Joaquin Murphey’s solo on Yearnin’ transcribed

Hi everyone! With all this excitement over the Joaquin Murphey solos book by John McGann and Andy Volk, which is sold here, I’ve got the itch to dive back in and do some more transcribing. I think there’s enough great Murph stuff to make another book or two, so, to test the waters, I decided to transcribe Joaquin’s solo on Yearnin’, one which I feel is up there with his finest.

I will continue to add commentary to this post as I uncover significant points with regards to the execution and thinking in this solo. The solo begins at 0:40 (don’t mind the Tae-Bo, although it is rather entertaining and a reminder of another failed American trend).

What I like right off the bat is the subtle introduction of the V7+ in the first measure–that is Joaquin’s bread and butter (V7aug).

Another thing you will want to take into consideration is to find a very comfortable and stable, consistent way of playing across strings, such as in measures 1 and 2. I have tried many different ways, but I always end up coming back to what feels right to me. I think it is important to pick rather lightly and in a very controlled manner to get that fluidness in your lines. It is the same for saxophone players–the guys who blew a bit lighter could usually play faster and cleaner, but maybe lacked the tone slightly. Until John Coltrane came along and did the opposite. Maybe Joaquin is like Coltrane in that way, but I still think he picked lightly, but firmly and very controlled. I think looking at Jeremy Wakefield picking hand might be a good place to see how this is done. There are plenty of YouTube videos of him playing.

Yearnin' solo

Yearnin' solo

Conversation with Jeremy Wakefield


“Jeremy Wakefield is more like Speedy West fused with Jerry Byrd. And a little bit of Noel Boggs.” Those are the words used by Wayne Hancock to describe Jeremy Wakefield’s playing, and he isn’t far from the truth. Throw in a big dash of Joaquin Murphey and Jeremy’s own unique sensibilities and you’ve got one of the world’s best non-pedal steel guitarists.

In the 20 years that Jeremy has been on the scene, he has played with and contributed to some of the finest Western Swing and Rockabilly music made this side of 1960. His credits include Wayne Hancock, Deke Dickerson, The Hot Club of Cowtown, The Horton Brothers, Biller and Wakefield, The Lucky Stars, Bonebrake Syncopators, Dave Stuckey and the Rhythm Gang, Smith’s Ranch Boys, Richard Cheese, and many others. Listen to any one of those recordings and you’ll hear that even at his earliest he had it together with a great touch beyond his years. He’s developed his playing today to a frighteningly articulate and fluid level, and he has a musicality that is natural and unpretentious.

His 1999 recording with Dave Biller, The Hot Guitars of Biller & Wakefield, gave a taste of the influence that Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West left behind to a whole new generation of listeners. Not only did the record capture their great picking on a program of all original music, but also the joy and humor that embodies Hillbilly Jazz. His 2005 instrumental recording, Steel Guitar Caviar, is a recording that every steel player should own. You get a sampling of everything that JW is about musically, from Bebop (Tiny’s Tempo) and Swing to Hawaiian (Hawaiian Creeper) to moody Surf music (Mudslide) to even some Lounge and Burlesque (The Red Garter) flavors.

Jeremy keeps busy making music with several bands in the Los Angeles area, including The Lucky Stars, The Bonebrake Syncopators, and Janet Klein’s Parlor Boys as well as contributing to the mega-hit Nickelodeon cartoon, SpongeBob SquarePants, which he has won an Annie Award for. He is also an artist who has lent his talents to movies, TV, CD artwork, Disney installations, and even the Clinesmith logo!

Musically, I’ve admired Jeremy for a long time and have listened to many recordings of him. When we had the following conversations, it was the first time that I’d ever spoken with him, and I found him to be engaging, open and extremely humble with a good-natured sense of humor.

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MN: Tell me a little about your steel guitar genesis….

JW: I played guitar growing up—I played in the church band and had a Ska band in high school, some cover bands playing Rock and Roll and all kinds of stuff. I grew up in the suburbs and in the 80s and 90s culture wasn’t global like it is now. It was what you could find at the record store. I feel like when I went to New York to go to school, it opened up a lot of things for me in terms of finding different music. I’d had an appreciation for Country music just because of my mom who grew up in South Dakota, where that was all that was on the radio.

I heard Hank Williams Sr. probably about the time I graduated from high school and I thought, “Wow, that is a crazy sound!” and that renewed my interest in it. I started looking for more records like that and started getting into Delta Blues–Skip James, and things like that—and Old-timey music, like Roscoe Holcomb. I remember buying a lot of records at the bargain bins at Tower Records. I found a lot of great Blues and Folk records there. But it seemed like—and it’s still true—the best discoveries are the stuff people turn you on to, where they make you a tape and say, “Check this out.”

MN: I’d spend 3 or 4 days a week just combing the record stores in that area. A lot of discoveries came from the sheer volume of stuff I bought (a lot of crap, too).

It seems like you were attracted to certain periods of music, like the older stuff appealed to you….

JW: At that time it did. And then I had this record that I found in a thrift store in Denver: “50 Great Country and Western Artists” or something like that on one of those cheapy labels. It had Crazy Arms and You Win Again, I Fall To Pieces, Your Cheatin’ Heart and man, I just wore that record out. My ear started tuning in to steel guitar, although I really didn’t know what steel guitar was. I remember listening to Hank and saying, “I know that’s a steel guitar, but exactly what that is I don’t know.” I couldn’t remember ever seeing anyone play one. It’s not like you could go on YouTube. It was such a mystery to me.

After I moved to Los Angeles in 1991, there was a cool record store there called Novotny’s Antique Store where you could listen to stuff—they had 78s and LPs. At that point, it was late ‘60s Country music that was interesting to me. Lloyd Green was all over that stuff, as I later found out.

MN: We kind of fall in the cracks not having steel guitar as part of our culture and being able to see it with our own eyes. And even in the ‘80s steel guitar wasn’t necessarily something you’d see every day anyway. I didn’t even know what a pedal steel was.

JW: No, it really wasn’t. My dad bought me a pedal steel for my birthday—a really early MSA called a Semi-Classic. It was a 10-string student model—3 pedals, 1 knee lever. That was my first foray into the steel guitar and I remember just being utterly at a loss. I had the Winnie Winston book and a Mel Bay book—the Winnie Winston book especially had a lot of helpful stuff, especially like the palm blocking and even some tab and whatnot. But I also started trying to learn these tunes that I’d been hearing. Then I went backwards and starting playing the lap steel because I was playing E9 with the pedals down to give a 6th sound and somebody said, “Maybe you should try the C6.” [laughs]

I picked up a little Fender Champ lap steel—I traded a Guild electric hollowbody bass to a friend of mine for it. So I started messing around with that. I had a 6th tuning that I had gotten from one of the instruction books, and that was when I really started learning the swing tunes, Bob Wills, Hank Thompson, things like that. That was around the time I met Lee Jeffriess and he obviously turned me on to a lot of great stuff I’d never heard before. And my friend Rick Quisol–he had a band in San Francisco with Susanna van Tassel, Suzanna and her Golden West Playboys, and they invited me up to play a few shows. That was my first time playing steel guitar on an actual gig. I could barely keep ahold of the bar, I was so nervous. I’d learned all of her material, which was a wide variety of obscure Country tunes and some Western Swing tunes. Rick had made me a cassette of his favorite steel guitar tunes and it was the first time I’d heard Vance Terry and maybe the first time I’d heard Oklahoma Stomp (Joaquin with Spade Cooley).

Another record I listened to a lot was called Country & Western Bulls-Eyes–kind of bargain basement. The one tune that I’d just listen to over and over trying to wrap my head around was Ida Red with Bobby Koeffer from the Snader Transcriptions.

MN: The internet has opened up that whole world of music for many of us. It wasn’t until I got turned on to this stuff through a few internet acquaintances that I even knew the music existed. Someone even gave me a copy of a Joaquin Murphey compilation that you put together.

JW: Oh, yeah [laughs]…there is one floating around out there.

MN: That was my introduction to Joaquin.

JW: No kidding…is that the one with the Deuce Spriggens record with the skip on it? That’s how I can tell it’s the one.

MN: Yup, that’s the one. I swear, hearing those records completely changed the course of my musical direction. I was stuck with the steel guitar, but hearing those records and the Hawaiian records really gave me some direction.

JW: I ended up putting a second one together that was from some records, but I put on stuff from VHS tapes I had with soundies and movies where you hear Murphey. There’s one that I love that’s a blown take from a Merle Travis session. He plays this awesome solo on a pretty well-known Travis tune, No Vacancy, and right at the end of his solo he does this funny effect where he drags his pick across the strings in the high register so it makes this hammering chimes sound and Travis comes in to sing and just cracks up and makes a remark like, “what the hell was that?”

MN: It seems like you had a pretty firm direction as to where you were going musically.

JW: I did. I met up with this band that I saw by chance—I went with a friend to this show and saw The Lucky Stars playing. At that point it was Sage Guyton and a few of the original members. There was no steel on this gig, but he had had Leo LeBlanc in his band—they actually did a couple of recordings with Leo. I actually did get to see Leo perform at the Palomino and talked to him a few times, he was such a nice guy. I never saw him with The Lucky Stars. I’d first heard about him because I had a Red Simpson LP that he had autographed. His name was written right across the front: “Leo LeBlanc – steel guitar.”

MN: He had a very unique sound and style and sometimes it’s hard for me to tell him from the guitarist. I love those Red Simpson records.

JW: He told me that George Jones let him go—fired him, basically—because he said, “You’re always looking at me, quit looking at me.” [laughs] I don’t know, I guess he was so thrilled to be playing in that band and he just couldn’t hide it.

MN: I think it would be hard not to be looking at George, to tell you honestly.

JW: Yeah, he was always looking at him just grinning.

As soon as I hooked with The Lucky Stars we started rehearsing a lot and that’s when I really started having a direction with the C6. I started listening to a lot of Murphey and had that Columbia collection and just tried to learn every one of those solos, and then got turned on to the Plainsmen stuff and those Coast records and just poured over those trying to learn every note. It was a long time before I knew about his C#min11, so any of those chord solos, I had no idea.

Stay Out Late – The Lucky Stars

MN: At this time were you playing a single neck or a double neck?

JW: I had a double neck. Right after I started playing with The Lucky Stars I got a Rickenbacker double neck that I still have, late-50s, ’58 or ’59, the solidbody with three legs—a great-sounding guitar.

MN: To me, the Rickenbackers were always the top of the food chain with regards to sound. All the steels I love are all approaching that kind of sound—the Bigsbys and even my Fender Custom with the trapezoid pickup is closer to a Rick sound than a typical Fender sound.

You get a great sound—one reason, I think, is because you use these amps with these inefficient speakers and you hear every little movement of the cone.

JW: That’s a nice way to put it, because I do like amps with inefficient speakers.

MN: You used the old Epiphone Electar amps for while, didn’t you?

JW: Yeah, my Electar is actually is in need repair right now, but I love those amps—great sound and they are loud. Billy Tonneson came to see me with The Lucky Stars once and told me that a lot of players used to use 2 of them.

I had always wanted to get my hands on one those Electars because it was what Murphey played—evidently. At least I thought so, because there’s that lobby card for The Three Stooges Rockin’ In The Rockies where he and Johnny Weis were sitting there. Anyway, I was in this music store and I saw this one and it looked really beat up, but I looked at the back of it and right there on the cabinet below the controls were these cast aluminum letters pressed into the wood, JM, and I just had to have it. Lee Jeffriess would always say, “Is that James Mason’s amp?” [laughs] JM could be anyone, but I thought, “You never know…”

MN: I’ve seen pictures of Dick McIntire and some of the Hawaiian guys playing through those. Did you start getting into Hawaiian music at all at this time?

JW: Yeah, like the Arhoolie and Rounder collections that were driving me nuts, especially Sol Hoopii. It wasn’t until later that I really started appreciating Dick McIntire—I think after meeting Joaquin and hearing him say his name so many times, that was really a big influence. McIntire’s stuff was always so hard to come by unless you found the 78s. Those Cumquat CDs are really just beyond compare—I listen to that stuff probably more now than anything. A lot like Joaquin Murphey, his playing just seemed like perfection: the beauty of the tone and the dynamics of his playing, the sound of one note and the way it’s shaped, the vibrato. It’s like a study in how to pluck a string.

MN: I agree. You’ll never hear a bad note out of Dick McIntire—every note counts. One of the fattest sounds I’ve ever heard on a steel guitar.

It’s interesting that you said Joaquin mentioned Dick so much—you can hear that in his playing, and I don’t really mean as a direct influence, but more the way he approaches playing up and down the strings like a Hawaiian player, rather than just playing across the strings.

JW: Yeah, it’s funny because Joaquin didn’t tend to talk a lot about steel players that he liked—you know, there’s that famous quote of his: “Who’s your favorite steel player?” He would answer, “George Shearing.” He was into Art Van Damme and Ernie Felice—accordion players and piano players—but he did talk about Dick McIntire. He studied with Ernie Ball’s dad, but he must have seen McIntire perform or in a music store.
I always found it interesting that Oklahoma Stomp was kind of based on a Leon McAuliffe solo—especially the earlier transcription from ’45 or ’46—listen to it next to McAuliffe’s Corinne, Corrina. It’s remarkable. He gets overlooked because he was so ubiquitous and people want to look to other sources, but everybody was listening to him and, before him, Bob Dunn.

On Improvising

MN: When it came to improvising what was your approach?

JW: I always felt like I was just piecing together what I’d copied from other solos. One that I felt went a long way in particular was trying to figure out Vance Terry’s playing on the Decca “San Antonio Rose” with a vocal by Lee Ross. Vance’s comping is so great behind the vocal and I remember playing that over and over and because of the progression it lent itself really well to whatever I was trying to do. Long story short, to play a solo I just felt I was trying to stitch together fragments of what I could play based on recordings that I’d heard and poured over and studied.

Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys – San Antonio Rose

MN: You seem to have an unending stream of melodicism like all of the great improvisers have and you don’t do a lot of gratuitous playing—every note you play has a purpose. I was wondering how you developed that sense of melodicism and are there any things you do to build it?

JW: Well, I feel it’s still my goal to play like the way you’re talking about. You know how it is when you’re piecing together the same fragments over and over…rarely do I feel like I’m approaching that kind of level where it’s just flowing out of me. You know, I feel like after trying to learn as many different solos as I could over different changes, at some point some of those things get ingrained to a degree. I need to think about that one, Mike!

MN: I know where you’re coming from—the more that you do transcribe solos and work on them and put them to use, the more they do become a part of your vocabulary.

JW: Yeah. I think one thing that has a lot to do with it is your internal musical thought—“do you have a song in your head?”, as people say. I’m afraid that’s me all the time. I have melodies running through my head—they may be simple melodies, but they’re stuck in my head—and I’ll sort of be improvising in my head over changes sometimes. I remember one time it occurred to me: it was around Christmastime and I had the Chinatown changes in my head and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” came on the radio and I thought, “Hey, it would be something to play that over the changes!” and it almost worked except for one spot.

MN: You know what? You discovered what millions of keyboard players have known for years. They are the kings of quotes! [laughter]

JW: But, you know, I only came to that because it was cycling over and over. I feel like that has as much to do with it as practicing and learning scales and chords and learning where the notes are on your instrument. That’s a whole other aspect of it, being comfortable finding the notes once you know what the relationship is and where the notes and the chords are that you want to hear—getting to them when you want them.

MN: The melodies that you talk about…they may be simple melodies, but they are like seeds. They are planted in your head, but they grow. It’s amazing to me sometimes where an idea an idea can go or what it can lead to. Sometimes I may be listening to a tune and I’ll have to shut off the music because my mind has already run away with its own melodies.

Are you totally within yourself when you’re playing to the point that when you’re finished you’re not really sure what you’ve played? Like what you’ve played just happened and it’s gone? Does that happen to you when you’re really on?

JW: Yeah, sometimes. Sometimes I rely on a structure that I’ve been using in the past. If it’s a song in the setlist, then sometimes I’m more adventurous than others. So, it really does depend on a lot of factors—what kind of mood I’m in, how it’s sounding, how my own instrument sounds. When all the elements are falling into place, suddenly you’re not thinking about anything but the song. And once, man, once you get in that spot, it seems to come much easier. And that’s when I start making a lot of mistakes, too. [laughs] It’s like trying things when you don’t really know where it’s going to lead or how it’s going to resolve, so then it’s “whoops” and then find your way back. But I like that, too.

In the age YouTube, sometimes it’s like, “Oh boy, I hope that’s not going to be broadcast on the internet forever!” There seems to be always someone there with a video camera.

MN: Well, that really is the beauty of playing live music and being with other musicians. Sometimes it’s out of your hands where the music is going to end up—you’re just one part of something bigger. That’s when music is at its best, I feel.

As far as YouTube, I realized a long time ago that once I played something, I was going to have to live with it. It’s out of my hands and I have to let it go. I try not to let it stop me from taking chances.

JW: It’s the same with recording, too, even to a greater extent. It’s etched in stone in a way and you can’t change it.

MN: I’ve read the Lee Konitz book and he talks about how—Lee is just such a pure improviser—a lot of jazz musicians didn’t purely improvise, but relied on a lot of the same bag of worked out stuff and didn’t always put it out there on the line. I guess there could be a tendency to fall back into that kind of thing if we’re afraid that somebody is recording us, or whatever–we could lose that adventurous spirit if someone is standing there with a little flip cam…

JW: Yeah, I guess at a certain point there are degrees of improvisation. And, really, it’s all the same—if your vocabulary is as big as Art Tatum’s then you have more freedom to improvise fully. Even though he’s using his vocabulary, mixing it up and changing it every note or every bar is a new experimentation with his vocabulary, maybe it’s all the same in a way. Do you understand what I mean?

MN: Yeah, I do. You’re not completely playing something that you’ve never played before….

JW: You know, Joaquin Murphey, being such a virtuoso, you do hear him repeating phrases but they work and he is improvising. And there are known phrases and you start them in where they work and where they fit the best. It’s improvisation even if it’s made up of predetermined elements.

MN: Do you have an awareness or knowledge of music theory?

JW: Only what I’ve tried to teach myself. My dad showed me how to read guitar chord tablature on sheet music when I was a kid and I took piano lessons and at one point learned how to read notes. I played tenor saxophone in elementary school and I remember at one point I was in band class and we were working on a new song and the girl next to me—I mean I was having trouble with the tune, not being good with reading—she got frustrated and looked at me and said, “Can’t you read?” [laughter] I just said, “No, I guess I really can’t!” I was waiting until I know how the song goes, waiting to hear how you’re going to play it.

MN: That’s when you said to yourself, “I must be a guitar player….” [laughter]

JW: Yeah. It did have something to do with me throwing in the towel on tenor saxophone—you know, I rue that decision now.

MN: I was talking with Ray Noren and he mentioned to me Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which has been his bag since he left music, and it’s all about communication and he talked about how individuals are visual, auditory and kinesthetic in learning. Maybe that’s the case, where you were more auditory and it’s easier to listen than to look at a sheet of paper—after all, it is music.

JW: Definitely. I’ve been playing with this group recently, Janet Klein and her Parlor Boys, and I’m sitting next to this cat, John Reynolds—I think he’s one of the greatest living guitar players. The guy is amazing. It’s a real challenge, it’s a lot of new tunes. She comes up with new material all the time, there’s a lot of stuff that you haven’t played before and may not play again, but everybody in that band is a seasoned musician who can improvise and read. I realize when I’m in the middle of one of those gigs how much it would help me to be able to look at a page of music and not just draw a total blank. If I look at it for long enough and say, “OK, Bb minor, I can find where that is,”—by then the song is over. It’s something I would like to eventually get a better grasp on, definitely.

MN: You’re using your ears to get you through the changes?

JW: Well, pretty much. You know, once I’ve heard it I’m much better on it. Also, playing on an A tuning after playing on C and E for so long—I’ve been playing it for a about 2 years—it’s hard for me, at my age, to make that leap where I know automatically where Bb is, where on a C neck or E neck it’s no problem. I do feel the older I get the more difficult it is to get accustomed to new tunings. [laughs]

MN: Oh, so you’re playing on an acoustic with a raised nut or something like that?

JW: I’m playing a resonator, a new one, a Republic square neck. I’m hoping someday soon I can own a made in the USA version. [note to Don Young and National Reso-Phonic: Get this man a tricone, yesterday!]

MN: That’s how I learned, playing that kind of stuff. To be honest with you, I couldn’t wait to get away from it. But I learned a bunch of Sol Hoopii stuff and it was a blast.

JW: Oh yeah. That and like we were talking about, that Dick McIntire stuff. There’s so much there.

MN: So, you use an E13—is that the McAuliffe E13?

JW: Well, I’ve got the McAuliffe E13 with the 5th and the 3rd on the bottom, I don’t have the low E.

MN: So it’s like Vance Terry’s E13?

JW: I guess more like the Vance Terry E13, yeah.
E
C#
B
G#
F#
D
B
G#

I use that and I use C#min11.

MN: What is the C#min11 tuning?

JW: It’s basically like Dick McIntire’s tuning, but with chromatic strings on the bottom, like Murphey used. I think I first got it from Bobby Black. I think Lee Jeffriess had it figured out from talking to Joaquin. It’s Murphey’s chord tuning that he uses on all that Spade Cooley stuff.

Remington had a similar one, Billy Tonneson had a similar one—this one is from the high strings:
E
C#
G#
E
C#
Bb
D# (upper octave)
F# (upper octave)

That one is tough for me to get around with single notes much; Joaquin could do it like crazy, but you do hear him switching a lot between his 6th tuning and that one.

MN: Is your C6 tuning a straight C6 or is it C13?

JW: It’s sort of like a standard C6 with a G on top, but for string 8 I’ve got a high B, like another chromatic string on that tuning.
G
E
C
A
G
E
C
B (upper octave)

MN: That’s also like Joaquin thing.

JW: Yeah, but he had a C# down there instead of the C (G E C A G E C# B).

MN: I’ve gotten accustomed to the C# there, but I don’t use the high G and I like to play around with the bass string. I can’t live without it at this point. These days I play a more chordal kind of style, almost like a Shearing thing.

JW: Speedy is another guy who used a variation on that Joaquin Murphey tuning. And he’d have been the first to tell you, because that was his idol. It’s a little bit different, though. That’s what he used on that “I’ll Never Be Free” recording.

MN: I just love Speedy West. The one record he did, Guitar Spectacular is one of my favorite records in the world. For the mood, the compositions…he really came into his own as a composer.

JW: I agree with you, although I don’t I’ve ever heard anything he did that didn’t sound fresh and full of invention.

MN: Who are your favorite improvisers, on any instrument?

JW: Coleman Hawkins. If I could play steel guitar like Coleman Hawkins, I’d die happy. Man, I think that guy, from his very earliest stuff on up until he died, he was doing the same thing. You listen to some of those Fletcher Henderson records and his playing pops out so much—tonally, for one thing. His tone jumps off the record. You can just about hear his horn in the ensemble because his tone is so distinctive. And his style, it just seems like, “What!?” Some crazy stuff. He seems to really be stretching and testing the limits melodically. It’s the perfect blend of flowing melody and rhythmic punch—everything is there.

MN: His recording of “Body and Soul” is amazing.

JW: Yeah, I’ve never learned how to play that. I’ve got that in my mind as a goal some day.
Django Reinhardt is one and Charlie Parker I spent a lot of time trying to figure out his stuff but it’s impossible. I have learned a lot trying to figure that stuff out.

MN: I think the thing with those names you mentioned is that they all have such strong voices and personality. Especially Django, he had such an adventurous spirit in his playing.

The following transcription is of the song, Mudslide, composed by Jeremy Wakefield and appearing on his Steel Guitar Caviar CD.

Mudslide clip (head only)



Conversation with Frankie Kay: Kansas City Steel Man

Frankie head shot

Frank Kuebelbeck was born before the first electric guitar was ever made, in 1930. By the time he was in high school, Frankie Kay (as he would become known) was already a bandleader in his native Kansas City, Kansas, playing steel guitar. In 1951, he was a studio musician at KCMO radio, playing morning shows and then playing 6 nights a week in the clubs, when he was offered the opportunity to join Cowboy Copas’ band in Nashville.

When Frank got to Nashville, Dale Potter (fiddle player) suggested he take up residence in a rooming house for Opry pickers. His roommate was none other than Thumbs Carlisle. “One of the funniest things I remember about Thumbs—he played a Bigsby solid guitar—he’d wake me up in the middle of the night sitting in the room in his BVDs just playing up a storm for 2 or 3 hours.” Thumbs and Frankie became close friends and when Thumbs grew tired of the road work (he was with Little Jimmy Dickens at the time), he called Frankie and was offered a job in Kansas City playing in Frankie’s band. “We had a 5 piece group at this Western Swing club and we had all kinds of fun.”

“I’ll tell you one little story about Thumbs—when he first started, he started on the steel guitar. He played the open E tuning and he said the bar drove him nuts. So he pulled the nut off the end of the guitar and he used his thumb. So, anyway, I said, “Can you still play the steel guitar?” he said, “Oh, hell yes!” My steel guitar friends would stop in to see us and I kept one of my necks tuned to E for Thumbs, and he just played the living hell out of it. He’d play stuff like Steel Guitar Rag and he played it just as well as he did on guitar. It would amaze my steel guitar friends.”

Frankie worked in package shows while working with Cowboy Copas in Nashville with artists like George Morgan, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe and Jerry Byrd. “Jerry Byrd, I admired that man so much but he wouldn’t give me the time of day. He was working with Owen Bradley as studio band man up in WSM. We were road people and they all worked for WSM (as we did) but didn’t hobnob with the road people. I was fortunate to know Hank Williams, Sr. and talk to him. I knew enough about horses to talk breed lines with him. He was kind of reclusive and just sat over by himself in the corner, but he was very nice and I’d go over and talk horses with him and he’d talk with me as long as I wanted to talk. And his boys, Don Helms, Cedric Rainwater, Jerry Rivers and Sammy Pruett, lead guitar player, were all friends of mine and were super nice. But I had to get back to Kansas City and make some bucks.”

Frankie went to Riverside, Missouri where a club called the Riverside Rancho was opened and he became the house band. “My brother-in-law ran the place and they allowed me to name the place. When I was with Copas, we went out to the west coast and we just had to see Riverside Rancho, the big place where Noel Boggs, Joaquin Murphey, Tex Williams and all the big boys played. We booked in big bands—we booked Leon McAuliffe and his Cimarron Boys, Bob Wills. I had befriended Leon when I was at KCMO. Leon was coming up to Carthage, Missouri and an engineer friend of mine said, “Do you want to go and see Leon?” I said, “I really do!” We went down there and I met Leon and I got to know the band personally by name and, you’ll never believe this…Leon asked me to sit in! Well, all steel guitar players carry their bar and picks in their pocket if they’re worth a hoot. I sat in and played a blues and I was out of place as a you-know-what! But they tolerated me.”

Curly Chalker is another musician Frank befriended and hired when he was in need of work. Curly was once asked if he knew Frankie and Curly’s reply was, “Frankie Kay is one of the best steel players in the world.” Of course, Frankie says it’s not true. “I became friends with Curly just out of pure guts. I knew that guy had some talent that I’d never ever seen. So I went up and introduced myself and he tolerated me. Next thing you’d know, he’d play himself out of a job and he’d call me up and I’d help him try to find another job.” Phil Sperbeck, pedal steel player, was a protégé of Frankie’s. Phil went on to play with Bob Wills.
“Anyway, Curly was out of a job again, I believe 1954, I said come on out. I’m short one horn man this week. You can work the opposite end of the stage. He said, “What are we gonna do? Two steel guitars?” I said, “That’s been going on a long time with the Western Swing bands. I’ll play it straight, and you just go play anything you want. And he did. At this period of his career, he was HOT! He was a musical athlete when it came to single notes—he would just rip them off—brrrrrrt! I was in steel guitar heaven.”

“I’m really a chord man when it comes down to it. I love good chords—I can’t stand it when somebody plays a wrong one. I don’t mind alternate chords, but I don’t like wrong ones. When I started my Western Swing bands, the Country drummers and piano players were too damn dull for me. They didn’t swing—neither did the bass man. So I hired a jazz piano player, a jazz bass player and a jazz drummer and we took off. The rhythm section was just a swingin’ son-of-a-gun!”

Frank, you are man after my own heart! From one chord man to another, I hope I’m still swingin’ at 81 years old like you are!

*****************************

Mike: You hail from the home of so many wonderful Jazz musicians through its history, such as Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Count Basie–just so many wonderful musicians….

Frankie: Yardbird! He was a Kansas City, Kansas guy!

MN: Who was the one who really caught your ear the most when you first got hip to Jazz? Was it Charlie Parker?

FK: I would say it was a local jazz horn man by the name of Jimmy Keith (note: a member of one of Kansas City’s superb big bands). He was a helluva good tenor sax man. He and I got to be real good friends—he’d be playing in a black club and I’d be playing in a white club and we’d meet after hours and have a drink or go downtown and have a little sandwich of some sort. He and I just hit it off real good and he steered me toward a lot of happenings and recordings and everything like that. Even before that, I had a disc jockey friend of mine that turned me on to a lot of jazz and I really hadn’t heard much of the different guys, but he started me out on Red Rodney, the trumpet player. I thought, “Oh hell, there’s a lot more out there that I’m hearing than I know of!”

Jimmy Keith, front row, 1st on left

MN: When you first heard it you must have been like the rest of us who just can’t help but wonder, “What the heck are they doing?” Harmonically, it’s just so different, a whole other language—it’s a mystery.

FK: I know it—I did. I would just grasp bits and pieces of it. Another thing, Mike, I was lucky that I always had a good jazz piano man in my Western Swing band. I stood right next to the piano and I really gleaned a lot of the chord formations from him, especially if he was on top of things. We had a lot of good jazz men that just weren’t doing anything in my early days in Kansas City and I, being a leader, I was fortunate that I could hire who I wanted. Even though I might have a Western Swing band or a Country type, if I had piano player who was a jazz player, he could play anything.

MN: I guess that’s the way that the jazz language crept its way into Western Swing—because they would hire players with that harmonic knowledge and they would bring that kind of stuff to the Western Swing.

FK: Absolutely. Like Tommy Morrell and all of the players he played with—they’re all jazz players with cowboy suits on.

MN: Right. But I mean you can even hear it in the earliest recordings—little elements of jazz finding their way into the music little by little.

FK: Oh yeah, Bob Wills and Spade Cooley and all those guys had musicians that were capable of playing whatever in the hell they wanted to play. [laughs]

MN: When you looked at the piano player, you could actually look at his hands and see what he played? Do you play a little bit of piano?

FK: No, I’m not a piano player—I wish I were. In those days, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we only had one microphone on the bandstand. It was really primitive. I would just be close enough where I’d hear all those nice chords that he was playing. I couldn’t play them, but I could substitute maybe 2 notes out of the chord, or 3 if I was lucky.

MN: I remember Lee Jeffriess telling me that you had a piano player who studied with Dodo Marmaroso and he was helping you out with some of the voicings and things like that?

FK: Yeah, he was very patient with me and he showed me voicings and substitutions and he told me, “You don’t have to have 3, 4 or 5 notes to make a chord. As long as you get the voicings right in your lower register…” I play a lot of 2 string things. I love the last 5 strings on my E13 tuning. I’m not one of those steel players who play with the first 4 strings and never utilize the bass strings.

MN: I think we have a lot in common! I’m really into playing chords and rhythm stuff on the steel guitar and focusing on the lower register.

FK: Yeah, I focused on playing in the lower register. My tuning is actually E13 tuning, but there are at least 4 different E13 set ups.

MN: What are the notes in yours?

FK: The first string is E, C#, B, G#, F#, D, G# and E.

MN: So you don’t use the B in the lower register…

FK: No, and by doing that a lot of times I can start off…I’m hooked up and I’m sitting by my steel—would there be any problem of me showing you what it sounds like?

MN: Oh, it would be fantastic!

FK: OK, I’m gonna be in the key of G and I’ll just walk a G with 2 notes, an Ami7 with 3 notes and Bmi7 with 3 notes and then I’ll go back down. [Frankie plays a walk up through the cycle back to I–tab to follow]
Could you hear that?

MN: Yes, I did. It sounds similar to the way I like to approach it—you have the 10th interval between the low G and the B and then you played Ami7, Bmi7, Cmi7, Bmi7, Bbdim, Ami7, Ab7. Excellent.
Rhythmically do you like a Red Garland comping rhythm or anything like that?

FK: Yes I do. The way I got to comping was I had a piano, guitar, bass, drums and me. When I didn’t have the piano player, I started playing the piano part behind the lead guitar player. I’ll play you a few bars of that if you’d like….

MN: Sure….

FK: I stay in the same key—I like the lower keys and I’m not one to play up above the 17th fret. It hurts my ears [laughs]. It’s a matter of personal taste….

MN: And it’s a little hard to navigate up there, too.

FK: Yes, it is. [Frankie plays a 12 bar blues using rhythms similar to a pianist’s left hand][tab to follow]

MN: That’s really wonderful. I talk about this stuff so much because of all the things I hear players talking about, I don’t hear people talk that much about play rhythm steel guitar. I don’t mean backup steel where we play high stuff behind a singer, I’m talking about becoming part of the rhythm section. I’ve written some articles about it on my blog. [For a related article, click here]

FK: No kidding! I’m happy to hear that there’s somebody else out there that feels the way I do about it. That’s great.

MN: A lot of guys don’t realize how simple it is to change just one note, for instance, in the C6 tuning making the lower C a C#–sure, you lose the root down below, but you gain so much. In thinking chordally, it’s a no-brainer.

FK: The reason I’ve stuck with this E13 the way I have it, I can get a straight chord: a 6th, a 7th, a 9th, a 3 string diminished and I can get a 3 string augmented with a reverse slant. Then, when I need it I can throw in a 2 note b5 (tritone). It’s what you get used to.

Frankie Kay playing Blue Monk [For a related article, click here]

MN: You play a double-neck Stringmaster, right? What other tuning do you use?

FK: Yeah, I have a double-neck, but I’ve had 4 necks, 3 necks and then I came down to a double. At one time I had a combo with a guitar player who had a double neck with bass on one and lead guitar. And so on my triple neck I had 3 tunings: the E13, probably an A6 or C6 and then I had bass strings that I bought and I doubled on bass when he was playing lead guitar.

A year ago I went to Joaquin Murphey’s tuning on my second neck and it was C6 with an A9 on the last 4 strings.

MN: So you had the B two octaves higher for string 8?

FK: Yeah, that’s it, but it didn’t please me; it was too shrill. So I dropped it down to a Bb6 with a G9 on the last 4 strings. It sounds good, but I’m really not at home on it. I’ve had it on for a year and I’m still learning. It’s an experimental neck and I just play with it for fun.

From l to r: A friend, Frankie, Russ Wever, Bill Dye (standing), Lee Jeffriess

MN: Where did you hear about that tuning?

FK: I think I heard about it from Bill Dye, a friend of Lee Jeffriess who lives in Kansas City. He’s an experimenting son-of-a-gun. He’s a very fine jazz guitar player/blues guitar player; he’d love to play steel for a living, but he has to play with blues and jazz bands on lead guitar to make any bread. But I got that tuning from him, ‘cause he’s wilder than anything. [laughs]

MN: That’s what they say was Joaquin’s tuning. I can hear a few different tunings that he used in different periods. One of my favorites is the one he used on Spade Cooley’s “Dance-A-Rama”. It was a 10” record with maybe 6 or 8 songs on it. His playing is out of this world on that one—he started to play more chords. He really ripped up the single note stuff, too, but he played more chords and added some more altered sounds. He played with a C6 (high G), but he raised the low C to C# and the low A to A#. That recording signifies a big change in his playing.

FK: Yeah, he was growing up, musically. Oh boy, I knew there was a lot more to steel when I heard him playing. [laughs] As a teenager, I heard him playing on the west coast.

MN: Well, one of the common threads between most of the great players is that they got hip to jazz. I think once those colors are available to you as a painter, you can’t paint a painting without them. As soon as you hear those chord qualities, you become drawn to it. Curly Chalker had those sensibilities, too.

FK: He was astounding. I heard him so much growing up and then he worked with me a time or two, although I had to use him on bass because I was playing steel. He didn’t give a damn! He wanted to work, he was hungry.

He was a nice guy. You had to take Curly like he was—he was a genius, but he wasn’t too loving. Tommy Morrell’s lead guitar player said, “He’s a wonderful musician and all that, but you wouldn’t want him for a house pet.” [laughs]

MN: Yes, I’ve heard similar things about both those guys. Neither one of them suffered any fools gladly. But like you said, there was a lot going on upstairs.

Curly, as most people know, didn’t have too many kind words for other players, but apparently he did for you….

FK: I can’t believe that he ever said that, because I knew him pretty well. I liked him, but he never had a kind word for me. [laughs]

MN: I’m sure that your kindness went a long way with him.

FK: First time I met Curly I was 19 and he was playing the straight steel then. He developed into a pedal steel player in his 20s, late 20s.

MN: Did he have all that harmonic sense together back then?

FK: Oh yeah, he was a helluva straight steeler. Tommy Morrell said that he was the best non-pedal steel player in the world.

Curly Chalker, left, on bass, Frankie, center on non-pedal steel, Phil Spurbeck, right, pedal steel.

MN: You told me Tommy Morrell was your idol….

FK: He’s my idol, 100%.

MN: When you listen to Tommy, at times it feels like he’s opening up so many other layers of his playing—he was a deep player….

FK: One of the things I really like about Tommy Morrell is that he didn’t play a thousand notes per second; he played what I could hear and understand. Some of these guys that are rally hot Nahsville players, they just play [emulates machine gun sound]. I can’t get anything out of it.

MN: I can go either way with that, as long as I feel that, whatever the person is playing, it’s part of what they are trying to say and not just gratuitous.

FK: I admire them and wish I could do that, but my mind won’t pick up on a lot of what they’re trying to throw out at me. [laughs]

MN: Did you start playing guitar first?

FK: I started playing steel, but I wish I would have started on guitar, to tell you the truth. If I started on guitar, though, I may have never gone to steel—that’s a possibility.

I had a guitar studio for 40 years and I taught regular guitar. Anyway, I played a job one night with a jazz snob over in Kansas City, MO and he was a saxophone player. He said, “Which guitar you gonna play tonight: the steel or the real?” [laughs] That pissed me off—I never hired him again.

I started playing steel when I was 10 years of age. 60 steel guitar lessons, you get a free wooden guitar. I was the dunce of the class—really, I didn’t take to it too readily. But my Dad was persistent and he enrolled me in private lessons. When I was about 13, I started my own group and I had old guys playing with me.

MN: This is right around WWII. Were you playing any Hawaiian music?

FK: Yeah, I played some Hawaiian stuff, some Cowboy stuff. I was lucky—one of my teachers taught all of those good swing tunes, Sweet Sue, All Of Me—the good old tunes.

MN: Were able to tune a lot of that Hawaiian stuff in on the radio?

FK: Oh yeah, and Alvino Rey, I liked him. He was playing the homemade pedal steel and I loved it. Boy, he was a chord artist. And he had a helluva big band. I liked him and then I gravitated into the west coast players and all that.

MN: How old were you when you moved to Nashville?

FK: Let’s see, I was about 19 when I started playing 6 nights a week. I was working at an insurance agency when I got out of high school. I didn’t want to get a job, but my Mom took me around for interviews and all that. I was an office boy at the insurance agency and I was also playing 6 nights a week making $90/wk as the leader of a 4 piece band in a nightclub. I had to have a special permit because of my age.

After that I got a job on the radio as a staff musician. So, when I was about 20, the disc jockey and program director—Cowboy Copas’ booking agent was his cousin. He wrote a letter and recommended me—I wanted to go to Nashville. I got there and I spent about 9 months and went to the poor house by way of Nashville, because they didn’t pay the guys anything and I was making a couple hundred bucks a week in Kansas City working 3 jobs. We didn’t make any money–$75/wk down there. I gave Copas a month’s notice because he was really a nice man and a wonderful boss. I said, “I’ve got to get back to Kansas City and make some money!” He said “I understand.” He worked me the whole month! [laughs]

One of my good buddies in Nashville was Hank Garland. He kind of moved toward the jazz direction, too. He used to be lead guitar player for Cowboy Copas before I got there. Copas always had a good, hot band.

MN: Who was your favorite steel player then?

FK: Leon McAuliffe was my idol at that time. Besides Leon’s steel playing, he had a helluva good band, the Cimarron Boys. I loved his orchestrations and everything. He was a really early steel guitar player playing hot stuff.

MN: He was a very exciting player, doing it before Speedy and those guys came along. I think he gets overlooked a little bit in that regard.

FK: I think he did, too. Boy, those people in Tulsa, OK—when Leon would go on the road, I had a Western Swing band at the Riverside Rancho in Riverside, which is a suburb of Kansas City, and he would call me before his road date and I’d go to Tulsa and play for him while he was on the road. If you had a steel guitar in the band in Tulsa, you were set. And I played all of Leon’s stuff, I aped him and loved all of his songs. He had a wonderful place called the Cimarron Ballroom. It was an old opera theater and they transformed it into a Western swing ballroom. Those people in Oklahoma and Texas really know how to dance.

MN: It seems you really have taken good care of yourself—you have a great memory….

FK: No, I didn’t, I was just like all the other wild asses around. I’ve got good genes apparently. I’m 81 and I’ve been married to the same wife for 59 years.

MN: You don’t hear about 60th anniversaries too often….

FK: Not very much, especially when one member is a full-time musician. [laughs]

MN: She must have an element of saintliness in her.

FK: Well, that and she is powerful, let’s put it that way! She knew I was in the music business when I met her and she tolerated it.

MN: Do you like to improvise when you play?

FK: I’m an improvising son-of-a-gun, but when you get away from the melody, you might as well pack up and go home. I like to start off with the melody, like Morrell did, but I’m not satisfied, I like to improvise all the time.

MN: Do you have a certain approach to improvising?

FK: I think I play off of the chord changes more than I do the melody. I really don’t like to play the same ad lib every time; I like to expound and play beyond. I like to play something different.

MN: Well, Jazz is music of the moment, you know—it’s spontaneous composition. Do you find it hard to find other players coming from the same place?

FK: It cramps my style when I’m playing a 3 chord blues and I start to wander off and throw the other guys. That’s pretty bad. My favorite player on earth is the bass man. If I’ve got a good bass man, I don’t need anybody else. How about you?

MN: Yeah, I’d have to agree. I think you can have a steel guitar trio—bass, drums and steel—and it would work great. One of my personal dream situations would be to play steel in an organ trio, just steel, drums and organ player—someone who played the bass pedals.

FK: Oh, yeah, that would be great. B3 organ? I never even thought about that.

MN: Frank, I really appreciate every moment that you spent talking with me. It’s quite an honor.

FK: Well, I’ve enjoyed talking to you—you talk the lingo I understand, as the song goes.

Special thanks to Lee Jeffriess, Russ Wever and Nancy Kuebelbeck.

Conversation with Lee Jeffriess, Part 2




M: Do you think you picked up a good sound approach from the beginning or did you have to go back and correct a lot of bad habits?

L: I’m sure I’ve got a ton of bad habits and stuff. The only thing I would say is, I think the key is you’ve got to get the information but you can’t let it take you over. Do you know what I mean? It’s like you’ve got to take it in, try and understand it and then forget it and make your own language from it or something. I wish that I’d been more studious, to be honest, but the other side of the coin is you throw yourself in there and you make it happen—you pull it out of the air. You don’t sit down and transcribe and study, you just keep playing and get all over the guitar and play it and listen to a lot of people. I remember when I sat down to listen to Speedy and Jimmy, I really wasn’t interested in what notes Speedy was playing—I was trying to suck up the energy of it.

M: That’s the one thing I get when I listen to you—I hear that energy and I hear the overall sound. It’s like you’re a conduit of that kind of energy.

L: Well, I appreciate that! I think it’s his mantra of just dig yourself in a hole and then dig yourself out, just throw yourself out there. I think that’s where the energy comes from, just this crazy nervous stuff that he manifests, and Vance had it, too. That’s the danger, man. Speedy had this one path, like a Shaolin monk, his thing was just throw it out there. And it makes for exciting guitar playing. I mean, you are going to fall on your ass, too, you know? That’s the other side of it. I mean, I might have these skeletal themes but in a live setting I just try to play it completely off the top of my head as much as I can. And sometimes there isn’t anything in my head, and other times, bingo! Everything you try comes off….

M: I don’t think I could play music unless I played it like that.

L: It ain’t there all the time, sometimes your receiver’s not tuned in, is it?

M: No, but I’ve learned how to live with denial, like that never happened! Once those notes are gone, they’re real gone.

L: There’s nothing like a night when you’re on and the band’s cooking and there’s feedback from the audience. That excitement’s contagious, people are dancing…I’m really adamant about if I’m going to go out and play music with people, there’s got to be people dancing. I’m not interested…you know, we’ll do stuff that’s introspective like On The Alamo or something like that which is nice and breaks up the pace, but most of the time I want people to dance.

M: And yet, you write such pretty, introspective songs…

L: [laughs] Well, I’ve been constantly rewriting Moonlight Serenade. [laughs] I’ll tell you what—it’s a piece of music I’ve been obsessed with since I’ve been about 8 or 9 years old. I think it’s my earliest recollection of hearing music, there’s something about it. It’s haunted me all of my life.

You know, I wish that more people were in tune with just flat out beautiful, pretty music. I look around and see these people and all they listen to is this bizarre negative, atonal crap. I’m sorry, that’s what it is to my ears. Or you know, borderline satanic rock music and it’s just like heartbreaking. They can’t sit down and appreciate something like Claire de Lune or Parker With Strings—some of the most beautiful music ever made. I feel sorry for them that they don’t have that in their lives.

M: That’s why when someone does come along and shows an interest in music we’re so quick to want to help them out and bring them along, because it’s rare. It’s rare when someone is that hungry for it and if you can bring beauty to them, that’s doing a good thing.

L: Yea, people have done it for me—I’ve been fortunate enough to meet a lot of cool people and they’ve helped me along the way. I’ve asked a lot of questions—I’ve talked to a lot of old-timers and I picked their brains and some of them probably thought I was a pain in the ass, but I just had a thirst to know.

M: Well, I’m so glad you did, because you got a lot stuff from them that would be gone now.

L: I’ve got to mention this guy because barely anyone knows who this guy is. I’ve sat down with Joaquin Murphey and watched him play, right, and seriously that’s a pretty major thing to have happened in my life. I met Speedy and Bobby Koeffer and Herb Remington and Billy Tonneson, you know, I feel blessed. But there’s one guy I met and I’ve seen him play a couple of times and just will never get the recognition those guys had and he was just as much monster. He had a completely unique style—the closest thing you could think of would be Koeffer, but with way more dissonance and altered harmony. His name is Frank Kay and he’s still alive and he lives in Kansas City. Frank led a really big Western Swing band in KC right through the ’50s—in the early ’50s he toured with Cowboy Copas. He was good friends with Koeffer, Hank Garland, anyone who came from Kansas City knew Frank Kay and/or played with him. At one time he played twin steels with Curly Chalker and Thumbs Carlyle was the guitar player, he really did play with some heavyweight guys and he had all their respect as well, he was of their caliber, too.

I was introduced to Frank about 12-15 years ago and I went to his home several times and watched him play and he primarily played McAuliffe E13 and he sounded like a jazz pianist. He was that sophisticated. He played stuff that I have no idea how the hell he got to it. I’d stop him and say “what were you doing?” and he’d play me the chord back and I’d ask “that was the chord you just did?” and he’d say “yeah, but you know it’s the chord that came before and the chord that came after it, your mind fills in the blanks.”

I was really interested in how he got to that point and he said “Look, in the mid 50s there were guys that came from Herman’s band and some that played with Basie and I could hire them. They’d put on a western shirt and come play with me. At one point I had this kid–I called him a kid but he was only 2 years younger than me—and he studied with Dodo Marmarosa.” And he goes “I had a helluva time trying to find these guitar players that play that really good comp, those Eldon Shamblin type passing chords. I sat down with that piano player and I said there’s got to be a way I can fake this on the steel, can you help me figure it out? And the piano player said, “Sure, write out how that thing’s tuned” and the guy studied on it and they got together and he said “Here you go Frank, I’ve kind of laid out some substitutions you can play” and I just wrote it out in tab….” I’m probably not telling this in the most accurate way, but basically that was the premise. And Frank just ran with the ball. It was like the beginning of his rebirth of his style. Even Chalker recognized it, too. I know someone else who independently met Chalker and said, “hey, do you know Frank Kay?” and Chalker just turned around and said, “Frank Kay’s probably one of the best steel players I’ve ever seen!” And you know you never heard Chalker compliment anyone. [laughs] That was pretty enlightening. I remember walking away from the first time I’d seen him play going, “Man, you really don’t need a pedal steel when you can do what he can do.”

M: He got the information from the best possible source, you know piano players.

L: Interesting, I think some of the hipper steel players were hip to piano, like Joaquin was hardcore into Shearing and Peterson.

M: I think it’s right around the time of Spade Cooley’s Dance-O-Rama record that I really noticed the extended harmonies in Joaquin’s playing.

L: Absolutely, He’s thinking more chordally at that point isn’t he?

Hawaii hana Hou – Joaquin Murphey

M: And that Hawaii Forever tape might be some of my favorite of all his playing—that’s a side of his playing that I really love.

L: It’s beautiful, man. There’s some really beautiful outros things on there that are very Shearing-like the way he starts stacking chords up. Back to Debussy, I guess—there’s a lot of Debussy in Shearing.

There’s a few people that didn’t get it—it was too understated for them. I was like, “You kind of got to give it a chance.” It’s very mellow and they couldn’t understand this other facet of his playing, they were so used to Joaquin’s crazy flights; that’s there in there, too, I mean he plays some beautiful single note things in there, but by this point he really knows what he’s doing with that tuning and he’s added pedals to it and he’s getting some beautiful chords.

Go to Part 3