Pedal-Steel Player Weldon Myrick Dies at 76

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Weldon Myrick, who died yesterday in Nashville at age 76, was one of the great lyric poets of the pedal-steel guitar. A consummate technician who did some of his best work backing such country singers as Connie Smith, Moe Bandy and Gary Stewart, Myrick proved himself an incisive, subtle soloist on records by Smith and the country-rock band Area Code 615. Unlike fellow steel-guitar legend Buddy Emmons, Myrick didn’t show much affinity for jazz, and that’s a stylistic distinction that doesn’t have any bearing on Myrick’s talents as an accompanist and soloist. No matter what the setting, Myrick always made himself felt. When he took a solo he played in the same disciplined, streamlined manner he perfected on Smith’s three-minute recordings.

Born in Jayton, Texas, on April 10, 1938, Weldon Merle Myrick took up the steel guitar at an early age. His older brother, Tex, had begun playing steel in Lubbock, about 100 miles west of Jayton, and it was during one of his brother’s visits home that Weldon became interested in the instrument’s possibilities. As Weldon Myrick told Gib Sun in a 2003 interview, “I was 8 or 9 years old, and I didn’t know what I was listening to until I heard that. That was the sound. I couldn’t sleep at night thinking about that sound.”

Myrick’s father bought him a Rickenbacker Bakelite steel guitar, and soon the teenage musician was playing a Saturday night jamboree in Breckenridge, Texas. Honing his chops, Myrick backed up Grand Ole Opry stars Minnie Pearl, Jim Reeves and Ferlin Husky at a Lubbock show, played with Waylon Jennings, and made his first trip to Nashville in the early ‘50s. After graduating from high school in 1956, Myrick moved to Big Spring, Texas, and recorded with a group called The Ben Hall Trio during another Nashville sojourn a couple of years later.

Relocating to Nashville in 1963, he passed an audition with Bill Anderson’s band, and began his association with Connie Smith and RCA Victor producer Bob Ferguson in 1964. Myrick’s licks and structural savvy proved essential to the sound on such now-classic Smith recordings as “Once a Day” and “The Hinges of the Door.” On the latter recording, Myrick gives the band a marvelously lucid pickup measure that leads into four impeccable bars of melodic, forthright steel guitar.

Myrick made his reputation on such Smith full-lengths as 1965's Connie Smith and the following year’s Miss Smith Goes to Nashville, which features “Nobody but a Fool (Would Love You),” a Bill Anderson song that is enhanced by Myrick’s beautifully phrased 10-bar solo. “He was 6 feet 6 inches tall, and I called him my little bitty buddy,” Smith says about Myrick. “He really helped create the Connie Smith sound with that steel guitar, and he was at his most creative period at that time. I always felt that a steel guitar player was like a singer — when I stopped singing, he started playing.”

Smith’s husband, Marty Stuart, first met Myrick in Mississippi during a 1970 show featuring Ferguson and a brace of RCA Victor recording artists, and remembers Myrick as a superb accompanist. “The thing about Weldon that I loved was that he played the song, and he played for the singer,” Stuart tells the Scene. “He created parts that are like those Benny Goodman parts, or Duke Ellington parts. There’s no reason to try to better them, because they were done right on the floor.”

As his career advanced, Myrick appeared on recordings by George Jones, Alan Jackson and Reba McEntire, among many others. He became a staff steel guitarist for The Grand Ole Opry in 1966, and held that position until 1998. Along with a group of fellow session musicians that included Norbert Putnam, Mac Gayden and Wayne Moss, he played in the late-’60s and early-’70s band Area Code 615, contributing typically eloquent parts to recordings as “Southern Comfort” and “Welephant Walk,” a tune he wrote.

In recent years, health problems slowed him down, but he continued to play golf and exercise despite a 2010 stroke that affected his eyesight and limited his ability to play his instrument. After the 1994 death of his first wife, Kitty, he married Judi Underwood, a native of Calhoun, Ky. Suffering a stroke last Friday night, Myrick entered Nashville’s St. Thomas Hospital, where he died Monday afternoon. He leaves behind five children and six grandchildren.

Myrick’s style caught the ears of many musicians. Marty Stuart remembers taking Connie Smith to see The Rolling Stones in 1994, on the band’s Voodoo Lounge Tour. Before the show began, Stuart and Smith went backstage to meet some of the Stones. “Keith [Richards] and Woody [Ron Wood] ghermed Connie for five minutes about Weldon Myrick,” Stuart says. “They wanted to know all about Weldon.”

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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