June 4, 2014
When I began to try and put my first band together in Nashville back in the early sixties, the first musician I reached out to was a tall, strapping ex-policeman who had just come to Nashville from off the force in Jayton, Texas. He was a steel guitar player, and the first time I recall seeing him he was carrying a shiny new Fender 1000 double-necked steel guitar and case up the back stairs inside the old Capitol Records building on 16th Avenue South. Famed guitar and steel player, Walter Haynes, knew I was looking to hire a steel player, and he’d set up an audition for young Weldon Myrick to show his wares to budding Opry star, Bill Anderson the following morning.
One would have been hard pressed to determine which young aspirant was more nervous, the potential hirer or the potential hiree. We we both swimming in unfamiliar waters.
In an effort to try and truly impress his prospective new employer the next day, Weldon went home and spent much of his time the night before polishing and shining up his new instrument. He rubbed several layers of lacquer and polish across the wooden front of his steel, assuring that no fingerprints would show and that all the bad notes from performances past had been completely rubbed away. He thought of everything except making sure his liquid treatments would be sufficiently dried before he reinserted his instrument back into its new fur-lined case and tucked it away for the night.
You’re way ahead of me at this point aren’t you? For when he arrived at his audition the next morning, he found his fancy new guitar caked in hundreds of sticky, irremovable dark green fuzz balls.
By the time I arrived to listen to him play, poor Weldon’s mind was so caught up in trying to get the fuzz off his instrument that it’s a wonder he could find his E-string. And then, in all my unbridled aggressiveness, I broke right out and asked Weldon if he’d ever played a steel guitar with a plastic comb. Yeah, you know, like in his left hand where the round steel bar was supposed to go…had he ever replaced that bar with a comb?? He looked at me as though I had lost my mind.
I tried to explain. I had a record out called, “Po’ Folks,” which featured a banjo and a harmonica as its primary lead instruments. There were not enough free-lance harp blowers and banjo pluckers in Nashville at the time to assure me of a steady stream to cover my Opry spots each week, so steel guitar virtuoso, Pete Drake, had invented a hybrid sound of sorts on his steel guitar, and every time he duplicated the licks from off the record by placing a thin black plastic hair comb across his strings the crowds went wild. I simply was anxious to find out if Weldon thought he could copy Pete’s creation well enough for the loud, long ovations to continue. But he was entirely too consumed by the fuzz balls glued to his guitar to really care.
By the end of the day, though, I realized the man could really play, and that he played in a way that easily could distinguish him from the other great pedal-steel players of the day: Buddy Emmons, Jimmy Day, Bobby Garrett, Pete Drake, and others. I hired Weldon, and he stayed witrh me for a little over three years. Those are his signature steel licks you hear on my recordings of “Five Little Fingers,” “Bright Lights & Country Music,” “I love You Drops,” and the unforgettable intro and turnaround on the original recording of “Three A.M.”
Not long after Weldon came to work with me, I discovered a young female singer up in Ohio named Connie Smith, brought her to Nashville, helped align her with RCA Victor Records, and carefully chose the musicians for her first recording session. Naturally, I wanted her records to sound different from so many of the others coming off Music Row and I thought the best place to start was with fresh sounds from young pickers like Weldon, guitarist Jimmy Lance, and drummer Snuffy Miller, all of whom were playing in my band at the time.
The rest, as they say, is history. Weldon played the memorable intro to Connie’s “Once A Day,” it became a monster record, and the Weldon Myrick secret wasn’t a secret anymore. Weldon eventually played on dozens of Connie Smith’s recordings, and finally left my band to help her put her own touring band together. It hurt my feelings a bit at the time, but things were moving forward exactly as they should have been.
Weldon later became the staff steel player in the Opry band and was ultimately voted membership in the national Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. We would see one another occasionally, and we were each genuinely happy for the other’s success.
When I returned home from Canada last week I found a letter and a CD from Weldon sitting on my desk. I couldn’t remember his ever having written to me before. His letter said that he had run across a man with some new and interesting song ideas and he wanted me to hear them. At the top of the page he had written, , “Hope this finds you in good health and spirits.” And then at the bottom he signed off with, “Love, Weldon.”
The day after I received his letter, I learned that he had suffered a major stroke and was in critical condition at St Thomas Hospital. He passed away Monday at the age of 76.
Neither of us had been the Music City Flavor of the Month for quite some time, but his life and his music will always be closely tied to mine. I’ll miss my ole Fuzz Ball Buddy…and maybe in our next band we can work on playing with that comb.
Until then, thanks my friend. May you rest in peace.