Tail of the Weak 4.18
Updated: Jan 26, 2020
Tail of the Weak is a series of insights and musical memories from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin, singer/songwriter and founder of the Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull and Tribute Festival, from Waycross, Georgia.
Countless country music records—George Jones, Lynn Anderson, Tammy Wynette—and more than a few rock recordings—Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, George Harrison—have featured the melodic stylings of a steel guitar impresario whose early work contributed to the success of a landmark 1976 rock and roll album.
Roddis Franklin Drake was born on October 8, 1932 in Augusta, Georgia, son of Nora Blevins and Brother Johnny Drake, a Pentecostal preacher. His older siblings, Bill and Jack—The Drake Brothers—sang in Atlanta-area churches prior to Jack moving to Nashville, Tennessee, where he played upright bass in Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours.
By the age of 18, the youngest Drake was enamored with the sound of Jerry Byrd's steel guitar on Hank Williams's soul-scorching ballad, “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry”. Drake built and taught himself to play his own steel guitar until he heard Bud Isaac's pedal steel sound on “Slowly”, a 1953 hit for Webb Pierce.
Adding pedals to his own creation, Drake became one of Atlanta, Georgia's earliest pedal steel guitar players, forming a professional group—The Sons of the South—which featured the talents of Jerry Reed, Doug Kershaw, Roger Miller, Jack Greene, and Joe South.
His move to Nashville in 1959 prompted touring work with Don Gibson and Marty Robbins. Following a grueling, 31-day grind, Drake decided to make his primary income as a Music City session musician.
His tasteful sound has been heard on hundreds of country records—including George Jones's “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, Tammy Wynette's “Stand By Your Man”, and Lynn Anderson's (I Never Promised You a Rose Garden)”—written by his old Sons of the South bandmate, Joe South.
Channeling the earlier work of Alvino Rey—a steel guitar-electronics genius, who used a throat microphone to modulate the sound of his instrument in 1939—Drake introduced the “talking guitar sound” on his '64 hit, “Forever”, which went up to No. 25 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
In 1966, Drake was featured on Elvis's gospel album, How Great Thou Art, and performed on the soundtracks of Presley's entertaining, yet clumsy, B-movies—Clambake, Easy Come, Easy Go, Speedway, Spinout, and Double Trouble.
When Bob Dylan hit Nashville in 1967 to record his eighth studio album, John Wesley Harding, Drake was called to contribute to the final two tracks—“Down Along the Cove” and “I'll Be Your Baby Tonight”. Two more Nashville-based Dylan albums followed—Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait—featuring Drake's beautifully-sparse playing on “Lay Lady Lay”.
Playing bass guitar and guitar on Nashville Skyline and Self Portrait was Charlie Daniels, who slipped Drake's phone number to George Harrison. Following the breakup of The Beatles in 1970, Harrison invited Drake to London to play on his debut solo album, All Things Must Pass. Drake's lilting contribution to “Behind That Locked Door” is simply one of the most-beautiful pedal steel guitar tracks ever recorded.
During the recording of All Things Must Pass, Drake met Peter Frampton, who was so captivated with the steel guitarist's work with the talk box that Drake presented Frampton with his “Talking Music Actuator” as a gift. Six years later, Frampton would have the best-selling album of 1976, showcasing the talk box on two of his big hits—“Do You Feel Like We Do” and “Show Me the Way”.
As a favor, George Harrison persuaded former Beatles' drummer, Ringo Starr, to venture to Nashville for the recording of his second album, Beaucoups of Blues, with Drake playing and producing.
Continuing his session and production work with the musical legends of the counterculture, Drake worked with Simon and Garfunkel on their sensational album, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Leon Russell on Hank Wilson's Back Volumes 1 and 2 and Stop All That Jazz.
Drake was inducted into Country Music Hall of Fame's Walkway of Stars in 1970, the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1987, and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2010. After battling emphysema, Drake passed away at the age of 55, and was buried in Nashville's Spring Hill Cemetery. His headstone is inscribed with these words—“His Courage, His Smile, His Talent, and His Love Warms Our Hearts” and “For Pete's Sake”.
He served King George and the Queens of country music—Elvis the King himself—two Beatles—and the Master of Space and Time, Leon Russell. He was a simple boy from Augusta, Georgia and one of the greatest steel guitarists of all time—Pete Drake.
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Pete Drake Biography. Retrieved from www.petedrake.net/bio
Memories straight from the mind of Uncle Dave Griffin
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