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Thursday, 28 February 2013

Don Helms born 28 February 1927

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

Donald Hugh Helms was born Feb. 28, 1927, in New Brockton, Alabam. He got his first steel guitar when he was 15, and by 18 he was playing with Williams in juke joints around the south. After serving in the army during World War II, Helms re-joined the Drifting Cowboys when Williams became a star on the Grand Ole Opry in 1949.

Helms played with Williams on and off for about decade, from 1943 until 1953 when Hank Williams died from just
living too fast at the age of 29 on New Year's Day, in Canton, Ohio. Helms is featured on over a hundred Hank Williams recordings -- actually 104 to be exact. His steel guitar sound added a heart breaking mournfulness to many of Williams' ballads, songs like “Your Cheatin' Heart,” “I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “Cold, Cold Heart,” but Helms could also add a touch of playfulness on up-tempo tracks such as “Jambalaya” and "Hey, Good Lookin'."

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.

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.

    Here's a 1953 recording of "Swing Shift Bounce" taken from above album.

After Williams' death, Helms stayed in demand as a session player and went onto play on dozens of classic recordings such as Patsy Cline's “Walkin' After Midnight,” Lefty Frizzell's “Long Black Veil,” Ernest Tubb's “Letters Have No Arms,” and Stonewall Jackson's "Waterloo." Helms recorded with most every great Country-Western star of the day, including Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Webb Pierce, Ferlin Husky, Chet Atkins, Cal Smith, the Wilburn Brothers, and Jim Reeves. According to legend, Helms wrote Brenda Lee's first number one hit “Fool Number One” in exchange for getting Loretta Lynn a recording contract with Decca Records.

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
ad, 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. In recent years, Helms continued to provide his signature steel guitar sound on sessions with artists Rascal Flatts, Bon Jovi, Martina McBride, Taylor Swift, and Kid Rock.

His last four known sessions were (in order) with Mark David and The Nightly Lights on November 15, 2007, Joey Allcorn's album All Alone Again 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. 

Don Helms also wrote a book of reminiscences of his time playing in the Drifting Cowboys titled Settin' the Woods on Fire -- Confessions of Hank's Steel Guitar Player, published in 2005.

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.’ ”

Helms died aged 81, on August 11, 2008 in Nashville, Tennessee from complications of heart surgery and diabetes.(Info edited from Wikipedia & 


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