The late Pete Drake was a well-known session player from Nashville whose pedal steel guitar licks were heard on many great country music tracks in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. Songs like “ He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, “Stand by Your Man” by Tammy Wynette, “Lucille” by Kenny Rogers and many more. His influence was so widespread throughout those three decades that he just became the first steel guitar player ever inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
At the height of his career, Drake maintained such a busy session schedule that he played on most of the music coming out of Nashville.
“At one point,” says his widow and business partner, Rose Drake, “Pete was on 59 of Billboard’s top 75 songs.”
Drake’s ability to enhance a song with the pedal of steel extends beyond the country music genre. He recorded with Elvis, performed on a number of Bob Dylan albums including the song “Lay Lady Lay”, and performed on George Harrison’s solo album “All Things Must Pass”.
He was also a producer, song editor and even an inventor of sorts. He created the Talk Box which could push guitar sound through a tube, and when the tube was inserted into the mouth, it could be used to shape sounds or words.
The effect was so unique that he used it to record his own record, something unheard of for a steel guitar player. His exit from For all time earned him the nickname “King of the Talking Steel Guitar”.
His dialog would go on to influence rock music as well. In 1970, Drake showed his prototype to 20-year-old Peter Frampton at Abbey Road Studios in London.
“George Harrison had asked me to play acoustic guitar during those recording sessions,” Frampton recalls. (Harrison was recording Everything must pass.) “And then around the second or third day, George said, ‘We have Pete Drake from Nashville.
After Drake arrived, and during some downtime in the studio, he asked Frampton if he would be interested in hearing something a little “different”. When Frampton said yes, Drake pulled out a small box and put it on his steel guitar.
“And all of a sudden he plugs this in here, plugs that in there, and then pulls out a plastic tube,” Frampton says. “I thought to myself what was he doing? Then he puts the tube in his mouth and the pedal guitar just starts singing to me.
This immediately resonated with Frampton who, as a child, heard a similar sound on a rock and roll show he was listening to on Radio Luxembourg. It was used to announce station call letters. He had remembered the sound he had heard all those years ago, and couldn’t believe that a device capable of creating something like that was sitting right in front of him.
Frampton would later learn to work with a dialog box, eventually creating the signature sound heard throughout his 1976 album. Frampton comes to life. The album would sell over 8 million copies making Frampton an international superstar.
Others would use it too. In fact, Joe Walsh recorded “Rocky Mountain Way”, using the same dialog that Drake showed Frampton.
During the George Harrison sessions, Drake also met Ringo Starr. Ringo wanted to record a country album, so Drake invited him to Nashville and served as producer on his “Many of Blues” album. Drake’s wife says they got along so well, the two swapped shirts.
“Pete said he really liked Ringo’s shirt,” Rose says. “They were both the same size, so Ringo took it off and gave it to Pete. They actually swapped shirts.
The shirt is on display at the Musicians Hall of Fame Museum in Nashville. It’s there alongside Drake’s legendary “Ole Goldie” steel guitar that created the many different sounds heard on so many of Nashville’s greatest songs and albums.
Along with Drake’s induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, visitors can view an exhibit highlighting some of the Georgia native’s history and his many contributions to music (Drake was inducted Sunday with The Judds, Ray Charles and drummer Eddie Bayers.)
Country artists and musicians who knew and worked with Drake are thrilled that he is now a member of the CMHOF.
Vocalist Brenda Lee called him a steel guitar genius and a true gentleman.
Other steel guitar legends agreed with Lloyd Green describing Drake as “a master” and Paul Franklin saying, “Pete could make his guitar bleed anytime and anywhere.”
And those in the rock and roll world are also singing his praises.
“It’s so deserved, obviously,” said Frampton. “His legacy, first of all, he was one of the greatest steel players of all time. He was on the A team and played on so many legendary country hits.
And secondly, Frampton adds that he invented this dialog box.
Rose says Pete Drake loved teaching and sharing what he knew, embracing and encouraging young talent, and when it came to playing the instrument he loved, his main goal was always to present both the artist and song.
“Pete’s thing with the play sessions was that you had to listen to the lyrics and complete them, and give the artist a break,” Rose says. “That’s why he made slides. He didn’t try to play the whole song or the whole verse. He just did a slide and a fill. If you listen to the records he played on, his sound always stands out, but he never interferes with the song or the artist.
Visitors to the Country Music Hall of Fame can now better understand Drake’s legacy and his music.