|My musical career began at about age 10 with an interest in playing the
drums. My dad, Les Loessberg, was a steel player, and I would go with
him to his jobs and sit in with the band. I played professionally for
the first time when I was 13 years of age and continued to play drums until
I was about 17.
It was then that I first became interested in playing the steel guitar. I had the good fortune of having been exposed to the best steel players in the world as a teenager. I remember my mom and dad taking my brother --who was a terrific bass player -- and me to see Buddy Emmons, Jimmy Day and Rick Price, who was then playing for Johnny Bush. The more I heard my dad and those other great players play, the more I wanted to try to make those beautiful sounds myself.
My dad had an old Wright Custom steel that had started out as a triple neck before he sawed off one of the necks! It had a cable-pull mechanism underneath but it felt fine to me at the time. It was this instrument (we still have it) on which I learned to play. I remember the first tune my dad taught me was Faded Love. My dad was a great "old-school" player who had played since the 1940s and had played pedals since they first appeared. I was very lucky to have had him as a teacher.
The next steel rides I learned were You'd Be Doing The Same Thing As Me and Boy With A Future from the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree album. After that, I woodshedded almost every record we had -- with my dad bailing me out if I got stuck!
During this time I was getting to know Rick Price from attending Johnny Bush dances. I would watch him play and learn positions and technique. He sold me my first steel in 1977, a 1960's model Emmons double neck that Marty Muse now plays. Over the next few years he would show me countless licks. I had also known Randy Reinhard, a steel player who had played piano with Johnny Bush a few years before. He also helped me tremendously during those formative years. More than twenty years later, I still count Rick and Randy as two of my best friends.
Right after I got out of high school, I moved to Big Spring, Texas to go to work with Hoyle Nix and the West Texas Cowboys. Hoyle had a great Western Swing band and I learned a lot while working with him. Son Jody Nix (now playing fiddle in his own band, Jody Nix and the Texas Cowboys) was playing drums in the band then. I lived with Jody while I was working for Hoyle and I kept him up every night practicing my steel in his living room!
By late 1980, I was travelling with a play called the Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. I hadn't played outside Texas much before then and I was able to see a great deal of the United States. I loved doing the show but Rick was leaving Johnny Bush and asked me to take his place. I left the show to go to work with Johnny Bush and played with him for the next seven or eight years. Since I had grown up learning to play his songs, the job was perfect for me.
Most of John's early records featured Jimmy Day and Buddy Emmons. It was only natural that those two players would continue to be major influences on my playing. As John continued to record, he began using Weldon Myrick on his records. I loved everything Weldon did and I learned every lick on every song on every album (at least every one I could figure out)!
As well as influencing me with their playing, each of these three players has helped me personally as well. I don't think I have ever seen Buddy Emmons in person when I didn't ask him to show me licks. He has always graciously shown me everything I have ever asked him to -- and then some. I have called Weldon on the telephone to ask about licks and he has been just as kind. Toward the end of his career, Jimmy Day lived just down the road in Buda, Texas and I would see him from time to time and he was always great. Today, I try to help other players much the same way these great players helped me.
After leaving Johnny Bush, I went to work for another Bush, this time George. Even though I continued to play I was pretty involved with politics for a while and was starting to feel like my playing was not getting any better. What could I do to improve my technique, my ear and my theoretical knowledge, I wondered? Jazz, I decided was the answer.
For all of my career, I had been afraid of jazz. Oh, I had learned to play Cherokee and The Preacher by listening to Buddy Emmons but I was sure jazz was much harder. And even though I had memorized those tunes, I really didn't know what I was playing. I remember the first time I saw a chart for Cherokee, I thought it was wrong!
The first time I heard Charlie Parker play, I was hooked. I didn't care how hard I thought it was going to be, I knew I had to try. The more jazz records I bought, the more I started to hear that all of my favorite steel players had been influenced by the masters. For instance, I hear a lot of Hank Garland, Cannonball Adderly and Charlie Parker in many steel players' C6th playing. And I began to realize that I was doing the right thing if these jazz players were influencing the steel players who were influencing me.
After hardly any time, I had put together a quartet featuring a trumpet player, an upright bass player and a drummer. I was awful but I figured I was not going to get any better playing in my bedroom! We managed to play a few gigs before the group broke up.
As I have taken my steel to various jazz jam sessions, I have noticed that I am the only guy around Austin who would take his steel to play with the real jazz players. It occurred to me that a lot of other players could benefit from learning to play jazz so I set out to create a course to teach it.
While it has proved to be a challenge, jazz has not turned out to be something to have been afraid of. I think any player with a C6th tuning or even a universal tuning could benefit greatly from learning to play jazz. While I will never give up country music, I credit jazz for breathing new life into me as a musician.
For the past few years I have been doing a syndicated radio show that I call Legend Radio. It features traditional (fiddle and steel) Country music from the 1960s and 1970s. You can find the stations that carry the program at www.legendradio.com.
Around 1990, I formed Startex Records which specializes in traditional Country
music and is based in Round Rock, Texas. Our artists include Jake Hooker,
Johnny Bush, Curtis Potter, Frenchie Burke, Dugg Collins and Dottie Jack.
CDs from these great artists as well as my steel guitar instrumental
CDs are available at our website
of these CDs were recorded right here in Round Rock at my Legend Radio
© Copyright 1998, Jim Loessberg