Pete Drake’s legacy beyond his steel guitar virtuosity


On May 1, 2022, Pete Drake became the first pedal steel guitarist inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Georgia native deserves such an honor if only for his incomparable session work on Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man”, Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors”, Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden” and other references in country music history.

Overall, Drake worked tirelessly as an elite session player from his 1959 arrival in Nashville until his death in 1988 at the age of 55.

“Part of the Hall of Fame induction is because Pete has contributed so much to country music,” his widow and longtime business partner, Rose Drake, told wide open country. “Not just with his steely game, but with songwriters and artists as a producer. He had three different studios and he contributed a lot to the music industry.”

Through his roles as a producer, publishing house owner and record label boss, Drake left a positive impact on young artists – first as proof that country music was not for the squares, then as a mentor – before focusing on reimbursing one of his professional inspirations.

A rock and country innovator

(L to R) Pete Drake, Ringo Starr and Jack Drake (photo by Marshall Fallwell Jr. courtesy of Rose Drake)

Drake is synonymous with the “talking steel guitar” sounds he brought to Roger Miller’s “Lock, Stock and Teardrops”, Jeannie C. Riley’s “Mr. Harper” and other notable 1960s country songs. These recordings and Drake’s crossover hit “Forever” helped popularize dialog box technology, which, according to his Hall of fame bio used “a device that directed the sounds of the steel guitar into his mouth through a plastic tube, allowing him to turn those sounds into a vocal effect”.

Innovation and virtuosity made Drake a sought-after steel guitarist in the 60s and 70s for more than a long succession of country hits and a handful of Elvis Presley movie soundtracks. Working on Bob Dylan’s Music City Trilogy [John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait]by Joan Baez David’s ScrapbookRingo Starr’s Lots of Blues and George Harrison Everything must pass made his specialty instrument cool without irony for a young audience who otherwise might have thought of country as his parents’ music.

“Country music fans back then were older fans,” Rose Drake explained. “Then the new people that started coming to town, a lot of them came because they found out about Pete and the steel guitar from those [rock and folk] artists.”

Sessions for Harrison’s 1970 triple LP Everything must pass placed Drake in the same recording studio as rock guitar hero Peter Frampton. Lessons Learned from Drake filmed in 1976 Frampton comes to life! into a live double album that, to paraphrase Wayne Campbell, has become a suburban standard.

“Peter Frampton had heard the talker when he was young in a radio commercial,” Rose Drake said. “One of the things Pete and I did was record station IDs, sometimes for four or five hours at a time, and send them out to radio stations. Peter had heard one, but he didn’t know not how the sound came about. He didn’t know who it was. Then when Pete started playing it in the studio with George Harrison, he realized it was Pete. He was so smitten with it that Pete actually left the dialog there with Peter. Then when Peter started using it a few years later, he found his own style.”

Drake has also freely shared his talk box secrets with Joe Walsh. The future Eagles The guitarist tweaked Drake’s process – inspired by 1940s jazz musician Alvino Rey and enhanced by the work of sound engineer and Heil Talk Box inventor Bob Heil – for the 1973 blues-rock staple “Rocky Mountain Way”.

Drake’s cross-genre appeal earned him an offer at one point to join Neil Young’s touring band. Because Drake didn’t want to leave Nashville for long stretches and disrupt a steady stream of producer gigs and session work, he suggested Young’s longtime collaborator Ben Keith for the job.

The Drake School of Music

(Left to right) Linda Hargrove and Pam Rose with their mentor, Pete Drake

(Left to right) Linda Hargrove and Pam Rose with their mentor, Pete Drake (courtesy Rose Drake)

A forward-thinking talent whose greatness transcends his brief creative connection to “Tennessee Whiskey” co-writer Dean Dillon, Linda HargroveThe story of Drake’s passion for helping young dreamers reach their full potential.

“Linda was like the songwriter’s daughter, he said, that he never had,” Rose Drake explained. “I think Linda came to town after hearing the Bob Dylan recordings specifically to look for Pete because she became such a big fan of his music. We had a recording studio and we had all these publishing companies, and so we lived and breathed new talent all the time. Pete really loved watching a songwriter grow, and almost all of our songwriters, we got them when they first came to Nashville. We don’t ‘We haven’t signed big-name writers like the big publishing houses do. . We just recruited new talent.”

The Drake family opened its doors in the 1970s to stunt doubles from Pete, Hargrove to future steel guitar innovator Paul Franklin.

“They were spending all the holidays with us for dinner parties,” Rose Drake added. “All summer, every weekend, they would come to our house and we would play softball, swim games, play poker all night. They were creating this atmosphere of songwriting and leaning on each other. on top of each other. Then Pete would put them all in the studio when the studio wasn’t booked, and they all learned to be engineers. Linda Hargrove learned to be a producer. She learned to be an engineer. He would take her to recording sessions with him so she would get to know the producers. Then if anybody needed a beat, they’d be like, ‘Why don’t you try Linda?’ became a session musician like that. That’s just how he always worked. He did that with David Allan Coe. He did that with Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose, Jeff Twill, Larry Kingston. ‘called the Drake School of Music.”

Reimburse Ernest Tubb

Ernest Tubb and Pete Drake in the studio, circa 1979

Courtesy of Rose Drake

As a record label owner, Drake supported acts shunned by Music Row. For example, his longtime Stop Records imprint was released Otis Williams and the Midnight Cowboysa 1971 album by a black country artist best known for his work with the doo-wop group The Charms.

“Otis and Pete were really close friends, and Pete’s bus driver actually introduced them,” Rose Drake explained. “They were trying to figure out how to do a new project on Otis Williams because Pete was a fan of his. They thought since it was Nashville and he already had his whole band, maybe they’d do a country album. Otis is from I loved the idea of ​​calling it the Midnight Cowboys. At the time, Otis was a barber, I think in Cincinnati. He went back to work, and he didn’t hit the road. He didn’t wasn’t really promoting it that much.”

Drake’s crowning as label head parted ways with Stop’s deep and rewarding catalog of obscurities and benefited the pop culture icon Ernest Tubb: the longtime boss of Drake’s older brother, bassist Jack Drake.

“Pete’s favorite project was Ernest Tubb, The legend and the legacy album,” Rose Drake said. “Pete’s father passed away when he was a young boy. Because Jack was with Ernest so much and Pete came to spend time with him, he felt like Ernest was like a second father. He respected him so much.”

A gift for Tubb’s 65th birthday, 1979 The legend and the legacyfeatured a who’s-who of artists inspired by the country singer and bandleader, including Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Paycheck, Charlie Daniels, Conway Twitty, Marty Robbins, Loretta Lynn, Vern Gosdin, George Jones, Merle Haggard , Johnny Cash, Ferlin Hushy and Rich.

“When Ernest was without a record company and MCA dumped him, Pete tried to get him a record deal and nobody wanted Ernest,” Rose Drake explained. “”At that time, few record companies wanted mainstream artists. So when that didn’t happen, Pete said, ‘I’ve got to find a way to give Ernest recognition back. We just can’t leave it on the street. That’s when he had the idea of ​​bringing in the big stars.”

The project launched First Generation Records, which became known in part for its Stars of the Grand Ole Opry series of scrapbooks, and honored the work of the Drake family’s professional guide.

“Ernest Tubb was the kind of man who was a straight shooter,” added Rose Drake. “He said what he meant. He was so blunt that we were often trying to figure something out and Pete would say, ‘Let’s step back for a minute and think about how Ernest would handle this. That’s how we ran our business for years.”

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