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Steel guitar ace Emmons dies

Tuesday, July 21, 2015 – Buddy Emmons, an innovative pedal steel player, died July 21 of a heart attack.

Emmons played with such musicians as Little Jimmy Dickens, Linda Ronstadt, The Everly Brothers, Ernest Tubb, John Hartford and Ray Price.

Emmons was born Jan. 27, 1937 in Mishawaka, Ind. His father bought him a six-string lap steel guitar when he was 11 and arranged lessons for him. By 15, he had progressed to the point of playing with local bands in South Bend, Ind. He quite high school at 16 and moved to Detroit a year later to play with Casey Clark.

In 1955, Little Jimmy Dickens heard Emmons playing with Clark and offered him a job at 18. Emmons moved to Nashville and recorded several songs for Columbia with Dickens' band. In 1956, Dickens disbanded his group. Emmons and Shot Jackson then formed Sho-Bud Co. to design and build pedal steel guitars. He would continue tweaking the instrument in the ensuing decades with his steel guitar the instrument of choice for many. Emmons started doing session work in Nashville with one of his first being on Faron Young's hit "Sweet Dreams."

In 19857, Emmons joined Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours. He was on the hit "Half a Mind (to Leave You)," and the following year Emmons did leave Tubb's band and headed to California. He soon returned, rejoined the Troubadours, playing lead guitar before returning to pedal steel.

In 1962, Emmons left Tubb's group to join Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys. His first recording was the hit song "You Took Her Off My Hands." Emmons stayed with Price until 1967, unhappy with Price's pop-style direction.

But work fell off for Emmons, who fell victim to drinking, pills, tax issues and a second divorce.

Emmons got his life under control with his third marriage in 1967, a marriage which lasted until his wife's death in 2007. He moved to Los Angeles, playing bass for Roger Miller and doing session work. His first recording was on Judy Collins' "Someday Soon." He recorded with Gram Parsons, Nancy Sinatra and Ray Charles.

Emmons returned to Nashville in 1974 where he soon was doing session work for the likes of Mel Tillis, Duane Eddy and Charlie Walker. He continued doing session work for decades for artists including George Strait and Ricky Skaggs.

Emmons also recorded his own albums, including "Buddy Emmons Sings Bob Wills."

He also toured with the Everly Brothers started in 1991. He suffered from repetitive motion injury, which resulted in him stopping to play for a year. He never returned to regular studio work, but would sometimes record with Willie Nelson, Johnny Bush and Ray Price, while also doing steel guitar shows.

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