Saturday Single No. 441


You know that line about blind pigs and acorns? Well, it happens here, too.

We were all set to go play some games with numbers, seeing as how today is April 4, which translates into 4/4. We were going to turn that into 44 and see what records sat at No. 44 on April 4 over the years. And then we looked at the Billboard Hot 100 from April 4, 1964, and parked at No. 44 was a record titled “Forever” credited to by Pete Drake and His Talking Steel Guitar. That stopped me.

Drake, who passed on in 1988, was a master of the pedal steel guitar, and his work showed up on more Nashville sessions than one can likely keep track of, almost certainly in the thousands. The list of credits at All-Music Guide, which generally offers – as I understand it – listings from only those album that include credits in their packaging, runs 615 entries long. Many of the listings are for recent re-issues, but even so, the names – both from the reissue era we’re now in and from the years before Drake’s death – are impressive: B.J. Thomas, Don McLean, Stonewall Jackson, Lacy Dalton, Janie Fricke, Kenny Rogers, Moe Bandy, Dolly Parton, Leon Russell, Bob Dylan, Doug Kershaw, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Ian & Sylvia, Buddy Holly and on and on.

His biography, as offered by Wikipedia, is instructive, and it’s possible that Pete Drake would have been famous if the only thing he’d done was organize the Sons of the South in the late 1950s; that band had as members such luminaries-to-be as Kershaw, Jerry Reed, Roger Miller, Jack Greene and Joe South. But of course, he went on to play on those thousands of sessions and to produce as well.

And he was instrumental in the development of what came to be known as the talk box, later used to great effect by Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh and others. Drake’s work built on the idea, Wikipedia says, of Alvino Rey and his wife, Luise King, “who first modulated a guitar tone with the signal from a throat microphone in 1939.” In an interview with Douglas Green for Guitar Player magazine in the early 1970s, Drake said:

You play the notes on the guitar and it goes through the amplifier. I have a driver system so that you disconnect the speakers and the sound goes through the driver into a plastic tube. You put the tube in the side of your mouth then form the words with your mouth as you play them. You don’t actually say a word: The guitar is your vocal cords, and your mouth is the amplifier. It’s amplified by a microphone.

The system, Wikipedia notes, was only loud enough to be useful for studio recording (which left to others the work of creating a system that could be used in concert).

And it was that plastic tube gadget that Drake used on his 1964 album Forever. The title track from that album is the record that caught my attention this morning, when I noticed it sitting at No. 44 in the April 4, 1964, Hot 100. It eventually peaked at No. 25. A second single, “I’m Sorry,” bubbled under at No. 122 later in 1964 (and showed up on a 1965 album, Talking Steel Guitar).

Given all that, it was an easy choice to make “Forever” by Pete Drake and His Talking Steel Guitar today’s Saturday Single.


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