I was reminded last week when my Daughter texted me a link to a new recording by Ray LaMontagne, one of her favorite artists. We’ve always exchanged music we like beginning when she was 13 or 14 and discovered what she called the “old music” of the 1950s and 1960s.
But I also smiled when I cranked up LaMontagne’s New York City’s Killing Me using both pedal-steel and a great opening line that reminded me of a time or two during my 40 year career in destination marketing, “there’s just something about this hotel, got me wishing I was dead.”
The pedal-steel first resonated with me at 5 years old in my my Mom’s ranch house kitchen when Webb Pierce launched its country popularity with “Slowly” in 1953. Its “coolness” cemented though when 5 years later, my Mom was teaching me to dance listening to Santo and Johnny Farina on “Sleepwalk.”
It was cool both because the song seared into my mind and because my Mom was actually listening to rock and roll. Seems like we could only get one radio station during the day back then and it rotated from genre to genre every couple of hours until it had to sign off the air at dusk.
Pedal-Steel took me right through high school making appearances and/or slide mimiced in recordings by Elvis, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and local Pacific Northwest bands like Paul Revere & The Raiders.
One of my favorite Rolling Stones songs is a pedal-steel laden 1978 country parody that came out just as I reached the “backside” of 30 titled The Girl With the Far Away Eyes. And I never hear pedal-steel without hearing the mimic of the instrument in ex-Beatle George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” or the pedal-like sound he created on the group’s 1968 “My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Seems like pedal-steel started to become ubiquitous just as I graduated high school in 1966 when the Monkees used it on their first album, influenced I’m sure by Mike Nesmith, “the tall Monkee” who was already pioneering pedal steel laden “Country-Rock,” the genre also inspired by Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt, JD Souther, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and the Grateful Dead and close kin to Outlaw Country like Willie, Waylon and Kris.
Maybe when it comes time for the soundtrack to my life to go off the air, they’ll take me out with a little pedal steel and Kristofferson’s “Why Me Lord” featuring here The Highwaymen with Kris, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.