Moaning-String Master Don Helms

(Play loud enough to hear the rhythm guitar and brushed snare)

Steel guitarist Don Helms recently died in Nashville at the age of 81, Terence McArdle noted in the  August 18th Washington Post.  Mr. Helms was a virtuoso of the steel guitar, the electric instrument played with a sliding steel bar to produce a distinctively liquid, mournful sound, the hallmark of country “Honky-Tonk” and Western Swing music.

Mr. Helms was a founding father of the gritty Honky Tonk style, and toured with Hank Williams, Ray Price, Ernest Tubb, the Wilburn Brothers, Hank Williams Jr. and Jett Williams. He and other members of the Hank Williams backup band, the Drifting Cowboys, reunited in 1977 and toured as The Original Drifting Cowboys Band until 1979, playing their final concert at the Smithsonian Institution. Mr. Helms was the last surviving member of Hank William’s Drifting Cowboys.

Don Helms was in demand as a studio musician from 1949 until his death, and played on hundreds of recordings with artists who included Hank Williams (“Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey, Good Lookin,”, 104 tracks in all), Patsy Cline (“Walkin’ After Midnight”), Stonewall Jackson (“Waterloo”), Lefty Frizzell (“The Long Black Veil”),  Loretta Lynn (“Blue Kentucky Girl”), Jim Reeves, Webb Pierce, Ferlin Husky, Johnny Cash, Marty Stuart, Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, Taylor Swift, Bon Jovi, and Kid Rock. “At the time of his passing, Helms . . . . was working on an album of Hank Williams songs with Vince Gill,”  according to Terry Mullins of the Cherokee Village, Arkansas Village Journal.

The octegenarian has a MySpace page. His memoirs, written with Dale Vinicur, were published in 2005 as Settin’ the Woods on Fire.

The teen-aged Don Helms got an electric steel guitar before the Alabama family farm got electricity, so he put it on top of a galvanized washtub and learned to play by listening to its resonation. Guitar enthusiasts will want to know that this early Sears Silvertone lap guitar was succeeded by a Fender eight-string double-neck model. In 1950 Mr. Helms switched to the Gibson Console Grand double-neck model he used to make the classic recordings with Hank Williams, and contined to play it even though he mastered the later pedal steel models.

” The sound of his steel guitar is as much a part of our atmosphere as the wind, trains, or church bells. ” 
 — Marty Stuart

 Moaning-String Master Don Helms

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