Don Helms

Born: Feb. 28, 1927, New Brockton, Alabama

Originally hired by Hank Williams in Montgomery in 1943. He returned to The Drifting Cowboys Band in 1949 Played steel guitar on all of Hank Williams' recordings after the release of "Lovesick Blues". He played with Ray Price, Ferlin Husky, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, Hank Williams Jr. and Jett Williams.

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Don Helms

Don Helms (February 28, 1927 - August 11, 2008) was a steel guitarist best known as the steel guitar player of Hank Williams' Drifting Cowboys group.[1]

 

Helms was a featured musician on over 100 Hank Williams recordings and provided the high, piercing signature steel guitar sound on more than 100 Hank Williams songs and on 10 of his 11 number-one country hits.[2]

Bill Lloyd, the curator of stringed instruments at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, said of Helms: “After the great tunes and Hank’s mournful voice, the next thing you think about in those songs is the steel guitar. It is the quintessential honky-tonk steel sound — tuneful, aggressive, full of attitude.” Lloyd also credits Helms' sound as a major influence in shifting the sound of country music away from the hillbilly string-band sound popular in the 1930s and toward the more modern electric style that became prominent in the 1940s.[2]

Helms played a double-neck 1948 Gibson Console Grande steel guitar, which lacked the foot pedals found on a more modern pedal steel guitar, which did not come into prominence in country music until after Hank Williams' death in 1953.

After Williams' death, Helms went on to play on many classic country hits, including Patsy Cline's “Walking After Midnight,” Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo,” the Louvin Brothers’ “Cash on the Barrelhead,” Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” and Loretta Lynn’s “Blue Kentucky Girl.”[2]

Donald Hugh Helms was born in New Brockton, Alabama, performed with many country music artists throughout the years including playing steel guitar on Lefty Frizzell's recording of "Long Black Veil". In the late 1950s Don played on several early Johnny Cash recordings on Columbia Records, "The Fabulous Johnny Cash", "Now, There Was a Song!" and "Hymns by Johnny Cash". During the mid-1960s Helms played in the Wilburn Brothers backup band, The Nashville Tennesseans. He later played behind Hank Williams' daughter Jett Williams.

Don Helms played for Hank Williams Jr. in addition to his Dad, and wrote "The Ballad of Hank Williams" which he performed with Hank Jr. on "The Pressure Is On" LP Released in 1981. In the tune Don jokingly refers to being fired by both elder Hanks. He also performed with Jett Williams, Hank Sr.'s daughter.

His last four known sessions were (in order) with Mark David and The Nightly Lights on November 15, 2007[3], Joey Allcorn's album All Alone Again[1] in early 2008 followed by sessions with Teresa Street and then what is believed to be his final ever session with Vince Gill recording unfinished Hank Williams Sr. tracks.

Helms died on August 11, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee from complications of heart surgery and diabetes. .

References

1^ "Steel guitarist Don Helms dies in Nashville". Yahoo! News. 2008-08-13.

2^ a b c Grimes, William (2008-08-16). "Don Helms, 81, Who Put the Twang in the Hank Williams Songbook, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved May 1, 2010.

3^ "Mark David and The Nightly Lights". Reverbnation.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_Helms

 

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Don Helms, whose piercing, forceful steel guitar helped define the sound of nearly all of Hank Williams’s hits, and who performed and recorded with a long list of other country greats, died Monday in Nashville. He was 81 and lived in Hendersonville, Tenn.

 

The cause was complications of heart surgery and diabetes, said Marty Stuart, a friend and fellow performer.

Mr. Helms played on more than 100 Hank Williams songs and on 10 of his 11 No. 1 country hits. He provided the dirgelike, weeping notes in songs like “I Can’t Help It (If I’m Still in Love With You)” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” and added a catchy, propulsive twang to up-tempo numbers like “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” and “Hey, Good Lookin.’ ”

“After the great tunes and Hank’s mournful voice, the next thing you think about in those songs is the steel guitar,” said Bill Lloyd, the curator of stringed instruments at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “It is the quintessential honky-tonk steel sound — tuneful, aggressive, full of attitude.”

After Williams died in 1953, Mr. Helms embarked on a long career as a performer and songwriter. His guitar can be heard on the Patsy Cline hit “Walking After Midnight,” Stonewall Jackson’s “Waterloo,” the Louvin Brothers’ “Cash on the Barrelhead,” Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” and Loretta Lynn’s “Blue Kentucky Girl.”

Donald Hugh Helms was born in New Brockton, Ala., and grew up on the family farm. As a boy, he listened to the Texas swing music of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, whose steel guitar player, Leon McAuliffe, was a big influence, as was a local player, Neal McCormick.

At 15, he got his first steel guitar, a Sears Silvertone that was held flat on the lap, unlike the table-style steel guitars he would later play. Since the farmhouse had no electricity, he played the instrument over a washtub to make it resonate.

While still a teenager, Mr. Helms became a member of the Drifting Cowboys, the backup band for Williams, then a local radio star who performed in small clubs and roadhouses. Mr. Helms enlisted in the Army in 1945 and by the time he was discharged two years later, Williams had signed a record contract and was on his way to perform as a regular on “Louisiana Hayride,” a Shreveport, La., radio show broadcast all over the South.

Mr. Helms stayed put in Alabama, where he had steady performing work, but after Williams joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1949 and created a sensation with his first No. 1 hit, “Lovesick Blues,” he became part of the new edition of the Drifting Cowboys that Williams put together in Nashville.

He was the last surviving member of that ensemble.

In 1945, he married Hazel Cullifer, who survives him, as do his two sons, Frank and Marc; two brothers, Glenn and Ted; three grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Initially, Mr. Helms played a Fender eight-string double-necked guitar, but in 1950 he acquired the Gibson Console Grand that most listeners associate with Williams’s hits. Later he would play a pedal steel guitar, but he kept the Gibson under his bed, pulling it out for special occasions.

The rough-hewn sound of the pre-pedal steel guitar suited Williams’s bluesy vocals. At the suggestion of the record producer Fred Rose, Mr. Helms favored the treble strings and played high on the neck, producing a penetrating sound that could cut through the background noise of the bars, honky-tonks and roadhouses where Williams’s records were most often heard

The Helms sound, said Mr. Lloyd of the Country Music Hall of Fame, helped move country music away from the hillbilly string-band accompaniment popular in the 1930s and toward the more modern electric style that took over in the 1940s.

“His tuning, and the way the tuning made the tone high-pitched, matched Hank Williams’s style just perfectly,” said DeWitt Scott, the founder of the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, which inducted Mr. Helms in 1984.

Mr. Helms played on Williams’s last recording session, in Sept. 1952, which generated “Kaw-Liga,” “Take These Chains From My Heart,” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” released after Williams’s death in January 1953.

“I played him an intro, and we sang the song through one time,” Mr. Helms said about the recording of “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” After that, he said, “I never saw him alive again.” His account of those years, dictated to Dale Vinicur, was published in 2005 in “Settin’ the Woods on Fire.”

After recording an instrumental record with the Drifting Cowboys, Mr. Helms and several of his fellow musicians worked with Ray Price, who renamed them the Cherokee Cowboys. Mr. Helms went on to record with a host of country music stars, including Jim Reeves, Webb Pierce and Ferlin Husky. He also played on Johnny Cash’s early albums for Columbia Records.

In 1957 he joined the Nashville Tennesseans, the backup band for the Wilburn Brothers, touring with them for years and performing on their syndicated television show. After performing with Hank Williams Jr. and Ernest Tubb in the late 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Helms reunited with the Drifting Cowboys in 1977. In 1989 he began touring with Jett Williams, Hank Williams’s daughter.

In his later years, he did recording sessions with younger musicians like Rascal Flatts, Bon Jovi and Kid Rock. At the time of his death he was working with Vince Gill on an album of uncompleted Hank Williams songs.

“He remained an active musician until the day he died,” said Mr. Stuart.

Mr. Helms was a regular performer at steel guitar conventions and concerts, where he could galvanize listeners with a few signature chords from country’s music’s most cherished hits. “Don would look out over the audience as the lights dimmed,” said Paul Hemphill, the author of “Lovesick Blues,” a biography of Hank Williams. “Then he’d say, ‘Now, close your eyes and think of Hank.’ ”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/17/arts/music/17helms.html

 

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