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Lloyd Green

From the A Team to Americana
 
Lloyd Header

Lloyd Green with the the signature model pedal-steel guitar he designed for the Sho-Bud company in 1973. Prior to this, a single on a double-neck cabinet with pad didn’t exist. This steel has been used on more than 5,000 recording sessions and it continues to be his primary steel. The seat is a Sho-Bud Pac-a-seat he has used since 1973. Photo: Rusty Russell.

Lloyd Green is back on Nashville’s cutting edge. From the mid 1960s until the late ’80s, as part of Music Row’s legendary A-team of first-call studio musicians, his original, edgy, and aggressive pedal-steel guitar graced countless singles and albums. Among them is Warner Mack’s “The Bridge Washed Out,” the hit that made Green’s reputation and Johnny Paycheck’s and Lynn Anderson’s earliest successes. He was present to help create hits for Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride and Freddie Hart, Don Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mel Street, John Anderson, and Gene Watson. Paul McCartney’s “Sally G” and the Byrds’ landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo album (see sidebar) benefited from Green’s presence.

After pioneering a powerful, percussive in-your-face style, Green devised a new pedal-steel configuration in 1972 and continued his career until problems with his hearing forced him to retire in ’88. He spent 15 years away from recording before returning to find that much of “country” sounded like classic rock. But he found a new constituency – younger artists outside Nashville’s mainstream who revered his earlier work. Approaching 71, he has clearly found a second wind allowing him to continue the same spirit of innovation that burst forth nearly 45 years ago.

Lloyd Lamar Green was born in Leaf, Mississippi, in 1937. Four years later, with World War II looming, his family relocated to Mobile, Alabama, which was about to become a center of war-related manufacturing. Circa 1944, Lloyd began studying the Oahu Method For Steel Guitar. Popular in many parts of America, the company offered “test lessons” to gauge talent. Lloyd did so well with those lessons that though Oahu didn’t permit kids under 14 to study, they made an exception for him. “I became the poster child for the course when I was about 10 years old,” he said. “By then I’d bought my first electric Hawaiian guitar – a Rickenbacker, bakelite, probably 1943-’44 model, and an Oahu amp.”

At every weekly lesson, his teacher gave him a Hawaiian tune and a pop tune to learn. “I had a photographic memory, so I didn’t have any problem. The teacher would play songs for the following week’s music and I would memorize them immediately. I could play it exactly like she played it. By the time I was nine years old, I could play better than my teacher.” Like many steel players of his generation, his first hero was Eddy Arnold sideman Little Roy Wiggins, followed by Jerry Byrd, whom Green calls “The first steel guitar artist. He had all the ingredients of tone, intonation, emotion, artistry and sound. He was a true artist. He and I were friends in the latter stage of his life. I don’t think anybody has ever advanced the precepts of his concept of how to play the Hawaiian or steel guitar. I could play Byrd’s stuff pretty good, but then I heard Don Helms with Hank Williams, so I was learning the records when I was a kid, as country music became a big deal.”

Green started playing pop music in Mobile nightclubs at age 10. He moved to country, played through high school, and after graduation attended Mississippi Southern College (now the University of Southern Mississippi). Like many non-pedal players, Bud Isaacs’ work on Webb Pierce’s “Slowly” inspired him enough that he added a homemade pedal mechanism – the pedal came from a Model T Ford – to his Fender Stringmaster. “While in school, I was playing around Mississippi with Justin Tubb, the Wilburn Brothers, the Browns, Hank Locklin… It really whetted my appetite.” The work excited him so much that late in 1956, Lloyd shocked his parents by informing them he was going to Nashville. His long-term intention? “Going back to school after I got this out of my system,” earning his degree, and likely joining the military. “I met Dot and we got married six or seven months after I got to Nashville, and we’re still married.”

On December 26, 1956, 19-year-old Green pulled into Nashville and that same day, landed a job with Faron Young’s band. He’d spend a year and a half with Young, one of the era’s major stars, known for his volatile, outspoken nature. “Our first date was in Albuquerque in an ice arena. The first show (Faron) said, ‘Son, you got talent. I like your playin’. But that piece of crap you’re playin’ onstage – he was talkin’ about my Fender – is a huge embarrassment to the great Faron Young. You can’t play that piece of s**t on my show.’ He said, ‘I got a triple-neck Bigsby with one pedal on it.’ And that’s what he let me use the year and a half I worked for him.”

1943 Dobro square-neck

1943 Dobro square-neck (serial number A-147) given to Green by Hank Williams, Jr. during a recording session in 1969. Green used it throughout his career, most notably while recording with Don Williams. Photo: Rusty Russell.

In March, 1957, barely three months after arriving, Green did his first Nashville recording session with rising star George Jones, whom he met touring with Young. That session produced Jones’ hit single “Too Much Water.” “RCA’s (Nashville) studio had been open a month,” he remembers. “Hank Garland played guitar, T. Tommy Cutrer played drums, I played steel, Shorty Lavender played fiddle, and Strollin’ Tom Pritchard, who was also with Faron, played bass. Marvin Hughes played piano. They put a ribbon microphone in the hallway. They didn’t have a reverb chamber. It was primitive, analog recording. I said ‘This is where I need to be. This is where I’m gonna spend my life – in the studio.'”

Green left Young’s band in mid 1958, toting a new steel, thanks to Shot Jackson. The former non-pedal steel player for the Bailes Brothers and the duo of Johnny and Jack, Jackson had teamed with Buddy Emmons in ’57 to manufacture Sho-Bud pedal steels. “Shot befriended me and Dot, even from those days I worked with Faron,” Lloyd says. “He took me under his wing, adopted me, sort of. I always treated him fairly and he always treated me way more than fairly. He saved our life, financially, in the early days, a couple times.” Shot traded Green a Rickenbacker doubleneck with two retrofitted pedals for the Fender. He used the Rick the next three years, freelancing with Ferlin Husky, Jean Shepard, her husband Hawkshaw Hawkins, and Patsy Cline. Money remained tight, however, and by 1961 he took a day job selling shoes. “I put my guitar up, didn’t touch it or take it out of the case for two years,” he said. Promotion to an assistant manager’s position in Little Rock didn’t help. “Over six months, Dot and I felt like we were in prison,” he says.

By the spring of ’63, he was ready to try music again. His Musicians’ Union card expired, he sold shoes in Nashville until singer Roy Drusky, whom Green had accompanied onstage at the Grand Ole Opry, offered him a job. Along with performing and recording, Drusky managed the Nashville office of the music licensing company SESAC. Lloyd became Drusky’s assistant – a fast track back into playing – explaining, “It was just a magic carpet unfolded from the moment we made that decision after Easter, 1963. By Easter of ’64, I was recording and had a nice doubleneck Bigsby that Shot put six pedals on.” He admits, though, that his first amp choice, an Ampeg with a 12″ speaker, was “really timid and mellow. It wasn’t the amp for steel guitar.”

SESAC, he says, “was a good move because I assumed all the responsibilities. (Roy) didn’t spend much time in the office. I did all the front work. Our offices were right in the middle of Music Row, and the first week I was there, Slim Williamson, who owned Chart Records, hired me for a demo and a master session. That became my first (studio) account.” His second week at SESAC, he met independent New York record producer Aubrey Mayhew, who sold country material he recorded to low-budget labels and worked on a Mayhew-produced LP album by fiddler Gordon Terry. At Chart, Green began working with new artist Lynn Anderson, whose hits there led to greater stardom on Columbia Records with pop country classics like “Rose Garden.” “I was leader and producer on all those Chart sessions. Slim gave me carte blanche,” he says. Green accompanied singers’ recording demos for song publishers, which gave him freedom to try a new, assertive style. In ’64 he recorded his first album, a generic Hawaiian LP. Over the next 15 years he’d record 13 more solo albums.

As he did occasional sessions with Nashville A-teamers, Lloyd felt compelled to confine himself to tried-and-true mainstream riffs inspired by Buddy Emmons or Jimmy Day, until Grady Martin, one of Nashville’s all-time great studio guitarists, provided a needed reality check. ‘I kept blowin’ the intro. Grady stopped the session, put his guitar down, looked at me and said, ‘Lloyd, if we wanted Emmons or Day, we’d hire them! You got a thousand ideas floatin’ around in your head, if you’ll just relax and play ‘em!’ It was a moment of truth. From that moment on, I determined that I was gonna find my own way.”

One of the demos Green played on ended up with Decca recording artist Warner Mack, who dismissed the song but realized the steel licks were perfect for a new original he planned to record. He played the demo for “The Bridge Washed Out” for his Decca producer, Nashville Sound co-creator Owen Bradley, who preferred using steel guitarist Pete Drake on sessions. “Warner said, ‘Pete can’t play this.’ But Owen wasn’t buyin’ it. Still, he reluctantly let Warner use me on the session. Nashville was becomin’ a big deal. More business-oriented instead of just a laid-back little town to cut records. And the major producers didn’t want to use outside (non-studio) musicians.”

Green's newest steel

Green’s newest steel is this Show Pro signature model built in 2006. Photos: Rusty Russell.

Green's studio rig includes

Green’s studio rig includes this Fender Twin head and two cabs built by Rick Johnson with JBL D-130F speakers. He runs one at a time, the other is a backup.

Sho-Bud volume pedals

Green’s Sho-Bud volume pedals, two of which were given to him by Shot Jackson in 1967. “I use all of them at intervals in order to keep the pots working efficiently without scratching noises,” Green said.

The session, which took place March 16, 1965, proved memorable for Lloyd, who after setting up his Bigsby, rehearsed the song with Mack and the session band. “Bob Moore put his bass down and came over and said ‘Son, that’s a career for you right there – there’s your sound!’ Pretty soon everybody in the studio was sayin’ the same thing except (legendary studio guitarist) Grady Martin and Owen. Grady’s sittin’ next to me, doodlin’ around. I wanted his approval, too, so I said, ‘What do you think, Grady?’ He just looked at me and said, real sarcastically, and said, ‘S**t!,’ turned around, and started doodling again. I didn’t know what that meant, but thought it was his conditional approval.”

Conditional, perhaps, but not universal. “Owen was really gonna try to humiliate me and Warner. He’d push the control button and say, ‘Turn them damn highs off-a that steel! They’re killin’ my ears! You got too much volume!’ Soon, he stormed out of the control room and said, ‘I’ve gotta go make a phone call!’ and he was gone 20 minutes. I worked a lot of sessions for Owen for many years after that and he never again treated me that way. He never walked out of a session, but I think he was so furious Warner forced him into using me instead of Pete – he couldn’t stand the idea. Fast-forward three months, and the record comes out and immediately goes to number one. My career was launched. I was workin’ three and four sessions a day. “

There’s a coda to the story. One day, as “Bridge” peaked, Lloyd stopped for lunch at Waskanin’s diner, near Music Row. Bradley was there with Chet Atkins and Kapp Records producer Paul Cohen. “Some guy walked up and said, ‘Owen, I just heard this new Warner Mack record. That is a killer! It’s so original. I haven’t heard anything like that!’ Owen said, ‘Well, I really appreciate that. We knew we were on to something new when we cut it.’ I wanted to turn around and say, ‘Tell him the truth about what you said!’ But I thought ‘Okay, my point’s made.'”

He was about to get a chance to make greater points. In 1964, Aubrey Mayhew began producing hard-living, minor-league Nashville singer Donny Young (real name Donald Lytle), an Ohio native who arrived in Nashville in ’59 and worked with both Faron Young and Ray Price. His early solo records went nowhere but Mayhew saw potential. He took a new stage name; Johnny Paycheck, in honor of Chicago boxer Johnny Paychek. Mayhew sold Paycheck’s first releases to Hilltop Records, with Green playing steel. In ’65, Mayhew founded Little Darlin’ Records with Paycheck as its star.

Lloyd figured into Mayhew’s plans. “Aubrey wanted me to be more adventurous, and he had a two-tiered goal in mind. He said, ‘I’m gonna make you the most famous steel player since Speedy West.'”

In the mid ’60s, when few session musicians got label credit, Green’s name was all over most Paycheck releases, which included hits like “The Lovin’ Machine” and “Jukebox Charlie.” “(Aubrey) was promotin’ me at the same time, and every disc jockey in America knew who I was by then,” Green says. “I couldn’t wait to get in the studio. That was what I lived for, when I had total freedom – nobody to get in my way and just let me play those ideas. They weren’t done narcissistically, because I was keyin’ off the lyrics and the singer, the song and other musicians in the studio. But those ideas were kinda synthesized through that creative process. Anything I played was okay. It was never questioned.

“The problem was Mayhew would never do a second take. If we got an entire take, that was it. He said, ‘Nope. Got the feel.’ I’d beg him sometimes, but I don’t ever remember doin’ a re-take. And consequently there’s a lot of flaws on those records, but they’re also magical things that stand out because they were so different than the regular Nashville records.” That brought another downside, he recalls. “Nobody took Little Darlin’ seriously in Nashville, (not) Chet and Owen and Paul Cohen and (MGM’s) Jim Vinneau, all the producers. It never was vocalized, but there was a tacit disapproval that (these guys) are not serious. They’re just in there, jivin’ around. Well, we were not jivin’ around! We were exploring new territory. And it was a purposeful, thoughtful process. Everything was planned to sound that way. And nobody else had that sense of adventure. (The others) were gonna stick to the party line.”

A 10-year-old Green

A 10-year-old Green in 1947 with a Bakelite-covered Rickenbacker six-string and Oahu amp, in a photo used by the Oahu Company to encourage prospective students. He started taking Hawaiian-guitar lessons at age seven and by this time was playing professionally.

Steel players to this day characterize Green’s style as unconventional, “left field” licks, a term he doesn’t dispute. “They were unorthodox. Everybody who learns to play steel has to follow a traditional format because it’s such a difficult thing to learn. You’re incorporating hands, both feet, both knees. Your regular vision, your peripheral vision, and you gotta think about all this. I compare it to flyin’ a helicopter, but with talent. But I learned early on in cuttin’ records, you gotta get past thinkin’ about all those things. I never see the steel when I sit down. All I had to do was think about how to get ideas. How do I fit this into the song? If I had to think about all that stuff on an intellectual level, I couldn’t have done it, because I was working three or four sessions every day. And I worked sessions for 25 years, sometimes seven days a week.”

This surge of activity led Green to alter his gear. Of the Bigsby he used on “Bridge,” he admits, “Boy, it was tough to keep in tune. It broke strings terribly. (Shot) said, ‘I’m gonna build your first real Sho-Bud.’

“I started (playing sessions) right after Easter in 1964, and by ’65 he’d built my first Sho-Bud Permanent, with a pearl heart inlay right in the center – beautiful. Kind of an embarrassing little thing on one of the corners – it had the Sho-Bud logo where it was supposed to be, and on the other corner, a cartouche inlay that said ‘Mr. Green’ in pearl. I thought, ‘That’s a little pretentious.’ But it was great. I used it from ’65 until ’67.”

He’d abandoned the inadequate Ampeg amp in late ’64, when Owen Bradley’s studio-guitarist brother, Harold, got him a Fender. “All studios were covered with Fenders by then,” he notes. “You didn’t have to bring an amp, but none of ‘em had JBL speakers, which steel players like.” So Bradley ordered a ’65 Deluxe with one JBL D-120F. It cost $225. “That’s what I used on all that Little Darlin’ stuff until sometime in ’68, when I got my first Fender Twin.”

Green’s growing session activity ended his SESAC career, amicably, in 1967. “I was makin’ $50,000 or $60,000 or more a year (doing sessions), and they weren’t payin’ Roy but $25,000 or $30,000 a year at SESAC. I was grateful. They financed my on-the-job training in sessions and were real nice. But I did my work for ‘em.” That training became his entrée to Nashville’s A-team. “I became one of the top (session) leaders of the ’60s. The major leaders were Grady, then Harold Bradley, and myself. We were the three guys they came to when people called to cut a record.” He recorded instrumental singles and albums for Little Darlin’ with tunes like “Green Strings” and “Sweet Cheeks” percolating with the in-your-face licks that marked his work behind Paycheck.

That year, Jackson built him a Sho-Bud Fingertip model that he would use on over 2,000 sessions through 1970. He switched to a Fender Twin with JBLs, and in September recorded an album with a longtime hero, Western swing creator Bob Wills, for Kapp Records. Wills, now 62, no longer led the Texas Playboys; he’d never recorded in Nashville until signing with Kapp. Having built his reputation on spontaneous music, he detested Nashville’s approach, though most Nashville studio players, Green among them, revered his earlier work. “It was one of the highlights, to get to cut with Bob Wills, but we didn’t pull it off. It was a very sterile production,” he admits.

On June 15, 1968, Charley Pride performed at Fort Worth’s legendary country music emporium, Panther Hall. RCA, recording the show for an album, brought in a backup band of Nashville A-teamers led by Lloyd. Today, many consider Charley Pride in Person among a handful of great live country albums. “It was one of those rare nights,” Green says. “I’d already done chord charts and arrangements. We got there, and there was a lot of problems. So I told the guys, ‘Screw the charts,’ and I threw them into the audience. I said, ‘This ain’t workin’, so do what you all want to do. Play from your heart.’ You hear mistakes on there. (Bassist) Junior Husky goes to the wrong chord. You hear my volume level swell sometimes, trying to pull everybody back into the right chord. But of all the albums I cut in my life, that’s my favorite.” Green recorded with Pride for years (though not his biggest hit “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'”). “Charley loved everything I did, but as time went on, he was harder and harder to please. I just told (RCA) I didn’t want to cut with him anymore.”

Green in 1961

Green in 1961, playing a Rickenbacker doubleneck eight-string with two pedals (E to A change).

Occasionally, he worked with Epic Records producer Billy Sherrill, the creator of classics by Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Charlie Rich, and others. Sherrill favored a heavy, tightly controlled production style inspired by his hero, Phil Spector. “I always thought Sherrill was the best producer in Nashville,” Green says. “I agree some of it was a little pretentious, but Billy Sherrill records were the only records created by Billy Sherrill. He choreographed every song. He didn’t tell you exactly how to play it, but gave you the idea of how he wanted you to play it, and it was always right.”

“I cut ‘D-I-V-O-R-C-E’ with Tammy Wynette (in ’68), and I just had the new pedal, the last essential pedal invented for the steel guitar, was the E-to-F pedal. I had just found that pedal a few weeks before and was doodlin’ around with it. I was on the session only because Pete Drake was not available. Pete was Billy’s number-one man. And he heard me doodlin’ around, doin’ these slides, came over and said, ‘What’s that?’ I said ‘It’s a new pedal,’ and he said ‘Do what you were doin’ with it.’ I did some of those slides and he thought about it a second and said ‘That’s our intro!’ He told me what he wanted me to play, but didn’t tell me how to articulate it or what pedals to use. He said, ‘Use that sound and play this line.’ So he gave me the line, and had Jerry Kennedy play on the guitar with the tremolo. And the signature is that steel line. It became an important pedal for me, and still is.”

Busier than ever in 1970, Green upgraded his instrument again, to a doubleneck “Crossover” model Sho-Bud built for Baldwin Piano and Organ. He was recording with Faron Young, Mel Street, Jerry Lee Lewis and memorable dates like Freddie Hart’s 1971 “career” single “Easy Lovin.'” At the session, on June 12, 1970, disagreements about the arrangement between Hart, a tough ex-Marine, and Capitol Records producer George Richey became so intense that Richey stepped out for a smoke. When he did, Green explains, “Charlie McCoy and me and (guitarist) Billy Sanford just put (an arrangement) together. Freddie stood there and sung it … we cut it in maybe one or two takes. Charlie played organ, Sanford played that tremolo guitar, and I played the nearest I came to playin’ a Pete Drake lick… a perfect fit for a signature (riff) on that song.” When Richey returned and discovered they’d recorded it, he “listened to the take, said, ‘Yeah, that sounds all right. Let’s go to the next song!'”

Nashville session players today use cartage services to lug gear between studios. In Green’s day, “You carried your own instruments. All I had was a steel guitar and an amplifier, but they were heavy. I had a doubleneck that weighed 85 pounds in the case and a Fender Twin with two 12″ JBLs that weighed 105 pounds with casters on it.” In the fall of ’72, he reexamined his needs. “I was in good shape, but it started getting heavier, and I started questioning why do steel players have to be schizophrenic? Why does it require two necks to say you’re a complete steel player? In those days we wore expensive sport coats and slacks to sessions,” he adds.

Green, who bought his clothes at Levy’s, noticed his left jacket sleeves fraying from raking the strings on a C6 neck he rarely used. Opening his 1971 session book, he counted 595 sessions, six using C6. “I thought, ‘What can I do? I don’t want a single neck. They’re too narrow.’ The next step was pretty obvious. ‘Why not take my C6 off and have something to rest my arms on – some sort of padded cushion?'”

One morning in November of ’72 he appeared at Sho-Bud’s factory on Dickerson Road in Madison, carrying his Crossover. When Shot and his son David Jackson heard what Green wanted, they tried to dissuade him. Shot offered to build him a single neck model. Lloyd, preferring the doubleneck body, asked them to remove the C6 neck and mechanics and replace the neck with a pad. Deed done, metal parts bagged and weighed, the steel was 18 pounds lighter. “Shot directed a guy to put (the parts) in a corner or some little cabinet, and said ‘Don’t change ‘em out of that plastic bag, because he’ll be back in three days wanting his C6 back on!'” Shot was partly correct. Later that day at session with Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass, Davis told Green C6-heavy Western swing was on the agenda. “I silently sweated blood,” he laughs. “That’s the one time I would need the C6. But I faked my way through the entire album. They didn’t know I had a different guitar. Never questioned it. Within a week, I was comfortable without the C6 – and never looked back, never was tempted to put it back on.”

Green and at the Grand

Green and at the Grand Ole’ Opry in 1964. Green is playing a Bigsby doubleneck eight-string converted into a Sho-Bud by Shot Jackson, with six floor pedals and two knee levers. “That steel was originally purchased by Carl Smith, for Johnny Sibert, whose name was beneath the piece of wood over the nameplate, then sold to Webb Pierce for Sonny Burnett, his steeler,” said Green. “I owned it during my first full year recording in Nashville, and recorded my first two number one records with it – ‘The Bridge Washed Out,’ by Warner Mack, and ‘Girl On the Billboard’ by Del Reeves.”

Other steel players showed up at Green’s sessions to see the modified Sho-Bud, so many he suggested the Jacksons consider building it as a new model. They demurred at first, then started getting orders. “Within a few weeks, Shot called me back and said ‘You know, we re-thought this. We’ve decided to make a model.'” The instrument had a single 10-string neck and tuning (chromatic E9) capable of handling any style of music. No Sho-Bud models named for artists had previously existed, not even when Buddy Emmons was a partner. Thinking of a model name, Lloyd says, “I sat down with David and we came up with the LDG, instead of LLG, Green’s actual initials. “I told him, ‘Anytime in the future, tell them it stands for “David.” When they ask me I’m gonna tell ‘em that stands for Dot.” Sho-Bud catalogs would bill it their “Lloyd Green” model with the LDG name.

On May 9, 1973, Sho-Bud delivered the first production LDG to Green at his home in Madison. “I played it the rest of my career, until 1988, when I quit doing sessions.” Surprisingly, his all-around favorite remains the Crossover originally modified by Jackson. “It was just magnificent-sounding from 1970 to May of ’73, when [the LDG] was built. I can tell the difference when I hear that sound. It’s just so rich and elegant. Even my LDG doesn’t measure up.”

To his lasting regret, Lloyd returned the Crossover to Sho-Bud. “They didn’t ask for it back, but I turned it back in two days after they brought the LDG to my house. I took it down and said ‘I don’t need it,’ because I never had but one guitar at a time. They probably restored it to a doubleneck and sold it. It has never resurfaced. If I ever see it again, if it hasn’t been changed – there’s a flaw where the Baldwin or Sho-Bud logo was off-centered.”

In ’73, Green had a country top 40 single of Johnny Nash’s pop hit “I Can See Clearly Now.” He also appeared on Paul McCartney’s Nashville-produced 1974 single “Sally G,” and got on so well that McCartney invited Green to join his Wings Over America tour. “Paul told me he wanted to do a 15-minute part of each show with a four-piece band featuring me and him playing country music.” With heavy session commitments, he declined. Music publisher Buddy Killen, who owned the Nashville studio where McCartney recorded, told Green he’d blundered. “He said money would have been no object and what Paul had suggested would have changed my musical life. It’s the most regrettable decision of my professional life,” he laments.

While new generations of steel players gained footholds in the studios, Green continued working on hits like Gene Watson’s “Farewell Party,” but his indifference to electronic effects favored by newcomers (and popular with some producers) cost him work. By ’87, he used a JCH built for him by the late Jimmie Crawford. That’s what he used in ’88, the year he was inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. That year, for him, the music literally stopped. The culprit: severe tinnitus.

“I was hearing a half-tone difference from my left ear to right ear. There was tremendous fluid buildup, and I was in serious danger of losing my hearing. I was hearing all kind of extraneous noises – it was horrible,” he says. “When I’d lay down to sleep, it sounded like a train was comin’ through the house.” Two specialists advised that quitting sessions would save his remaining hearing, while continuing to record could put him at risk of losing it all. It came to a head during sessions for Dolly Parton’s 1988 White Limozeen album. Conceived as more traditional than her recent country-pop hits, bluegrass great Ricky Skaggs, the producer, later told Nashville journalist Peter Cooper he’d noticed Green, for whom pitch and tuning were never an issue, having trouble. Green knew it, too. “I quit in the middle of a session. I did two songs, both went to number one, ‘Yellow Roses’ and ‘Why’d You Come In Here Lookin’ Like That.’ And in the middle, I said, ‘I can’t do it anymore!’

“I didn’t touch my guitar for almost a year, and didn’t listen to any loud noises, didn’t put headphones on. The ringing persisted for six or eight months before I noticed it starting to diminish. One morning about a year later, I woke up and said ‘Dot, the ringing is all gone!’ It had disappeared. I didn’t ask anybody to explain it, and I didn’t suffer any hearing loss. I don’t have any imbalance of tones. Occasionally, my ears will start feeling a little compressed if I’ve been under a lot of stress – doin’ a lot of work and keepin’ my headphones on too long. But it goes away with a few hours away from it. I’m 70 years old, and everybody, with age, suffers a little deterioration of hearing in the high end. Whatever (loss) I’ve got is normal. I’ve had hearing tests done and I don’t have any problems.”

Green at a 1967 session

Green at a 1967 session for Lynn Anderson in Columbia Studio B, with a Sho-Bud Fingertip doubleneck 10-string (nine floor pedals and four knee levers) and ’65 Fender Twin with one JBL 15″ D-130F. “It wasn’t unusual for studio players of the era to show up for sessions dressed like this!” Green said.

Admitting he was fortunate compared to some of his peers, he says, “A lot of guys I worked with can’t hear hardly at all. It was a dangerous profession in the sense those headphones contributed to it.”

While he performed at venues like the International Steel Guitar Convention, Green avoided resuming his studio career, a self-imposed exile that caused deep anguish, aggravated by the memories of better days. “I wouldn’t even drive Music Row. I’d drive around it. The pain was so intense, if I even thought about drivin’ around there, it’d bring tears. I didn’t go back until the day I walked in to do a Christmas album with Alan Jackson – my first session in 15 years. I said, ‘I’m going back with the sound I had.’ I use my original LDG and a Fender blackface Twin with 15 D-130F JBLs.” As for his work on Jackson’s album, he says, “It was a masterpiece before they camouflaged it with 50 vocals and background singers.”

He did better on Jackson’s 2003 hit “Remember When,” which offered him a rare showcase. Jackson’s longtime producer Keith Stegall wanted Green to play fills and solo. “I said, ‘You know what? If you’re gonna spotlight me, let’s spotlight me. Let’s have the steel make a cameo. Let me come out of the shadows so the spotlight’s on me, then (I’ll) disappear and not be heard again.’ That’s how we did it. (Session leader) Brent Mason came up with the idea of a different modulation, so the solo would be highlighted in a different key. A lot of steel players liked it (but) it elicited a great big yawn on Music Row, even though it went to number one. It didn’t do anything for me, and since I don’t play the Pete Drake licks, they’re not gonna use me. You try to cut a real country record like we cut in the ’60s, they boot you out of the studio.”

That comment underscores the ways 21st-century Nashville differs from the Music Row where Lloyd reigned 40 years ago. “The sound of the steel guitar and the way it’s used on records has changed dramatically from what I think was the Golden Era of country music – the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s,” he declares. “I don’t play that (newer) stuff and that kind of steel, which cuts me out of the major sessions, largely. Country music has been hijacked,” he laments. “All the producers are rock and rollers. The condescension’s on the side of Music Row. My perception is they think what we did was somethin’ out of the Middle Ages and that steel guitar shouldn’t be a significant part. I don’t have any control, so I sound like a complainer. But I had a great career. I have no regrets.”

But another side of Nashville’s music scene sees it differently. These acts who fall under the Americana umbrella, revere Green’s work with Paycheck, the Byrds, etc. and seek him out to record with them. He finds this new outlet enormously fulfilling. “I think there’s enough people, certainly with Americana and alternative country spurring a new creative environment extraneous to Music Row.” Of Music Row, he says, “They’re living in a different universe there. Maybe they don’t recognize what’s going on, but the creative endeavors, to me, are all off the radar. In East Nashville, they’ve got a enclave of intellectuals, highly educated people who love the real music, and folk music, and they’re homogenizing all this into new forms.

“I came back not because I needed the money,” he adds. “I came back because I felt I left (it) incomplete. I’m doing a lot of the off-the-radar stuff, which is amazing. I did a Mac Wiseman/John Prine album, and one for Harper Simon, Paul Simon’s son, and all kinds of things. And they want me to play what I play.” That includes the Robbie Fulks’ album, Georgia Hard, and a Johnny Paycheck tribute (the singer died in ’03). Green reunited with Aubrey Mayhew for an album with traditionalist Dale Watson, released as The Little Darlin’ Sessions. While fans loved it, Watson felt it so dismal he repudiated it on his website. Green understood why. “Mayhew didn’t give us the freedom. He was tryin’ to recapture the Little Darlin’ sound, but I don’t think he remembered that in those days he never interfered with what I did.” In mid ’07 he recorded traditional country with singer/hit songwriter Jeffrey Steele, and in ’08 joined Jerry Douglas in a duet for Douglas’ forthcoming album. He’s also on Mission Door, the debut album by Peter Cooper, music critic for the Nashville Tennessean, and a singer/songwriter in his own right.

Green is not certain how long he plans to continue in the studios (and occasionally onstage) but sums up the past 50-plus years succinctly. “It was a grand career. I couldn’t have written the script any better. I struggled. Me and Dot struggled. And it probably made the savoring of success a lot more enjoyable. There were so many good moments.

“I walk into sessions today, and if I’m workin’ with the big players, they’re always the most wonderful characters. They come up to me and say, ‘Man, you’re a legend!’ And I say, ‘Well, wait a minute. The legends are dead. I’m just a guy wantin’ to play music, too.'”


Sweetheart

LLoyd and The Byrds 1968

In early March of 1968, Lloyd Green wound up being part of one of country-rock’s most important events – recording the Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo in Nashville and L.A. His memories are both pleasant and not so pleasant. “I was young and open to any new music if the steel fit, and they were gonna let me be a part of it. I thought it was the most wonderful thing,” he declares.” The first song was gonna be ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,’ the Bob Dylan song. I said, ‘Where do you guys want me to fill?’ And they said, almost in unison, ‘Everywhere!’ I said, ‘Say no more!’ And if you listen to that song, almost from the first note to the end there’s steel guitar. I play too much, in retrospect – certainly not the way I would play it today.

“I loved workin’ with them. They were sweet, gentle guys. I wasn’t impressed with their musicianship – I’d been workin’ with the best players of the day in Nashville, and these guys were kinda rough and raw. But boy, they had a different musical attitude and an intellectual attitude. Gram Parsons was the driving force behind them comin’ to Nashville.” The band requested Columbia Records get them booked on the Opry, inviting Green along. On March 16, he appeared at the Ryman Auditorium in pinstripe suit and tie. The band (Roger McGuinn, Parsons, Chris Hillman, and Kevin Kelley) came in less-formal attire.

Lloyd was angered and disgusted by what transpired. “They were being introduced and the audience saw ‘em sidling onstage, and (when they saw) the long hair immediately they started booing. That sounds so archaic and prehistoric now, but that was a rough era in civil rights and a rough era for America, in general, with the Vietnam War going on so there was a lot of hostility. I really felt like crying. It meant so much to them. Those guys were dead serious, man, tryin’ their best to play what they perceived as country with a little flavor of rock. And they were very honest about it, but these people perceived ‘em as aliens and enemies. They were booing loudly before they even got to the mic. I just thought, ‘Let’s just ignore these **holes and play.’ They did ‘Sing Me Back Home’ and ‘Hickory Wind’.”

Green later accompanied them to a guest appearance on Ralph Emery’s all-night WSM radio program, where the clearly hostile host was locked and loaded, Green said. “He was cold the minute we walked in. I’ve known Ralph since I was in my teens, and kind of got lumped in with the enemies that night because I was with them. Basically, he ignored me, which was fine. I wasn’t the reason they were there. I think his first question was, ‘Why do you guys want to come to Nashville and cut our music?’ or something like that. It was like, ‘How dare you presume to come to Nashville and contaminate our music!’ They tried to be nice. I don’t think anybody got really belligerent with him.” The band’s infamous “Drug Store Truck Drivin’ Man,” with its spoken line “This one’s for you, Ralph” was the last word. “I betcha Ralph didn’t even believe it was about him,” Green speculated. Emery, who has penned multiple books of memoirs, has never acknowledged the incident. – Rich Kienzle



This article originally appeared in VG‘s September 2008 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.



Look At Us Jeff Newman / Lloyd Green ISGC 1995

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