Pedal Steel Guitar by Oak Publications

The Oak book. "Who's the kid?" A close look will show that the pedals on it are the second generation re-made ones.
The Oak book
Oak Publications is the "folkie" branch of Music Sales Corporation. Since I was one of the only steel players working with "folkies," I was approached in about 1972 concerning writing a pedal steel instruction manual. I turned them down. "Me? You gotta be kidding!" I had been playing for a year and a half.

In early 1974 I was visiting my banjo playing friend Pete Wernick, and he showed me a banjo book for Oak that he had just written. I looked at it, and my reaction was, "I can do this!"

So I phoned Oak. They said they wanted to see a proposed table of contents, an introduction, and a sample chapter.

I had recently found out about the Steel Guitar show in St. Louis. I knew that one thing I would certainly want in the book was photos of all the players, and I knew that many would be at St. Louis. I booked a flight and a room, and headed out with five rolls of film and my trusty Nikon.

On the plane going out I formulated the contents of the book. When I got to St. Louis, I discussed the ideas I had with Jeff Newman (who produced most of the instructional material at the time) and with "Mr. Nashville Sound," Lloyd Green. They were both supportive.

By the time I returned from St. Louis I had a lot of information and a load of pictures.

The sample chapter I wrote was the one having to do with "blocking." I submitted it to Oak the second week in September 1974.

Within a few weeks, I got a call from Oak. They were very interested in the book, but they first had to approach all the people they had previously asked to do the book to tell them they had an offer and offer them "first dibs" were they still interested.

I have no idea who else they had asked, but I know that one person was Bill Keith. Bill inquired as to who they had "on line" and when they mentioned my name, he said that he would very much like to work with me on the project. I was honored to be able to have his help, so we signed a contract to do the book.

Bill and I got together in early November, and planned it out. I was to do all the technical stuff. We would share the tablature. Bill would do the chapters on chord theory. We would consult on the rest.

I realized that I wanted to have the books ready for the September Steel Convention, so we worked backwards and found that the manuscript had to be in the publishers hands by mid-April. So we had our deadline.

I began writing the technical stuff and prepared the chapters about volume pedals, picks, bar, etc. I also contacted all the steel players I could to have them submit their copedant charts. I began to contact sources for photos of steel players. Tom Bradshaw was of invaluable help as was Jeff Newman.

A major problem happened when trying to get permission for tunes. Oak had a policy of playing a flat rate for the use of tunes, and if the publisher wanted a percentage, it would come out of our royalties. A good number of music publishers turned us down. Champion Music Co., the publisher of "Crazy Arms," said we could use the song, as long as the words did not appear. Chet Atkins, through Athens Music (a publishing company owned by his wife), was gracious enough to give permission to use "Bud's Bounce" and Glad Music gave us permission to use "She Thinks I still Care." The rest were either public domain tunes or those either Bill or I wrote.

Bill and I got together to go over the manuscript around Christmas time, and started working on the tablature.

I realized that no one out there would know us from Adam, so I approached Lloyd Green, Buddy Emmons, and Curly Chalker to write intros. Curly turned me down saying he wasn't a writer and I should get Lloyd. I mailed rough manuscripts to both Lloyd and Buddy, and both wrote introductions.

Buddy told me that he read the manuscript while going to California for a session. He sat reading it on the plane and said, "Nah. I don't do it like that... hold on... hmm... hey! I DO do it like that!"

On the date the book was due, I gave it completed to the publisher.

The only thing left was to do the demo record, and that was done in a studio in New Jersey in late April.

Then we just sat and waited for the book to be printed.

The cover was conceived by Iris Weinstein, the designer. I took "The Steel" up to NYC for the photo session. They were getting reflections off my glasses so I removed them for the shot. Yup! The kid on the cover is me!

The books were delivered in time for Scotty's show.

It took a while, but the sales were slow and steady. Since it was first printed in 1975 over 30,000 have been sold.

Since first printing, much has changed, but Oak seems to have a policy of keeping the books as they were. Because of this, references to stores, manufacturers, and recording are quite out of date, although there are some folks who are still in business at the same address, and many of the recordings which were out of print 10 years ago are now back as CDs.

People have asked if I would do it differently were I to do it again. I believe that it holds together really well. There are two changes I would make.

When writing the tablature, I used the conventions already in place. I did change the knee lever nomenclature to "R" for raise and "L" for lower, which I believed was more accurate than calling the "F" for the E to F raise and "E" for the E to Eb lower. I wish I had taken the bigger step that Jimmie Crawford finally did with "Mu-Sym-Tab" when he stopped naming the pedals and knees and just indicated what action was happening on the string itself.

The second change would be to have included some simpler tablature in the beginning. The first "Red River Valley" which was arranged by Bill Keith was about two steps too complex for a first tune. I have spoken to people who learned from the book and they, after playing for a while, went back to the tablature and found a whole level of understanding there.

It warms my heart to listen to a great player and then have them tell me that they got started with my book.