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Author Topic:   Kayton Roberts Interview
Jeff Strouse

From: Jacksonville, Florida, USA

posted 05 July 2002 08:13 PM     profile   send email     edit
This is an interview with Kayton from the Jan/Feb 1993 issue of the now defunct, Steel Guitar World Magazine. I was cleaning up a bookshelf and found this, and thought those of you who haven't seen it would be interested in it. I typed it pretty much exactly as it was originally printed, except for some minor punctuation changes to make it flow easier when reading. Hope everyone enjoys!

The interviewer is Russ Rask. It begins as follows:

As most of you know, I’m still new in the journalism field. And as much as I tried to prepare for this interview, I seem to find that I don’t have enough information to do this interview and do it justice. Especially with someone that I have only met for a five minute period of time, to line up this chat. So I get into the interview and almost on a nervous state, but as we get acquainted everything falls into place and turns out to be one of the most relaxed and fun talks. Kayton Roberts is really an easy going sort of fellow, really humble and genuinely, a real nice guy. Can you imagine being in this kind of business, a business where all you do is talk and make new friends – boy, that’s my kind of job. I asked Kayton for permission to use his picture on the cover for this issue, in order to make a statement that we are not a pedal only magazine. I have purposely held off putting anyone on the cover until it could be someone who was not a pedal player. Kayton is an excellent choice and I’m happy we waited.

SGW: Kayton, you were born and raised in Florida, is that correct?

KR: Yes, in Ona, Florida...that’s down in southern Florida really. But the first playing job I had, out away from my daddy’s own band, out on my own, was around Gainesville, Florida. That was with a fellow named Toby Dowdy. Radio was big back in those days, back in 1951...that also was the year I bought my guitar. Anyway he worked out of a radio station called WRUF. Television was just getting started back in those days. I was with him and we did a TV show over in Jacksonville, FL called “The McDuff Hayride.”

SGW: Your wife’s name is Iva Lee Roberts, and she has been a big part of your musical career. How does she put up with you? {Laughs} Did she play piano on some of your recordings?

KR: Yes, she did, but I want to make it perfectly clear, if it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere in the music business. She gets me through all the spots when I just can’t seem to find that part, she plays it for me, and shows me how it goes.

SGW: In other words, she bails you out?

KR: Yeah, she sure does!

SGW: Does she still play piano?

KR: Yes, she does. Speaking of the piano, the lick that is prominent in Floyd Cramer’s playing is nothing but a steel guitar lick. You listen to that real clearly, rocking on the keys, it’s just like rocking on the pedals. It’s nothing but a steel lick. Of course the steel lick came along before Floyd Cramer started playing it, that little hand roll is the same as someone mashing a pedal. Do you remember that old Bud Isaacs song “Slowly”? I believe that was the first popular song using pedals. Although I had heard of pedals before I heard of Bud Isaacs. An old friend I used to play with down in Gainesville played an Electroharp, but what is was, it was a matter of changing tunings...I think it was designed for that at first, but I don’t even play pedals so what am I doing telling you about pedals. I don’t know anything about pedals and I’m sure not an authority on them.

SWW: Your son, Louie Roberts...does he play music?

KR: Yes, but I told him early on if he’s going to play music, leave the steel guitar alone! {laughs} He has been on the Opry about 300 times but he has never made it big in the recording industry, although he won a big contest from the WSM radio station in 1968. That’s what I wanted to a singer. If I would have had the chance there wouldn’t be any Kayton Roberts the steel player.

SGW: Well, I’m glad it turned out the other way, you probably don’t realize it, but there are a lot of steel players that really look up to your playing!

KR: Well, thank you.

SGW: Are there any other children or family in music?

KR: Yes, my daughter Jan, who is a hair dresser; and, my son Marty who is a senior in high school, but they are not in music. I’ve always said if they don’t want to play you can’t push it on them.

SWG: Yes, that’s right. Let’s talk about Hank Snow. You started with Hank Snow back in 1967?

KR: Yes, I did. When I started with Hank I wasn’t playing steel. I was playing rhythm guitar. I played rhythm for Hank my first year. When I was young I was fascinated with “Big” Joe Talbert...he was the sound that made Hank Snow. Little did I know that those early fascinations would some day be my bread and butter. Joe Talbert has been one of my all time heroes. Really and truly, the job I hold today is because of his style, and the fact that I could play his style, that is why I am here today in Nashville. If a fellow like me were to walk in town and try to get a job, well they would laugh at me. But the job had been set by somebody else and I could walk in and say, “Hey, I can do what he did.” That’s exactly why I’m where I’m at today. But as the years go by, a guy finally earns some respect. I remember hearing about a new Hank Snow record at the music shop, I rushed down there and I couldn’t get my money out of my pocket fast enough to buy that record. When I got home and played it, well, I wanted to throw it in the trash can. Those great songs like, “Golden Rocket,” “Rumba Boogie,” “Movin On” were not the sounds of Hank that I had expected...these were studio musicians...boy was I disappointed. A lot of style is lost sometimes when they use studio musicians, they are always trying to sound so impressive. I like it when they try to keep the style that people associate with the performer.

SGW: Did Chubby Wise introduce you to Hank or help you get that job?

KR: Yes, I blame it all on Chubby (laughs).

SGW: Did you know Chubby from back in Florida before starting with Hank Snow?

KR: Yes, I met Chubby, believe it or not, at a local barber shop. I had a friend, Shorty Bedenbaugh, who came in and said you got to come over to the barber shop and meet this guy. So I did, and it was Chubby. He said, “I hear you play some guitar?” that’s how I was introduced to Chubby. I bought my guitar from Claude Bedenbaugh...he was a cousin or brother of Shorty’s. He ran a little music store there and I played in a little band with and my sister both.

SGW: Are there some other musicians or people, even outside of steel players, that have had an effect on your life?

KR: Sure, now this guy wasn’t a steel player, his name was R.E. Ogdon. He was a great guitar player and fiddle player. He was my former brother in law, but he is dead now. He was married to my sister back then, her name is Alberta. Of course she, being older than me, helped inspire me with her singing and we played together many, many years. Another guy named Donald “Chubby” Anthony, he was a great guy that I played with a lot in my early years, and another guy named Elmer Canova, I played with him many years. He was one of them guys that could play a little bit of everything. Those were some local musicians, and of course I have had influence from people like Les Paul and Chet Atkins. Hearing these kind of people have an effect on me. And listen to the pedals and the things they do...of course, that will effect you too. Because anything that you hear, if you listen and if you like it, you can pick up on it, I mean even if it’s other instruments. Like that Cajun riff ‘da-da-di-da, da-da-di-da’...why not? Just because it’s another instrument like a fiddle, you can do it on steel, too. It gives you something to shoot at, grab a hold of it and play something different.

SGW: Yeah, that’s great! Was there a period of time when Hank had a pedal player?

KR: Yes, Jimmy Crawford was playing steel for him when I started in February. But somehow the pedal just wasn’t Hank’s sound. Jimmy played steel for Hank the first year I was with him, then Jimmy went to work with Faron Young. Hank had heard me play steel and I could play just like Joe Talbert and that is what he wanted. You know, I told Hank one time after he opened his new museum, I said, “Hank there is one thing missing. You need some photos or something of Big Joe Talbert and Tommy Vaden…these guys are what made your sound.” There are photos of me in his museum, but no one would know me, the photos are with me playing rhythm.

SGW: What’s it like to work for Hank?

KR: Well, lets just say that Hank has his funny ways. He has been good to work for, and has always paid his people. It’s been good working with Hank, we have been all over the world. He has provided my job for the last 25 years and I appreciate it. But, he is a man that you will never figure out completely.

SGW: Have you had any funny things happen on stage that you can share with us?

KR: Yes, just recently we were on the Opry one night and we were to play two songs. Well, I was having trouble with the kick-off for one tune and I was running it over and over in my mind. We went out to play our spot and I kicked off the song, without realizing my mind was on the wrong song. Well, Hank caught the kick-off and grabbed the right cord and did the new song which he wasn’t expecting. The crowd never knew.

SGW: Did you get chewed for that one?

KR: No, Hank just said, “Boys, we have to take this Opry music more seriously!”

SGW: How do you like playing the Opry?

KR: The Opry has been good, it’s been like a home for a long time. A lot of people don’t realize that if it wasn’t for the Opry, there might not be any country music. Back when Elvis was young and hot most people went to that trend of music, but the Opry refused to give in. Country music was almost at a stand still, but the Opry hung on! I believe a lot of the success for today’s country music comes from “rap” music. Rap music came into the scene and a lot of people switched to that kind of music. Well, it left a lot of young people who didn’t have an interest in rap wide open for new sounds and as you can see country music has filled that void. I believe we are in a new era where country music will dominate for a long long might be rock-a-billy, but at least it’s in the country vain. I caught Ricky Skaggs one night in the hall at the Opry and I said, “Ricky, you should be proud of yourself...every time you’re home, you come down and play the Opry. The Opry doesn’t pay that much but that’s not what it’s all about. The point is, you come down and help support country music.” I wish more of the entertainers would remember, if it weren’t for the Opry, country music might have disappeared a long time ago.

SGW: Kayton I know this has been asked before, but wouldn’t you consider playing Scotty’s convention sometime?

KR: So many people have asked me and I bet I’ve been asked a dozen times to do it. But it’s a show out thing and I’m not a show out type of person. I just don’t care for that sort of thing and that’s the reason I don’t go. I guess I’ll just be the missing link up there.

SGW: Have you worked with, recorded or backed any other big name music people?

KR: Yes, I’ve done some other work, but I don’t look for sessions to play on, although I don’t turn them down either. But, I don’t actively seek them. I played on a recent session with Randy Travis.

SGW: I also understand you were in a video with Aaron Tippin?

KR: Yeah, I was the guy sitting on the john! (laughs) You looked surprised, don’t you believe me?

SGW: Well sure I believe you, but I’ve never see it, at least I don’t think I have.

KR: Yeah that was fun.

SGW: How did that come about or work out?

KR: I played on about eight or nine of his tunes on his first album. The album, I believe was called, “You Got To Stand For Something or You’ll Fall for Anything.” I also played on a song which is the video called, “She Made a Memory Out of Me,” so I was asked to do the video. I was in one stall and the fiddle player was in the next, of course I was sitting there with my pants on. It was something to do with the girl who couldn’t get away from the band...everywhere she went, there was the band. In the video, she flung the door open and gave me the meanest look. I told her later that if she did that for real, I might have to do more than sit there and I would hope I didn’t have my pants on! (laughs)

SGW: Was it a different kind of challenge or was it fun and off the cuff?

KR: It was a lot of fun. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to do it again, but at least I got to do one. I even got a note from Aaron thanking me for my part. That was real nice of him to do.

SGW: I know of three records that you did for Stoneway Records, have you done any others?

KR: All together, I’ve done four.

SGW: What are the album names for Stoneway?

KR: Kayton Roberts “Steelin” #111, “Kayton and Iva Lee Roberts” #156, and “Twin Steel Guitars of Kayton Roberts and Little Roy Wiggins” #129.

SGW: Are they still available?

KR: To my knowledge, they aren’t. R.M. Stone from Stoneway Records has passed away.

SGW: On Stoneway Records there are some of your original songs, “Blue Steel Guitar,” “Kayton Rag,” “Opryland Swing,” and “Kayton Waltz”; have you written any others?

KR: No that’s about it. My other record was on a Canadian label named Maple, the album is “The Bells of St. Mary’s”, it’s out of Canada.

SGW: What would you say is the biggest highlight of your career?

KR: Before I came to Nashville, I was just a country steel player. I played at square dances down there in North Florida and I had made up several tunes and I sent them off to Jerry Byrd. He wrote me back a letter that he was going to record one of those songs that I had sent him and that was the biggest thrill of my life. The tune was called, “Chime In.” It’s on the “Admirable Byrd” album. I believe that is the name.

SGW: I know you have been overseas, and you have had some success in England, are your records still selling over there?

KR: Yeah, that’s a funny thing. Mr. Stone used to say to me, “What are you doing to those people over there? We can’t fill the orders fast enough, they keep coming in.” That’s an amazing thing about the overseas market when they see you and enjoy what you do, they support you. I mean, over here all the people seem to care about is the star, they don’t seem at all interested in what the side man is capable of. It’s almost crazy to put out an instrumental album for the public here, but over there it’s a different story. They will support you, it’s nice. Skeeter Davis stopped me in the hall a couple of years ago at the Opry. She said, “Kayton, I want to tell you something.” Well, okay what is it? She said, “I was over in Singapore recently, I travel a lot and we were backstage and some of the people were asking me about Kayton Roberts. They said, “Do you know him?” I said, “Yes I know him, but I’ve never paid any attention to him.” Would you believe someone way over in Singapore asked about me? So that makes you wonder, if you have records out, how do they get all the way around the world like that?

SGW: Well, that goes back to what you are saying, overseas they support you a whole lot more than they do over here. Have you ever done any work with Billy Robinson?

KR: No, I never worked with him. But, I was talking with Billy one time, and he said he was the one who played on all the old George Morgan tunes that I really liked, but I thought it was somebody else...come to find out, it was Billy Robinson.

SGW: Didn’t George Morgan have another steel player named Don Davis?

KR: Yes, but I know Jerry Byrd came back and played with George Morgan and I thought that was the greatest combination I had ever heard. I just loved George Morgan’s singing. And if I had my choice of who to play with when I came to Nashville, it would have been George Morgan, but Hank Snow would have been my second choice.

SGW: Well, who was playing on the “Ting-a-Ling Man”?

KR: That was Robinson and of course Bob Foster cut a lot of things in those days. George Morgan and Little Roy Wiggins got together in later years and had a good little thing going just before George Morgan died. I never will forget the time, back in the war years, when Don Davis was in the service and Jerry Byrd was playing and I heard him do a song on the Friday night Opry called “Almost”, and boy, I thought that was the prettiest song I had ever heard in my life. I couldn’t wait for that record to come out. I saw it one day on the jukebox and I couldn’t get my money out fast enough to play it. But the first thing I heard was that ting-a-ling. I said, Oh! Lord have mercy...I was wanting to hear Jerry Byrd. Of course there isn’t anything wrong with ting-a-linging, I was wanting to hear Jerry. On that song, “Almost”, I would have almost bet that it was Bob Foster...he played with Copas and a lot of the guys. He also played a lot of ting-a-ling, too. But, I talked with Billy Robinson the other day and he said it wasn’t Bob on that record, that it was himself. On that song, here is what’s strange about it...the fiddle was playing the lead, but all you heard was steel guitar harmony. There was a mistake in the recording and somebody didn’t turn the fiddle up. The fiddle was playing the lead and all he was playing was the harmony lead.

SGW: Do you know a guy named Boots Harris? Evidently he’s the guy who wrote “Georgia Steel Guitar.”

KR: Yes, he was...his playing was an early inspiration for me. Boots worked with Curly Williams and the Georgia Peachpickers. Another great player from that time was Slim Idaho. He was probably that hottest thing going back in the early 40’s. He played with Paul Howard and the Arkansas Cottonpickers. At that time, Paul had a good band...he rivaled Bob Wills as far as good bands go. Slim Idaho was a knock-out steel man...he was ahead of his time back in those days. At that time he was considered the best by everybody, but then he died in a motorcycle accident.

SGW: A lot of the earlier Hank Williams steel music was fascinating, was that always Don Helms?

KR: The first Williams recordings were mostly Jerry Byrd. The original cut on “Lovesick Blues” was Jerry Byrd. “Mansion on the Hill” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” was Jerry Byrd on the steel...I know that because I mocked him not long ago. Cats, the guy that used to play with Marty Robbins, he’s down there around Myrtle Beach with my son. He was cutting something for Japan and he got me to play like Byrd and I could do it cause I’ve copied him for forty years. “Move It On Over” and a lot of early old Hank Williams records were cut with Jerry Byrd, then Williams got big and got his own band. And to absolutely take nothing away from Don Helms, from then on Helms became his sound, but so many people don’t remember that it was Jerry Byrd on his first records. There was a song called, “I’ll Be a Bachelor Till I Die” – that was Byrd on the recording. That was before Don Helm’s day. By the way I just got a Christmas card and a letter from Jerry Byrd the other day. He sends over some calendars every year. He sends them for three or four of the guys up around the Opry that he knows real well, in fact, I gave them to them last night.

SGW: Well, that’s real nice.

KR: I remember recording a Christmas song all in chimes. The song is on that Maple album. I was trying to play it as close as I could, note for note, staying on the melody line, as close as possible. The song, which was about five or six minutes long, was three songs all together. The first part of the song was “The First Noel”, the second was “We Three Kings”, followed by “Silent Night.” I was doing the whole song, all parts in chimes, and as you realize only two registers to find all those notes, well I messed up, but I didn’t stop...I kept going. I goofed on the middle part, “We Three Kings.” To my surprise, when we listened to the playback, I said, “Hey, I like that, let’s leave it alone.” So we to this day I can’t play that song right, because I cannot duplicate those mistakes. I don’t know if I’ll ever find them again.

SGW: How about pulling strings? Is that what you did instead of pedals, for pedal effect?

KR: Yes, I pulled a lot of strings. Feel this little callus on my finger. I think it has helped me too, not to sound out of tune…you know, as you slide and pull you can fool a lot. I think it has helped.

SGW: Well, I’ve heard you at the Opry four or five times and I’ve never heard you out of tune. You could have fooled me! What about flash and play so smooth?

KR: I have never been one for flash. What ever happened to the nice smooth slide that you used to hear...playing the steel with some feeling. Now days, it’s how many notes can you cram in this spot or that.

SGW: Well, John Hughey has been a fine example of some beautiful steel guitar lately.

KR: Yes, he sure has. I like the idea of people trying different things on the steel like Bobbe Seymour playing thumb style...why not try those different ideas.

SGW: I’ve seen players playing steel with a flat pick.

KR: Yes, I’ve tried that at one time. I did some things with a straight pick...there are all kinds of ideas if they will only try to do something different.

SGW: What kind of steel are you playing...that’s a little Fender isn’t it?

KR: Yes, it’s a 1951’s my only steel. That steel is 41 years old. I had another one time that burnt up in a fire.

SGW: I see you’re still using your old DeArmond foot pedal.

KR: Yes, Shot Jackson rebuilt that for me before he passed on and it keeps going. I just can’t seem to wear it out.

SGW: How about your tunings, can you share those with us?

KR: Well, my main tuning is C6th, that’s my bread and butter neck. It has a little variation. Staring with the first string on the small end: E, C, A, G, E, C#, A, A (an octave lower). You will notice that I have two A’s together...the second is real low for that boom effect. It’s almost like a big third more than anything else. I use it only occasionally when I’m doing some thump style. Getting back to that C#, normally if you’re playing this C6th tuning and you rake across it, it will sound out of tune. But, if you rake across the strings and leave the second string out, then you’ve got a whole new tuning...and you see that second string there, the C, if you pull that a half step, it will fall right in tune with that tuning. You can really play some jazzy sounding stuff with it. It makes a whole new ball game. It’s like having a dual tuning. And on the other neck I’ve got a special’s for rides and special things. The first string is F, D, A, F, G, Eb, C, F, but I couldn’t remember these if I didn’t right them down. I keep a list at home in case someone calls and wants to know. Don’t mind sharing these cause I don’t have any secrets. Of course, Hank doesn’t like notes played on the high register, so I’m usually limited to playing on the lower end.

SGW: I talked with Herb Remington today and I told him I was on my way to meet you for this interview. Herb said to say Hi...he really admires your playing.

KR: Well, the next time you talk to Herb tell him Hi from me. Boy, he is one of those that has always been on the top of my list. I have never met Herb personally, but he sure is a great player!

SGW: Has it ever been asked why you didn’t ever go to pedals?

KR: Well that has been asked, and you know I have the perfect answer...If I did, I might have liked it, then what would I do? (laughs) I don’t need to sound like all the other players. When I leave this world, at least I’ll go happy...may not have much money, but I came into this world with nothing. I’ve had a good life, a beautiful family, a good life in music, I will be satisfied.
----(End of Interview)-------

SGW: After this interview was typed, I sent it to Kayton for reviewing. I told him to feel free to add anything we might have missed. Kayton called back and wanted to add this special closing:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, he gave man so many good things to enjoy. He gave us a steel guitar to play if we choose to. This to me, is the most expressive instrument in the world. It fulfills a special hunger in my life and it won’t hurt you, as a lot of bad things in this world will. I met my wife Iva Lee while playing the steel guitar, our children followed, altogether they are my most treasured possessions!

And here are some special people that I would like to take a moment to thank. First I would like to thank Chubby Wise for recommending me and for bringing me to Nashville and taking me under his wing here, and another thank you to Hank Snow for giving me this job I now hold and giving me the chance to be heard these many years, 26 to be exact.

To Jerry Byrd and Joe Talbert: Jerry Byrd is my personal idol and inspirational figure and still is to this day, and Joe Talbert for creating the job and style that I have filled with Hank Snow for these years. I would like to think that I have a little of both of these great guys in my style of playing in there somewhere. And another one to R.M. Stone, of Stoneway Records from Houston Texas. Mr. Stone is now dead but he gave me my first opportunity record and to be heard on records.

I would also like to thank the current members of the Rainbow Ranch Boys. We have Tommy Vaden on the fiddle and Bobby Sikes on the rhythm guitar and Roger Carrol on the bass. Roger, who is probably my dearest personal friend along with a guy named Gary Suter and Paul Echart are probably my three closest personal friends.

And I just want to thank YOU, who ever you may be, for the kind words and encouragement that mean so much to an ‘ole wore out picker like me. Jerry Byrd, he said and I quote, “After all these years it’s nice to know someone was listening!”

So many times I have stood still at some place in the world and asked myself, “How did I get here?” The answer...”My Steel Guitar!” It has taken me to many places in this world, places that I could never have gone otherwise.

I thank God every day for the steel guitar he has given me and the talent he gave me to play it, the best I know how.

To anyone learning to play the steel guitar, good luck, work hard and my sincere hope for you, is that the steel guitar will be as good to you as it has been to me. And I would like to add a thank you to Russ Rask for this opportunity to speak my mind about this special aspect of my life, THE STEEL GUITAR!

Andy Alford

From: Alabama

posted 06 July 2002 05:23 AM     profile   send email     edit
Thanks for sharing this interview with us.Kayton Roberts really sounded good with Hank Snow.He is playing some fine steel on Hank Williams III new cd.
Bob Stone

From: Gainesville, FL, USA

posted 07 July 2002 12:24 PM     profile   send email     edit

Thanks so much for posting this wonderful interview. Kayton is a great guy and a terrific musician.

It was interesting to hear Kayton mention Chubby Anthony, a legendary North Florida musician who excelled on fiddle, banjo and guitar. He died in his 40s from kidney failure.

Thanks again for taking the time to type and post this interview.

All the best,


Roy Thomson

From: Wolfville, Nova Scotia,Canada

posted 07 July 2002 01:24 PM     profile     edit
Enjoyable reading!
Thanks for posting Jeff.
Paul Graupp

From: Macon Ga USA

posted 07 July 2002 04:51 PM     profile   send email     edit
In another Forum there was a thread concerned a song titled; Letter Edged In Black. It had KR on the steel and I gave it many a listen to because what he was playing was so beautiful in a classic sort of way. It took me a long way back both with the lyrics and the playing. He surely is a marvelous player with Soul to spare and a Heart as big as everything he embodies. A legend in his own time !!

Best Regards, Paul

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