Buddy Emmons, the renowned pedal-steel guitarist who is credited with helping shape the sound of the instrument as it is heard in country music, died July 21. He was 78.
As a child in Indiana, Emmons began playing a six-string lap-steel, influenced by the work of Jerry Byrd (with Hank Williams) and Herb Remington. After gaining some proficiency, Emmons’ parents bought him a three-neck Fender Stringmaster. At 15, he began gigging with local bands before moving to Detroit the following year, where he played for Casey Clark. At age 18, he was recruited by Little Jimmy Dickens and spent him two years in Dickens’ The Country Boys. Emmons promptly landed a gig with Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours.
In 1956, Emmons and fellow steel-guitarist Shot Jackson formed the Sho-Bud Company to design and build steel guitars. His skill for creating memorable riffs in settings ranging from country to pop to jazz earned him praise as a studio player; Emmons also began to work in Nashville, accompanying studio and live acts including Tubb, Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys (from ’63 to ’67), Linda Ronstadt, Roger Miller, Judy Collins, Danny Gatton, Willie Nelson, and the Everly Brothers. He remained active until 2001, when he suffered a repetitive-motion injury to his right thumb and wrist. Though he recovered, in his later years, Emmons limited his live playing to steel-guitar shows and an occasional appearance on “A Prairie Home Companion.”
DeWitt Scott, a St. Louis-based music-instrument retailer and founder of the Mid-Land Records label (which focuses on steel-guitar instrumentals), operates the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame/website and calls Emmons the “world’s foremost steel guitarist.”