Borrowed Angel. What a shot of lightning went through that audience!

Borrowed Angel is a great one. That was the very first Mel Street song we cut on the very first Mel Street session back in 1971. I knew that guy was going to be a success. I wish he was still around. He would have been a big county singer today in modern times. I think that Borrowed Angel really exemplifies what the Nashville Sound was back in the 60’s and 70’s. That goes right to the head of the class. That’s what country music in Nashville meant during that era.

Born in Leaf, Mississippi. Where abouts is that?

Leaf, Mississippi is a little town about 15 miles out of Lucedale, Mississippi. Lucedale, Mississippi is about 18 miles from the Alabama state line where I grew up in Mobile. Lucedale is a small town of about 25,000 people. I think it is still about that. Leaf, Mississippi is just a little road that goes through a small place. It’s not much.

Did you get any gospel roots back when you were growing up?

My Mom and Daddy used to sing gospel music all the time at home. They’d listen to the Grand Old Opry on the weekends on the little radio they had in the early 1940’s. I remember hearing all these wonderful gospel songs. My mother had 8 brothers and sisters, and they all sang. In fact, two of her brothers recorded a gospel album which I have at home. It’s a beautiful thing they cut in Mississippi in the 1960’s.

Were you playing on it?

No, I wasn’t playing on it. They didn’t know what I did. They knew I lived in Nashville and recorded records. In fact, my uncle said he’d make a deal with me. If I’d give them one of my instrumental records, they’d give me one of their gospel records.

That’s a collectors item in their lifetime!

Perhaps. Perhaps.

Speaking of gospel groups, we play a lot of the Happy Goodmans, and we hear a lot of Lloyd Green.

I did a lot of sessions with the Happy Goodman Family, including the double album which we recorded live in Huntsville, Alabama sometime in the late 70’s or 1980. I can’t tell you all that I recorded with them, I don’t remember, but I did a lot of gospel sessions with many people. They were among my favorites. Rusty Goodman, he was special. Vestel Goodman was bigger than life. Bless her heart, I didn’t know if she still remembers me. I probably haven’t seen Vestel in twenty years or more. She was so wonderful. What a great singer!

Charley Pride. Live at Panther. When did that happen?

Panther Hall album we did in July of 1968.

Is that about the time you were doing so many sessions and got the tag, "Mr. Nashville?"

Well ,actually about that same period of time, it was about a year or so before, I had an album on Chart Records called Mr. Nashville Sound. I think that’s where this came from. It’s a misnomer really. I was only a part of the Nashville Sound. Lots of people refer to me sometimes as Mr. Nashville Sound, but that dates from that album title. I don’t like to take too much credit because I was only one part of that unit that created the Nashville Sound in that era. I was grateful to be part of it.

Maybe, but I think most people who really have music on the inside of them realize that steel guitar makes great gospel music even better.

Oh, I think so, too. You know, gospel songs to me are the best melodies to play on steel guitar. I think that’s one reason the Hank William’s songs, even though most of them are not gospel lyrics, but if you take the lyrics away, they’ve got all those wonderful gospel melodies. That’s why they make such great instrumentals.

Is a country song really a country song without a great steel player filling up the holes?

I don’t think so. Of course I’m bias, obviously. I think country music and steel guitar are synonymous.

You’re more than bias, you’re absolutely right. You’ve played with about everybody. Let me ask you about Charley McCoy, Freddie Hart. Easy Lovin, you did that didn’t you?

Yea, we recorded that about 1970. Charley McCoy, me, Billy Sanford, and Pig Robbins came up with that intro on the spur of the moment. It’s another one of those quickie things.

How about Faron Young and Pete Drake? You got any great memories of those fellows?

Certainty Faron, I did most of Faron Young’s stuff in the 60’s through the mid 70’s when he was on Mercury Records. My good friend Junior Brown thinks some of my best steel playing was on the Faron Young records. Certainly the tone and the sound was top of the line. That was about as good as my steel could sound, the way they were mixed on the Faron Young records.

I can almost disagree with you. I’ve talked with a lot of your friends preparing for this interview, and they think you’re playing better now than you’ve ever played before. After hearing you tonight and the video with Tommy White, it’s hard to deny.

That’s a great compliment. I never quit thinking about the instrument; I never quit trying to strive for new ideas. I felt like it was important to keep forging ahead. If I stopped, there would be no reason to keep continue playing. It’s an endless adventure playing the steel guitar;, you’re only limited by your imagination. As long as you got a good brain, you can think and play anything on the instrument. It’s an endless journey.

I think it was Billy Robinson that told me that one of his favorite memories was eating lunch with you and Roger Miller.

That was back in the 1950’s. I was struggling. Roger played fiddle with us. I worked with Faron Young when I first came to Nashville when I was nineteen. Billy Robinson was one of my heroes. He had quit playing the steel at that time. He had become very successful as a graphic artist. He was someone I really admired. He had enjoyed the music, but he had decided he wanted a legitimate life-style. He became quite successful with his own businesses, but came back to the steel guitar in recent years. He was always a very interesting man I enjoyed being around. I would go by his office to see him. Kinda cheered me up when times were hard in the late 1950’s. I think by the time I started college, actually I’d gotten myself together. I never was any problem after that. When you mature, things change, too. By the time I started doing sessions, I felt like I knew who I was, and I think that’s what we all try to strive for-to learn who we are. Once you’re comfortable with yourself, then you’re comfortable with other people. And I might tell you, to be successful with sessions, you’ll never do it if you have problems. It’s an atmosphere with a creative environment, and you’ve got to deal with people on a level they’re comfortable, or otherwise they don’t call you.

I bet your beautiful wife, Dot, got met up with right around that time. Is that part of the settling down process?

Indeed, I met Dot within weeks after I came to Nashville when I was nineteen. We were married six months after I got here. I’d planned to go back to college at that time, but I never got back. But we’ve been married a long, long time now. She’s been the anchor for me. She’s really the stable one in the family. She’s still my sweetheart after 43-44 years.

You know what? It really shows. You guys are peas in the pod.

She’s a great gal. She’s always been supportive, even in the hard times. When we were struggling back in the 1950’s, early 1960’s, she kept encouraging me to play music. She always believed in me. I think without her support, I probably would never- I would have ended up playing in a club somewhere. We left Nashville a couple of times and came back a third time before I was ever able to break into recording sessions.

Dot told me that at one time things got so rough that you were actually selling shoes to pay the bills.

Indeed, I sold shoes for about 3-3 years--lowest point in my life, but it was a necessary passage of rites. I don’t regret it, but I just didn’t want to starve to death playing on the road which was pretty dismal back in the 1950’s.

The other thing she told me that really touched my soul because you guys are a picture of long-term love, is the most miserable time she’s ever had in her life when you were on the road in the Vegas-Reno circuit for a full month. She said that’s the only month you’ve ever been apart.

Well, it was the longest time we were ever separated. That’s when I decided to quit playing the road. I came back from that trip; I was with Ferlin Husky. We got back, my phone bill was almost as much as what I had made for the entire month. So it was a wasted month, and I said, "If I’m gonna not make any money, I’ll stay at home." That’s when I got a job selling shoes about 1959 or 1960, I think.

Wow, let me just thank you and the Lord for pulling you out of that because the world would have been short changed some really great music. Hey, how about Don Williams? Any favorite memories of your time with Don Williams?

Well, I did all the great era of the Don Williams records, played steel guitar and Dobro on the records. That was the only artist I recorded with where we actually conceived and worked for a long time to come up with a sound for the man. We would go in and do demo sessions to try achieve the sound that we would finally arrived at. Each time we would record, he and the producer Garth Fundis and Alan Reynolds who produced Garth Brooks, they would start chiseling away stuff that we were doing and they would say, "We’ll take a little bit of this away and take this away." One day we were down, I felt like to the last-if they take one more note away the entire architecture of the music was going to crumble, and that’s when they said, "That’s it; that’s the sound." So that’s how we ended up with the Don Williams’s sound. But that was the only artist I ever worked with where we actually created a sound over a period of time for that became the standard for his music.

He really did have a signature sound. So that’s how it came about?

The very first record we recorded was Amanda. That was the very first record he had out. I don’t know how big a record that was. Later Waylon Jennings cut it and had a big record. I played three Dobro parts on this record, and it is still one of my favorites. He cut so many great ones, great songs called You’re My Best Friend, Lord I Hope This Day Is Good.

Tender, but manly songs weren’t they? I mean it just made you feel good to listen to that stuff.

Yea, and his songs they were, they were not depressing things;, they were very emotional and deep-felt, intelligent, thoughtful lyrics, I think.

What are some of the Paycheck songs that you did? Do you recall?

I did all the Paycheck stuff on Lil’ Darlin’ Records. That was the early years. Everything for Motel Time Again, Jukebox Charlie, just great stuff.

Ever work with George and Tammy?

I usually worked with them if Pete Drake was not available. He was their first choice, and that’s why I wound up on one of the big songs of Tammy’s, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, because Pete was unavailable that day. So I lucked-out on one of her big records.

Speaking of the Dobro, I didn’t know you played Dobro. I’m glad you mentioned that. I’ve only seen you with a single neck-the E9 Nashville Sound neck. Have you ever played C6, or have you just made such a terrific contribution with E9 that you stayed with it?

No, I always played C6th until I invented the LDG, the padded model that you see on all the guitar models now that all the companies make. I think I invented that guitar in 1973. From 1964 when I started doing session, until 1973, I played C6th. In fact, on some of my early instrumental albums, I played quite a bit of C6th. I recorded 15 instrumental albums, so these things are somewhat obscure now, some of the early ones. There’s a good bit of C6th on the first ones.

The thing that sets Lloyd Green apart to me is your tone. It is just distinctive and clear. Have you got any secrets?, You must, but can you explain any of those?

Tone is a very personal, subjective thing. I think tone is the most intellectual part of playing music and the most difficult thing to achieve. To me, it’s the bottom line. That’s the hardest part of playing steel guitar is to play it with great tone. It’s a thoughtful thing that you work on and try to explore. It took me a long time. I can hear the evolution of my playing on recordings. Fortunately I’ve got that that I can refer to. You’d be surprise how poor my tone sounded on a lot of the 1964 records. The originality was always there, but the tone was an evolving thing. The more I listen to the playback, the more I realized that if I wanted to be a really complete steel player, tone was ultimately the pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow. So I strived for that. It’s too complex to explain exactly how you get tone here, but it involves lots of processes of thought. It’s really like an engineer. You sit down and figure some of this stuff out; how to do it with the guitar, with the picks, with the different parts of the guitar you play on, the amount of pressure you apply with the bar itself; and obviously, the kind of guitar you have, the kind of amplifier you have, and even volume controls, cords, everything. I could draw you a list of maybe fifty ingredients that go into getting tone. To me, it’s just simply the most important part of playing. Without tone, it’s all irrelevant.

Certainly can tell that, because that sets you apart along with John Hughey.

I want to elaborate a little bit on that. The reason tone is so important is because I think ultimately that’s what is the emotional connection when you’re playing music to what people are hearing. If they hear good tone, there is something that strikes a resonant note in the soul. You can be playing the greatest stuff in the world, but if it doesn’t have good tone, there’s something that’s not making a connection. I think that’s what people really hear first. I think they hear tone; something that’s pleasant to their ear then they get tuned into what you’re doing. It’s like tuning in a radio station. Suddenly, they come across this station. That’s a very clear station, and the sound is very pure, and it stops you for a moment.

That’s exactly what happened tonight, no kidding, when you guys kicked-off Borrowed Angel. People levitated off their seats, and it was the tone and the emotional attachment to that song that does it.

Well, I think it did too. But more than that, that song, of course is so synonymous with, as we were talking earlier, with Country Music what it really meant in the 60’s and 70’s. It’s like one of the national anthems of that era, but still it needs to be played with good tone. I’ve heard people play it. You’ve got to play with expression. That’s what makes it come alive and breath life into the song.

Thank you so much for taking this time and giving us a little insight to the legend of Lloyd Green, one of the truly great steel guitar players of all time. I think I’m talking to Michael Jordan.

What a great compliment! I want to tell you what a joy it has been. I know we talked about doing this for a long time, but I’m so grateful that we finally had the opportunity to sit down and get together. Lots of people listen to the music that you play on the show, and I know it’s a great program, and I’m honored to be part of it today.

We certainly are too, and thanks again, Lloyd, and keep up the good work. That’s all we can say, and thank you so much.

Thank you, Gib Sun.

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