Where have I heard Pedal Steel Guitar?

Some of the big records with that sound.

There are thousands of classic country 45's from the 1950's and 60's featuring pedal steel. If you've ever heard Tammy Wynette's Stand By Your Man, Patsy Cline's I Fall To Pieces or Together Again by Buck Owens, you'll be familiar with that crying, high, lonesome sound - one of the key elements of country music. But it doesn't end there. Once The Byrds, Dylan and the Rolling Stones got hold of country there was no stopping the steel guitar from making it to a global listening audience.

In the 1970's millions of rock fans were exposed to pedal steel via Jerry Garcia's intro to CSNY's Teach Your Children, also the soaring backing to Elton John's Tiny Dancer provided by BJ Cole as well as the subtle stylings of Ben Keith on Harvest, the multi-platinum Neil Young LP. Topping the pop charts were number one records by The Carpenters (Top Of The World) and The Starland Vocal Band (Afternoon Delight - a song fans of Anchorman will remember) while Rick Nelson's Garden Party hit the top ten, likewise Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer, complete with pedal steel/trumpet solo.

TV and movie soundtracks often turn to pedal steel for atmosphere or country backdrops. Hit shows such as The Dukes of Hazzard and The Fall Guy reflected the popularity of all things stunts and cars (and steel guitars) in the 70's and 80's. On the big screen Brian Eno's Apollo (For All Mankind), the Oscar winning Brokeback Mountain score and Hans Zimmer's pedal steel "orchestra" assembled for Man of Steel unveiled a more expansive, cinematic role for the instrument.

Although modern country music has pushed drums and guitars to the fore, pedal steel is still a mainstay of the genre, having featured on enormous selling albums by George Strait, Alan Jackson and Dwight Yoakam among many.

By the '90's the influence of Gram Parsons and The Byrds' 1968 Sweetheart of The Rodeo album was being played out in the alternative music scene. The Lemonheads' Big Gay Heart and Uncle Tupelo's Anodyne album prefigured the alt-country and americana movement, culminating in steel-heavy records by Ryan Adams and Ray LaMontagne. More recently, some of the leading lights of 2013/14 including Beck, Jack WhiteBon Iver, First Aid Kit, Sturgill Simpson, Robert Ellis and Daft Punk have kept pedal steel guitar in their hearts and on the airwaves. Hopefully more people than ever can put a name to that sound.


Posted on January 30, 2014 .