posted 04 July 2002 12:41 PM
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Dave, I agree with you about him not being in the steel guitar hall of fame...yet (hint, hint, Scotty). He definitely has carved his place in steel guitar history and deserves the recognition of being the innovative pioneer and influencer that he is.
He does use the old flat style bar, and rather than having his index finger on top, he holds it just like you describe...between his thumb and first finger. I've tried to experiment with this for the fun of it, and find slants virtually impossible (but, I'm not that good at them anyway ). He also doesn't use finger picks!
For those of you not familar with Bobby Koefer's history, here are the liner notes from Tom Morrell and the Time Warp Tophands "How the West Was Swung" Series (Vol 2 & 3). He and Bobby played twin steels on that CD. I thought you guys might enjoy a little biographical information on him:
These sessions mark Bobby Koefer’s return to recording after a hiatus of more than 30 years. In the decade previous to that, he’d carved out an impressive and influential career playing with a virtual Who’s Who of Western Swing, from Bill and Jim Boyd and Bob Wills to Pee Wee King and Billy Gray. Though Bobby’s credits may be slightly more widely-known than Tom’s, he has – like Tom – received far too little attention outside musician’s circles.
Bobby was reared in relative isolation and was almost by necessity a self-taught musician. This self-education resulted in his development not only of a very singular sound but also a quite unorthodox technique, including use of an odd bar angle, a single thumb pick and liberal (and amazing) use of his bare fingers.
Bobby’s earliest memories of the steel guitar are of Hawaiian players he heard on the radio and Bobby still bears the stamp of that influence, especially in his ballad playing. He also recalls a self-accompanying steel player he heard on a Mexican border station, Lew Childre, and cites this as first putting into his then very young head, the idea that the steel had possibilities that extended beyond soloing and melodic accompanying. Later, he began to hear the great Western Swing players – Noel Boggs, Joaquin Murphy, Leon McAuliffe, and others. He learned from these men, of course, and also fell in love with the music, but from the start Bobby Koefer has sounded like no one else.
Bobby’s first recordings were on the Dallas-based Bluebonnet label with guitarist Sonny Hall. They recorded a particularly memorable version of an old dirty blues tune, “Operation Blues,” that has to be heard to be believed. He played with Boyd’s Cowboy Ramblers and also landed a gig with a racially-mixed pop combo in Iowa that looms large in retrospect: he played nothing but rhythm, honing his now-considerable chops in that area.
Bobby was working with Tex Justice in Indiana in 1950 when he heard Bob Wills was looking for a steel player to replace Billy Bowman, who had been drafted. He called Bob and soon he was a Texas Playboy. He adds immeasurably to the excitement of Wills’ recordings from the period and being a Playboy was also an important formative experience. “Working with Eldon Shamblin every night for two years on the Wills band was probably the most valuable experience I ever had,” he says. “I learned a lot about harmony, as well as his style of rhythm. I try to do a little of it on steel if I’m not playing a chorus.”
From the Playboys, Bobby moved to Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys, remaining throughout that long-lived band’s most musically satisfying years and contributing to some classic recordings (listen to the great “Swing West” album). He then worked with Billy Gray at his band’s creative height, recording such classics as “Curtain Call” and “Bandera Shuffle.” After giving notice, he remained long enough to break in his replacement, 18 year old Tommy Morrell…
Bobby spend over 5 years leading the house band at the Hi-Ho club in Wichita, an always hopping place where according to Bobby, “Every night was Saturday night.” Afterward, he sort faded from the scene, settling in Alaska. He played some music jobs over the years, but made his living mainly from the booming construction industry. He also indulged his life-long interest in primitive culture (which helped him get along with the Time Warp Tophands) and nature by immersing himself in isolated Eskimo societies during parts of the five winters he spent on the island of Little Diomede in the Bering Strait. He continued to travel widely, to seek out new and exciting adventures that would soon tax anyone without his incredible energy, optimism, and stamina.
During his lengthy absence from the Western wing scene, Bobby was sorely missed, especially by the other players among whom his prowess on the steel and his reputation as a somewhat singular character elevated him to near-legendary status. Musicians swapped stories about Bobby’s antics and his preference for the sound of old, rusty strings. There was even a rumor that he had given up playing for good and had literally buried his steel.
Fortunately , this proved untrue, and Bobby returned to the Western Swing scene in the late 80’s, playing better than ever. His command of his instrument has increased to a remarkable level and the relative isolation has further crystallized the singularity of his style. In the studio his playing left his colleges amazed. At one point, Tom emerged from the studio shaking his head, saying he’d never seen anyone with such total command of his instrument. Bobby also sounds eerily similar to the way he’d sounded nearly 40 years ago, playing with Bob Wills, prompting one bystander to compare him with a time traveler, as if he’d just stepped out of a time capsule.
I've heard from a couple of players of what a fun "character" he is to be around. If anyone has any stories or personal memories to share, please don't hesitate to post...after all, that's what the forum is all about!
[This message was edited by Jeff Strouse on 04 July 2002 at 01:41 PM.]