It was unseasonably warm that April day. It was a day to be outside. Except if some of the world's greatest steel guitar players happened to be gathered together in a bar in Jessup, Maryland.
And so it was on Sunday, April 16, 2000 that some three hundred people hid from the midday sun and hunkered down with beer and pretzels and pizza at Latela's Corral Room Lounge in this small town between Baltimore and Washington, a town known more for its three prisons than its music scene, but maybe the Steel Guitar Jam will change all that.
We're talking about the Steelin' for Hearts Steel Guitar Jam 2000, an annual event now in it's twelfth year. This year's Jam featured appearances by the likes of Buddy Charleton, John Hughey, Dewitt "Scotty" Scott , Herby Wallace, and Leonard T. Zinn, who gathered to raise money for the Johns Hopkins Heart Transplant Foundation, Inc. in memory of one of the founders of the Jam, Sonny Hunley. "This all started when we used to get together once a week at Sonny's place to trade licks and that sort of thing" says Dean Black, who took over the running of the Jam after Hunley died from heart problems nine years ago. Black, a former Washington area resident, now resides in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, where he performed with the Carolina Opry and Ronnie Milsap and builds custom guitars. "All of us steel players around here back then realized that since we were all out playing all the time, we never got a chance to hear each other play. So it started over at Sonnys house as an excuse to get together in one place and hang out." Over the years the Jam expanded to include national players, growing out of Hunley's home and into larger and larger venues and is now held at Latela's, where Black (wearing a sharp black cowboy hat) took on the role of master of ceremonies throughout that April day, kicking things off around 1 p.m. Before introducing the first steel player, Black thanked the back-up band, The Defibrillators (guitarist Gantt Kushner, bassist Don Moore, drummer Cliff Martin and fiddler Jerry Holmes), then handed the stage over to Dave Van Allen.
DAVE VAN ALLEN, from Doylestown, PA, put together a clever musical medley he called Every Unchained Breath combining Every Breath You Take with Unchained Melody. By the time Van Allen was done, the room was nearly full with steel aficionados cheering on his inventiveness, getting the room good and smokey, and keeping the bartenders and waitresses busy. The room, a big cinderblock rectangle, was lit with florescent lights that didn't do much for the atmosphere, but no one seemed to mind, since the music was so good.
BOBBY EDENTON was up next, and the Virginia resident performed San Antonio Rose, My Weakness Is Too Strong, Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette, Half a Mind, and Mansion on the Hill.
JIM COHEN, from Philadelphia, who returned to the Jam after an absence of three years, followed him. He zipped through Roly Poly, I Love You Because, Tara's Theme, and Secret Love. By now, the floor to the right of the stage was filling up with steel guitars as all the performers were setting up their axes and letting the strings get used to the club's temperature.
DEAN BLACK the Jams Chairman took the stage next. His song list consisted of Buddys Boogie, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Raisin the Dickens, Flint Hill Special, Making Believe, and Dont You Ever Get Tired Of Hurting Me. Unfortunately missing this year was the presence of the Black Rose doubleneck 10 string steel guitar and 6 string guitar which Dean invented.
DEWITT "SCOTTY" SCOTT took his "frying pan" lap steel to the stage, and ripped through Waltz Across Texas, Mansion on the Hill, and Cold, Cold Heart before ending with Steel Guitar Rag. Off to the side of the stage, guitarist Bill Kirchen was watching with a big grin and adding lyrics to Scott's final number: "But if you want a melody to drive those blues away, make happy your soul with that old steel guitar rag." His gruff baritone wasn't heard by many, but those who heard him applauded Kirchen almost as much as Scott. "That was just an impressionistic reading," mumbled Kirchen, who admitted that early afternoon gig's weren't his usual style.
The Hula Monsters hopped on stage to accompany their bandmate DAVE GIEGERICH, who played stellar dobro, kicking it off with "one for Cal Ripken" It was Steelin' Home,' the fine instrumental originally done by Noel Boggs & His Day Sleepers. After the Hawaii 5-0 theme song, BILL KIRCHEN and his Telecaster joined the Hula Monsters on stage for a rocking set that included Looking at the World Through a Windshield, The Streets of Baltimore, another take on Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette, and of course, Kirchen's signature tune, Hot Rod Lincoln.
Over in one corner of the room, the merchandise table was doing a good business, and LEONARD T. ZINN had to abandon his post selling his merchandise to get on stage and show his expertise garnered from his sixty years of playing steel. In this his eighth year with the Jam, Zinn added his version of Steelin' Home to the mix, along with Crazy Arms, Heartaches by the Dozen (with singer Cliff Martin), The Other Woman (with singer Bill Good), What a Friend We Have in Jesus, and Jealous Heart (again with Bill Good).
The jamming really began in earnest when HERBY WALLACE set up and he traded solos with Scott on I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You. Truly one of the greatest pedal steel players ever, his technique was mind boggling on Back Home in Indiana, and he drew furious applause when he launched into Danny Boy. Why? Because it was a note-perfect rendition of the Buddy Emmons version, a version so gorgeous and technically complex that Wallace's mastery of it was as grand an homage to the acknowledged master as could be offered.
The Jam got a real treat this year when JOHN HUGHEY was able to attend. Hughey has been on the road with Vince Gill for years, but since Gill is taking some time off from the road, he decided to come and hang out with his steel guitar brothers. His sweet round tone and stunning intonation were on display from the start. As he played selections like Time Changes Everything, She Thinks I Still Care, and Making Believe, chordal soloing with the most precise vibrato, Hughey caught other players' attention. You could see Buddy Charleton and most of the other guitarists just staring at Hughey's hands and feet from off to the right of the stage. Their attentiveness showed the depth of their respect for Hughey.
With the sun starting to go down, and most of the music done, lots of the fellows headed into the parking lot to get some air, watch the sunset, and chat about careers and such. But then, when they saw BUDDY CHARLETON all set up and ready to go, everyone rushed inside, giving Charleton the day's biggest round of applause. He taught many of the players in the room, including organizer Dean Black, and as godfather to the scene, he instructed such future Nashville cats as Pete Finney, Tommy Hannum and Bucky Baxter. Dedicating it to his wife, Charleton began with Kay Lee's Song, and went on to play DT Blues, I Love You Because, and Waltz Across Texas. He was joined by keyboards and flute, a musical combination that was unusual to say the least, but Charleton and his band made it work, capping a special day with a special set of music.
When Charleton was done, he waved everyone else up, and the stage was packed with steel guitars. A tribute to the folks behind the sound board: You could hear everyone perfectly. The real jamming then took place, with everyone trading solo after solo on tune after tune, until it was time to go home. The guitars were packed up in their cases, bar tabs were paid, and good-byes were made. Most of these pickers won't see each other until next year's Jam, but the memories will be strong and good.
Over three hundred people showed up this year, filling the Jessup club, and after all the money was counted and expenses were paid, the Steel Jam raised over $3,800 for the foundation this year. That brings the total funds raised from the onset of the annual event to over $23,800.
BIOGRAPHIES (In Order of Appearance):
VAN ALLEN, of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, has played
the steel guitar for 29 years and has performed at all but one of
the Steel Jams. He has recorded with the Washington-based alt-country
band Last Train Home. Their last album together, True North, reached
number seven on the Americana charts. Mr. Van Allen plans on releasing
a new CD this fall. He has had the pleasure of playing with such artist
as Billy Crash Craddock, Conway Twitty, and George Jones. He enjoys
playing for the Jam and plans on return performances.
BOBBY EDENTON, a native of the East Coast now lives in Spotsylvania, Virginia. He has been playing the steel guitar for 18 years and bass for 23 years. This is his second year with the Jam and plans on returning whenever he can. He's a former student of Buddy Charleton.
COHEN, lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and has
played the steel guitar for 25 years. Mr. Cohen just returned from
performing and recording in the Netherlands. He's recording his first
solo album on the Steel Guitar Forum Records label, due to be released
this summer. He is also a member of the Beats Walkin' swing band,
which has been nominated for the Best Western Swing Band by the Academy
of Western Artists. He plans to continue playing with the Beats Walkin'
band and hopes to return for Steel Jam again next year.
born in Washington, DC, raised in Bethesda, Maryland, and now resides
just south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
comes from a musical family and has been playing since the age of
six. He is also a former student of Buddy Charleton. After playing
in a number of successful bands through his twenties Dean was offered
a job at the Carolina Opry and relocated to Myrtle Beach. After a
two year stint with the Opry he was offered a job with Ronnie Millsap.
Dean now plays with a number of bands and does constant session work.
He also builds custom guitars and is the inventor of the double neck
10-string slide and 6-string guitar.
"SCOTTY' SCOTT, hails from Amarillo, Texas and has
played the steel guitar for 53 years. He also played the trombone
for 6 years. He has been a guest at almost all of the Jams.
DAVE GIEGERICH is from Baltimore, Maryland. He started with the Jam seven years ago. He's played dobro 25 years, steel guitar 10 years, and also plays guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and bass. He has been with the Hula Monsters for over ten years, winning several Washington Area Music Awards (WAMMIES) in that time. Giegerich had the honor of being the artist of residence at the Kennedy Center, January 2000. He has played with great artists such as Johnny Gimble, Pam Tillis, Bill Harrell, and Greg Kihn. www.hulamonsters.com
BILL KIRCHEN, from Calvert County, Maryland, gained national recognition as a member of Commander Codys Lost Planet Airmen before pursuing a solo career, and is known throughout the world for his mastery of the Telecaster. he also plays banjo, trombone, and flat top guitar. He has won many WAMMIE awards, and has several albums out on the HighTone label. His fifth CD is due for release this fall. Kirchen has had the honor of playing with Elvis Costello, Gene Vincent, Hoyt Axton, and Emmylou Harris. www.billkirchen.com
LEONARD T. ZINN, of Muskegon, Michigan has been playing the steel guitar for 60 years, and this was his eighth year with the Jam. Zinn is a recipient of the Jerry Byrd Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been named Pedal Steel Guitar Player of the Year, and is presently working on a new CD and performs at steel guitar shows all over the country. Over the years he has had the opportunity of playing many other artist like Ernest Tubb, Tex Ritter, Faron Young, Randy Travis, and Roy Rogers to name a few.
HERBY WALLACE, from Sevierville, Tennessee, has been playing the steel guitar for 44 years. He has played at the Steel Jam for 4 years. Wallace has been given awards of appreciation in St Louis, Tulsa, and New York. He has recorded twelve albums and is presently working on a tribute to Nat King Cole. Since 1969, he has written forty courses for the steel guitar. He has enjoyed playing regular with such artists as Donna Fargo, Leroy VanDyke, and Matt Tuckett. He also played with Roy Clark, Connie Smith, Willie Nelson, Jack Green, Billy Joe Spear, and Joy Miller and recorded with Alabama.
JOHN HUGHEY, is from Hendersonville, Tennessee and has playing the steel guitar professionally for 50 years (47 of those years were on the road). This is his first year with the Steel Jam. Hughey is the recipient of the Super Picker Award and was inducted into the Pedal Steel Hall of Fame in 1996. Mr. Hughey just started work on his newest CD. He is well known for ten years of recording and touring with Vince Gill. He has performed and recorded with over three hundred artist such as Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, Conway Twitty, Charlie Pride, and Dolly Parton. www.pedalsteel.com/johnhughey
BUDDY CHARLETON has been a guest at all twelve of the Steel Jams. A resident of Locust Grove, Virginia, Charleton has been playing the steel guitar for 38 years and also plays the guitar and bass. He's been one of the great steel guitar teachers and has helped spread the word through his well known guitar shop, C&W Guitars, in Clinton, Maryland. He toured with Ernest Tubb for 13 years and has also had the privilege to play with Porter Wagner, Willie Nelson, Farren Young, and Jeannie Sheppard. He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1993. (email@example.com)