Apr 232017
 

Austin Tripp
Travis Egnor
Brett Robinson

Country Music has THREE staple pillars of it’s foundation or it’s backbone if you will. Those are in this order the songwriter, the producer, and the steel guitar in my opinion it takes those three to make a classic Country Music album. My point being Willie Nelson “Red Headed Stranger” and “Wanted The Outlaws” as two prime examples that had all three. Shooter will tell you rapidly “Wanted The Outlaws” was the first platinum selling Country Music album EVER and defied the sough it was initially given by Nashville in the 1970’s.

Local music as a whole contains such a plethora of well rounded steel guitarists and pickers waiting for you to discover them if you are willing to wade through the broken beer bottles and travel the worn out back alleys of America to find them. You have to look in the places most normal people wouldn’t, and you have to listen. You have to brave the heat and cold and discomfort of the fields and farms that spew forth these festivals, mostly you have to study and watch for them.

Crooked Smile festival in Indiana brought me to discover a young steel guitar player named David Mills who was playing steel guitar with Duane Mark. I’ll catch up with Mr. Duane in just two weeks here as I attend Moonrunners festival in Chicago. So when I began devising and planning this project Mr. David was one of my subjects as a result of seeing this performance, as I wanted to delve into the story of the song “Hobo Insane”. This article is going to get to the meat and potatoes of that story and also a little more of what makes this road warrior tick.

This man has played with the Barnyard Stompers, and many more local and touring bands.He has many tidbits of information to share with us and on a lazy Sunday afternoon I sat for a brief moment with him on the phone before he played a show.

GHC:

How did you get started playing the steel guitar?

Mr. David:

Honestly it was all just started accidentally, a buddy of mine who was older got me started in music at a young age actually I was guitar player for many years. He had one just sitting around for years and we chatted about it and one day just asked him to borrow it and it took off from there, and it was for my own fun around the house. I ended up doing one gig with it and everybody started hiring me for it, so it kind of turned into one big thing for me. It turned into being pretty much what I do.

GHC:

With out giving away nay secrets or anything what makes up your sound, what do you use for your rig?

Mr. David:

I play an old 1967 Emmons, push pull and my amplifier is built from a guy out in Frisco and it called Milkman amplifiers a lot of steel players will know who it is. I use his half and half amp it’s a new thing and  I quite like it.  And that’s about it I really don’t get into pedals or anything too much, it’s just steel and an amp.

GHC:

So, you pretty much play straight steel?

Mr.David:

Yep

GHC:

Who influenced you more than anything?

Mr. David:

All of the classic Country stuff my dad raised me on the all that he was a redneck deadhead that’s what I called him, so I grew up on all the old Country. Willie,Waylon,Merle you know all the classics,  and I play with a lot of new writers to so I have a wide variety and range of influences. I listen to a lot of the new stuff to, and I know you just interviewed Brett and I got into them real heavy when I first started playing steel. I stole a bunch of licks off him, and Cody Jinks and all them.

GHC:

Well I did Austin Tripp too. You know part of what started this is Chuck Mead put up something one day and I’m sure it wasn’t directed AT me BUT I used it to my advantage a negative criticism and it said if you’re going to write about Country Music in Nashville at least know about the steel guitar.  And I thought you know what I need to learn more myself, I knew what C6 tuning was but I really don’t know a lot about the guitar itself. And there are so many of you underground players so talented that a lot of people don’t even know about.

Mr. David:

Oh yeah,  I mean a lot of people don’t even know what the instrument is and that’s a popular question I get at my gigs is people will come up and ask “What’s that you’re playing”?  They heard it a million times they just never actually SEEN one, and don’t know WHAT it is.  Almost every gig they ask me what it is or tell me I am a great keyboard player one of the two.

GHC:

Who else do you play for, I know Duane Mark because that’s how we met. And I know the Barnyard Stompers,

Mr. David:

I played a few shows with them before they recorded their album, but I mostly do the hired gun thing. I really bounce around a lot, there’s a guy in San Diego now he is in Nashville named Jake Loban, I played a little on his album. A lot of artists hire me when they come to the southern California area and I play with all of them on and off. Usually four or five different bands a week, I don’t have a set band out here because it’s a little different out here than everywhere else. There’s a few Country artists out here but they too always bounce around so the hired gun thing works for me well, and a lot of session work.

GHC:

OK, one thing I’m more interested in more than anything is this..tell me about the Duane Mark “Homeless Dave” story and how he wrote Hobo Insane?

Mr. David:

It’s not as exciting as it actually sound honestly (we both laughed)  he actually wrote the song before he met me. I’m not exactly sure the entire story of how he wrote it I think it’s just from his travels and stuff. The way it came about where I BECAME a part of it was a random joke that got carried away through the years. The first tour we did together, it was two or three days in we were on the road and I was in the back of the van sleeping.  It was mid winter and freezing I was all wrapped up in a blanket and my hair was ragged out everywhere, I had gloves on with holes in the fingers.  I looked homeless and they took a picture as a joke and put it on Instagram and jokingly said “Oh We found this homeless guy on the side of the road and he had a pedal steel, and we’re going to give him a shot”. Well, people went CRAZY online over it all..half said “Oh you’re the nicest band ever”, and the other half said “Get him out of there he’s going to murder you”.

Even the people they told when Duane Mark said he was taking a steel guitarist on the road with him, they said “WHAT, it’s not the homeless guy that plays steel?” And they put up another post saying “We bought him a new shirt and he plays really good”. And they kind of ran with it after that and it all took off from there.

GHC:

One of these days I’m going to write a book about my adventures, and that’s going to be in one of the chapters right there. Because  people really did believe it one gal said “Oh Yeah he really is just a vagabond”.

Mr. David:

Well, yeah and through the years he really added to it and then made up the story of how he picked me up on the side of the road and he got so many pats on the back for saving me.

GHC:

If somebody younger that wanted to play steel guitar came to you for advice, what would you tell them?

Mr. David:

Honestly I would tell them that’s it’s not as hard as it appears. Don’t ever really get frustrated and give up,  I mean as far as I was concerned I was pretty much on the road a few months after I started playing the darn thing. You know now people learn all kinds of things by getting on Youtube, and back when I started I utilized YouTube and the internet. I learn a lot of things by playing with guys like Duane, and that comes in time, hell I’m still learning things every day now. The internet really made it easier for guys like me to progress so quickly.

GHC:

Yeah Austin Tripp said he was playing for Luke Bryan within a year, and believe it or not pop country has a lot more steel guitar than people give it credit for.

Mr. David:

Yeah it’s really tucked in there but it does exist.

GHC:

As far as a left handed person like me, is there options for left handed steel?

Mr. David:

I think I have seen a few models but they are few and FAR between. I have seen some out there but honestly I don’t think I could name any major players that were lefty.

GHC:

I plan to get Mr. Andy Gibson soon, he lives close to me and I think people approach him wrong. He’s also really busy and I hate to bother him, and I don’t want to ask him any direct questions about personal things.  It’ll be a manner that will be more comfortable answering what I ask him.

Mr. David:

You know one time I was with a guy and I got to go to his house and once we got to talking I really got to see how talented he truly is. You know he also builds guitars and he shapes the wood and all that. You really don’t meet too many private guys that are truly luthiers. And the work that he does is absolutely amazing.

 

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