I’ve been playing Pedal Steel Guitar for nearly 7 years now. Over those years I like to think that I’ve learned quite a bit about other players past and present and about the different Steel Guitar styles these people have brought to popular music.
Surprisingly, to me, it was only the other day I thought of a question… does playing the Pedal Steel Guitar make you old or, keep you young?
Where I live in London, England, I am very much in the minority… about as rare as a Harp player. So when I took up this instrument at 21, a lot of my friends had the idea that I was an old man trapped in a young persons body… I mean who else listens to Country music and wants to play a bizarre instrument! In the realms of university bands (Funk/Jazz & Pop) instrument anyway!
Maybe they we’re right. I do like old vintage stuff and it seems everything has to go 20 years before I accept it but that’s another story.
After university I found my niche playing in “Americana” type bands and with singer songwriters up and down the country, mainly for free until I got the job with Billy Bragg. I was 24/25 at the time and going on a 7 week tour of America was an incredible adventure! If that doesn’t make you feel young then you may as well give up!
Playing this instrument comes with another set of problems though. The weight of these things usually varies from 21kg upward! The lightest one I own is 21Kg and with a flight case comes to 28kg! (I don’t want to even think what my Fender Double 8 weights!) Recently I found myself with severer back problems, which I have been battling with for months and seeing an Osteopath over. Its getting better but the pain was debilitating for a short while.
When sat at the steel its easy to loose posture when concentrating on a part. Its easy to hold fingers 3 & 4 of the bar hand too ridged which seems to give you arm problems. The shoulder pains under my shoulder blades I think may be from holding a knee lever over for entire tunes to play the B6th tuning on my Universal Pedal Steel.
Obviously lifting the Steel into cars a few times a day and after you’ve done that, you’ve got to get that Fender twin in too.
So is it worth it? Well… yeah!
Being such a rare instrument its has a lot of demand in the right circles. Lately I’ve been listening to BJ Cole’s “Transparent Music”. BJ has got some great credits to his name from Elton John “Tiny Dancer” to Groove Armada.
In the 90s he worked with Indie artists such as Richard Ashcroft and more experimental mainstream music such as Bjork. He still continues to work with younger artists such as First Aid Kit and Ethan Johns on shows. This isn’t just the case here. Even in the USA Greg Leisz , notability one of the busiest Steel Players around plays with Sara Watkins and records steel for Miranda Lambert. There are many more examples out there.
It seems for now that this relatively modern instrument has had a revival in popular music with the “Americana” Genre, not that I’m saying it ever went away but right now it seems to be a good time to be a Steel Guitarist. Obviously your as young as your mind or body lets you act but, I think its safe to say that if you keep a fresh repertoire of ideas, don’t pigeon hole yourself musically and can still bare to lift it into the car! Pedal Steel will definitely keep you young.