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From the first moment I heard the initial melody notes of “MOONLAND” over a local country music radio station, my life was irrevocably changed forever. But I’ll get to that in a moment.
Pause "MOONLAND" or Download MOONLAND mp3 with Jerry Byrd
My love for the steel guitar began much earlier. My folks had moved to Oregon from Pittsburg, Kansas, when I was just 18 months old. First landing in Newberg, Oregon, we lived there until I was just going on five years old and then moved into the big city of Portland.
While waiting for my dad to return home from his swing shift job at the Southern Pacific Railroad, my mom would scan the dial on our small, table top radio. She’d drag into our home, distant radio stations from as far away as Del Rio, Texas, and Seattle, Washington. She was very home sick and would always seem to brighten up when Hank Williams would start singing, or Eddy Arnold or any other with that down-home sound in their voice. The Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights and Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch were without doubt her favorite programs although, she also showed a distinct fondness for the voice of Webley Edwards on his regular “Hawaii Calls” programs. She may very well have been listening to the sounds of the surf lapping on the shore, but I, was hearing sounds of an unknown instrument with such beautiful sounds they would haunt me forever.
Although I didn’t realize it yet, the seed was sown during those
lonely evenings, and my love for all music was inescapable, more
specifically sounds of the electric Hawaiian Steel Guitar.
THIS IS ABOUT
THE TIME I DISCOVERED JERRY BYRD
I finally got brave
one day and sent off a letter to my star, Jerry Byrd. Much to my
surprise, I received a prompt, personalized answer.
In December, 1955, I married my grade school sweetheart and in 1956, I took delivery of my four neck, custom made Bigsby with six pedals. My wife and father were so excited for me, that they had the Bigsby all set up for me to discover when I walked through the door after getting home from work that day. Neither of them could remember how it came out of the case so it was kinda fun trying to figure out how to disassemble it in order to put it back in the case. It was during this same time span that I began taking flying lessons at the local Bernard-Beaverton Int'l Airport. My instructor was a "one of a kind" Walt Rupert who saw fit to solo me in his orange/yellow Aeronca 7-AC Champ after just seven and one half hours of dual instruction. I had my private license that same year.
instrumentals and unique pedal sound fast entered by instrumental
repertoire. This group also enjoyed regional-wide publicity through our
"live from the bandstand" radio broadcasts over NBC affiliate KGW. These
shows followed the Grand Ole Opry Show each Saturday evening.
It also resulted in
our playing at Portland’s Coliseum on August 17th to a standing room only
crowd…… while performing with one of the largest Grand Ole Opry troops to
ever hit town. Such greats on the show included Hank Snow and his Rainbow
Ranch Boys, featuring Howard White on the steel guitar; a young George
Jones, Carl and Pearl Butler; Webb Pierce; Ferlin Husky, Dave Dudley and
headliner Carl Smith. Nashville steel guitarist Howard White, is on
the left end of the front row while I can be observed at the opposite end.
Somewhere about this time, a long-time acquaintance named Dave McOmie, a great lead guitarist that had played many years in a local band known as The Drifters......informed me that he had a long held question to ask of me and wanted to make sure I wouldn't get mad at him.
Seeing he was sincere, I readily agreed to answer his question. It seems during the years he had played with The Drifters under the leadership of Buddy Simmons, the former bass man in Tommy Kizziah's West Coast Ramblers contingent, Buddy had told him many times that I was so fanatical about liking Jerry Byrd's playing that I went so far as to have Jerry's photograph installed in the lid of my Bigsby Guitar case. As the story was told, I supposedly would open my guitar case on the bandstand prior setting up the Bigsby, and would then bow to the east not less than three times as a regular ritual. Can anyone actually believe this?
The Heck Harper Show, August 17, 1964
In about 1998, I met up with Michael Misetich, a former Portland, Oregon, resident now living just outside of Dallas, Tx., and also a Jerry Byrd enthusiast. Shortly thereafter, Michael called me all excited about a surprise he had for me. The surprise turned out to be a seven string Rickenbacher Bakelite he’d found in a back room junk box at a tiny little music shop right here in my hometown. It was my very first Rick! and what a thrill it was for me. Since that time, my acquisition of Rickenbacher steel guitars has grown substantially.
After meeting Michael and getting to know him better, I learned that he had been a fan of "mine" since the age of 12. His father used to bring him out to the Division Street Corral where he was allowed to remain so he could watch and listen to me play steel. Michael has since introduced me to such wonderful people as Billy Robinson and Howard White, both Nashville steel guitar players with historical pasts on the Opry and records. Michael also introduced me to Gentleman Wayne Tanner of Texas, another Jerry Byrd Fan and Rickenbacher historian.
Michael has since listened to old tapes of my playing as a teenager to the point that he has memorized just about every note of every tune thereon. He's played them for many different people within the industry and has boasted of me which is truly beyond my comprehension. No finer friend could anyone, ever hope to have. He was in the audience the night I played the Portland Coliseum with the huge Carl Smith Grand Ole Opry Show, and can still recall all sorts of happenings on that evening. Thank you Michael.
In 2003, I was fortunate to be invited to be a part of Manny K. Fernandez' Hawaiian group and in addition to playing any number of personal appearances for a wide variety of worthy causes, I also had the pleasure of being a part of Manny's CD....."In This Enchanted Place". The CD is an excellent performance and Manny brings alive all of the traditional sounds of Hawaiian music in this 23 track collection. This CD is being played over Aloha Joe's Saturday morning internet radio show. In fact, Manny and his great CD, has just won a prestigious award from the Hawaii Music Awards. Manny went to Hawaii in April, 2004, to accept this coveted honor. Congratulations Manny................
My participation in the Steel Guitar Forum during these last few years has made it possible for me to meet and exchange correspondence with a sizeable number of other Jerry Byrd fans from around the world. Songs from our earlier television show can now be heard over STEEL RADIO.com, thanks to "Scotty" and his son there in St.Louis. The Steel Guitar Forum is a truly great place for steel guitar fans to gather and talk. A tremendous amount of knowledge and experience is shared with all who participate.......and the cost is "free".
On January 10, 2004, I established the "unofficial" Jerry Byrd Fan Club so that I might be able to share my large collection of Jerry Byrd's music with his many fans from all around the world, as well as those merely expressing a curiosity about the instrument.
Photo of Ray Montee with the Hager twins.
Photo of Jerry Byrd with his custom Fender steel. Photo of Ray Montee with Jerry's custom Fender steel.
Between the years of 1950-54, I majored in tech radio at Benson Polytechnic High School, Portland, OR, with the hope of one day becoming a country music, radio disc jockey while anxiously awaiting discovery by a Grand Ole Opry talent scout.
I suffered a tremendous loss my Sophomore year with the death of my mother at age 53. I switched my studies to graphic arts/printing (just like Billy Robinson, early day steel guitarist with Red Foley on the Grand Ole Opry) and journalism. I served as a reporter on the school news-paper and became a member of the National Honor Society, Quill & Scroll.
While in high school, I acquired a job at Pendleton Woolen Mills, operating their small one man print shop, imprinting lot numbers and prices on the little blue booklets that were attached to their sport shirts/jackets by a bright yellow string. (any of you remember these?)
I later worked for Pacific Power & Light Co., in their print shop and learned the operation of an off-set printing press and all related equipment.
Shortly after taking up flying lessons, I landed a job at United Airlines, PDX, as a "load planner" but within just six months, my father-in-law pressed me to quit the airline in order to come to work for him in the family owned printing and direct mail firm.
Leaving the airline turned out to be a major mistake and disappointment for me but I managed to survive. I held a number of different jobs after that including retail route sales and ultimately a job with Local Loan Company where I learned the art of finance and collections. This lead to a Head Office position as chief collector for one of Oregon's largest banks.
I embarked on a training course that enabled me to acquire my Federal Aviation Agency/Administration Commercial Pilots License with instrument rating for both single and multi-engine airplanes. Shortly thereafter, I also acquired my Flight Instructor Airplanes and Instruments.....rating. While doing this, I actually created one of the first training course guidelines yet developed and received an acknowledgement from the FAA for having done so.
I had used my first airplane, a 1947, four passenger Stinson Voyager-150 hp, with small tail, to launch my training toward a commercial pilots license while hoping for an airline pilot career.
In 1958, I traded the Stinson in on a fully, instrument equipped 1955 Cessna-180. This is the aircraft my wife and I flew in, to visit Jerry Byrd and the Grand Ole Opry, way back then. I next added a 1950, Cessna 140A metal wing trainer and launched my flying school, Portland Flight Training Center. I flew traffic watch twice daily for three years over Radio KEX, Oregon's only 50,000 watt station at that time.
In 1961, I left the world of banking/finance and took my first job as a Part 135 Commercial Pilot, flying executives throughout the Pacific Northwest and into Canada in twin-engine Aero Commanders. During this time, I had the opportunity to fly the very first Piper Cherokee-150, N-5013W, from Vero Beach, FL, to Hillsboro, OR., in just under twenty two hours.
I next took a flying position with the local Beechcraft Distributor and while there, flew the very first Beech Musketeer from Wichita, KS., to Portland. OR. During this time, I wrote and published several different aviation related magazines that gained good recognition. I also flew as a flight crew member with the Georgia Pacific Corp., Pacific Power & Light Company, Executive Flight Services and Pacific Northwest Bell flight departments.
It was at this time that I also established my own Legal Investigation Service that rapidly grew from no-clients, to more than 350 local, prestigious trial lawyer firms. This firm is still in operation to this date.
In 1972, I established Flight Freedoms Foundation, a non-profit corporation with a flying friend and businessman, David Baker, then of Nashville, Tenn, and later, Ft.Worth, Texas. We provided a forward thinking public relations firm, designed to help general aviation pilots promote their own division of America's air transportation industry, that at the time, was receiving much bad press from the media. Our Chairman of the Board, was the late William P. Lear. Industrialist, pilot, inventor, genius. This business continued for some twenty years. Our work resulted in numerous write-ups in various, leading industry publications.
In order to meet all of my regional appearance commitments, I acquired a twin-engine Cessna 310, which I enjoyed immensely.
In 1980, I established the National Assn. for Crime Victim's Rights, another not for profit, charitable organization. Being one of the first in the nation with a computer database for victim help services, it created quite a bit of national interest. I was honored to appear as guest on more than 350 radio/TV talk shows relating to crime victim stories. This was disbanded in about1993.
In 1990, after retiring, I became a Department of Transportation Certified Truck Driver. I have since accumulated some ONE MILLION Plus, accident free, citation free driving miles.
I've driven dry vans, refer's, flat bed, tanker and dump trucks; single, double and triple trailer rigs and large tour buses. I did this, as I got hungry and wanted a job where folks would once again, look up to me in my work.
I was driving a 65 ft. long, 105,500 lbs, over-length, heavy haul rig on midnight runs throughout Oregon and Washington but a $750.00 overload ticket dampened my enthusiasm for that. I next hauled the US Mail for a local contract carrier, still 48 foot dry vans.
In May, 2007, I was driving prototype engines for a major, new truck manufacturer. I was considered a "TEST driver" and run some 500+ miles each trip. We hauled nothing but dead weight, had no customers, no schedules, were encouraged to drive no more than the posted speed limit. And get this, they kept in radio contact with us and if it should start to snow or ice up along our planned route, one of several, they would notify us to "turn around" in order to keep us out of the bad weather. How 'bout that!? Pay and benefits.....not that bad either.
My greeter at Berry Field, Nashville, 2011. While departing the concourse in the airline terminal, I got to wondering HOW I would recognize (Mrs.) Billy Robinson, my ride to living accommodations while in town. I looked up and there she was..........(photo re-created)
From right to left: My very best friend Michael Misetich (Dallas, Tx) who introduced me to Billy Robinson, Nashville (center) and myself at Billy's home.
I still play steel guitar when-ever the opportunity presents itself and will continue to do so as long as I can physically pack all the gear around. I play Hawaiian, country-western, western-swing, Gospel and "pop". I've played street dances, giant dance halls, rodeos, live radio and television broadcasts. I've backed many of the touring Nashville recording artists of the day.
I play "lap steel"; vintage 4-neck BIGSBY w/pedals; and, Emmons pedal steel with Nashville set-up. I can provide you with sounds of Herb Remington, Roy Wiggins, Don Helms, Speedy West, Joaquin Murphy, Don Davis, Howard White, Billy Robinson and Jerry Byrd. You want a variety in steel guitar styles, give me a call.
During September, 2004, my wife Sally and I visited Honolulu. We had hoped to get to visit with Jerry Byrd however his illness was such that such a meeting was not possible. We did get to see the sights, dropped in for a visit at Harry's Music where Jerry gave music lessons for many years; and, met some wonderful Hawaiian locals.
Among these were Ron Whitfield, a steel guitar player and Jerry Byrd fan from way back. Ron has tipped me off on a number of occasions about Rickenbacher guitar sales on eBay and elsewhere and in addition, to a number of great record selections that were auctioned.........old 78's featuring Jerry Byrd on steel guitar from way back in the early 1950's. A great guy to know and call "friend".
I got to meet Jeff Au Hoy, a fine young man full of the Aloha spirit, and a truly great musician on a number of different instruments. He is one mighty fine steel guitarist and was the featured guest during October, 2004, Hawaiian Steel Guitar Association Convention in Joliet, IL. Jeff arranged for me to sit in with his group on two separate occasions at the beautiful beach front Ilikai Hotel. Additionally, Jeff arranged for me to meet with another island steel guitar recording artist...... Bobby Ingano. The three of us, with several other local musicians, actually jammed for awhile on the beautiful beach at Waikiki, a life long dream of mine.
Upon our return to the mainland, I discovered that Harold Hitchcock, the manager of our Honolulu hotel, the Marine Surf, is also an avid Jerry Byrd fan as was his father back in the 1980's. I'm so disappointed that we didn't know this during our visit in his fine facility.
To each of you.......Aloha!
The Steel Guitar Hall Of Fame (Lifetime Achievement Award)
Ray on YouTube