It is nearly impossible to exaggerate the sphere of influence that virtuoso Buddy Emmons (1937-2015) has had on the world of the steel guitar. Since his arrival on the scene as an 18 year-old debuting at the Grand Ole Opry he has been the standard bearer of excellence. Obviously, he had loads of natural talent and intelligence but what really separated him from the pack was his tireless pursuit of the ideas he came up with—and there have been many. He poured hours and hours of practice into even the simplest musical passage, making sure the phrasing was exactly as he wanted it to be.
Buddy worked in the same vein as the great Joaquin Murphy, adapting the phraseology of the leading jazz instrumentalists of his day into his personal style. He was particularly fond of many of the post-bop saxophonists such as Sonny Rollins and Cannonball Adderly, guitarist Wes Montgomery and pianist Oscar Peterson, to name a few. His extraordinary technique was no accident—he trained the fingers of his right hand to have the power and independence of the hands of a drummer by studying drum rudiments. In his prime, the rhythmic nuances he was able to achieve were well beyond his contemporaries.
In the late '50s Buddy and his good friend Jimmy Day—when they weren't busy playing on someone's recording or out on the road—spent their time experimenting and developing the pedal steel sound. Working in their "office," Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville, they created a vocabulary for the new instrument that is still the foundation for virtually all who play it.
Beyond his influence as a performer, Buddy's contribution to the development of the pedal steel guitar is right up there with Paul Bigsby. When he formed the Sho-Bud company with Shot Jackson in the late 1950s, their concepts established the new norm for the fledgling instrument. In the early '60s, frustrated with Jackson's reluctance to advance the instrument, Buddy designed his own and formed the Emmons Guitar Co. (with Ron Lashley). The Emmons guitars became the epitome of the tone and design aesthetic for pedal steel guitars going forward.