Herman Gene Lemley was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia.
An old magazine article mentions that he never got comfortable
with the name Herman, so his parents started calling him "Jigger"
which later became "Jiggs" that he was known by during his entertainment
career. While primarily known for his steel guitar work, a 1952 article
mentions the five foot and a half Jiggs had an excellent voice.
Through his musical career, he played the steel guitar,
the dobro, bass, rhythm guitar and tenor banjo.
At the age of five years, he was learning
the flat-top guitar. At the age of six, he was singing and playing
on radio station WPAR in Parkersburg, West Virginia. He entered a talent contest at
the age of six years and came in second place.
At the age of 17 years, Jiggs began to learn the steel guitar. As Jiggs
tells it, someone came over to their house one night with a steel guitar
and when he heard it, he fell in love with it. He had a wife and a kid
at the time, his son Mike and all of $110 in savings. He went down
to the music store in town and spent it all on a steel guitar and amplifier.
He said he played that particular steel guitar for about two years. When
he was 19, he hooked up with Hank Callahan (Jiggs mentions he was known
as Hank the Cowhand) from Wichita Falls, Texas. They worked at radio station WMMN in
Fairmont, West Virginia. Jiggs worked with him for about six months - when
he met Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Sometime before or after that stint with Hank the Cowhand, Jiggs also
apparently worked a bit with Booby Cook's group, the Texas Saddle Pals
with Jiggs on the steel and Jackie Miller on fiddle. Ivan Tribe's book,
"Mountaineer Jamboree" mentions this stint by Jiggs, but doesn't provide
an exact year though mentions that Bobby's group was active throughout
In our interview with Jiggs, he said when he was 20, he left him
and started to work with Hawkshaw on January 10, 1948.
And went on the road with him, working a lot of high schools,
auditoriums and an awful lot of Grand Ole Opry type package shows.
That would be events on Sunday afternoon and evening in towns
all over the country.
And how he came to work with Hawkshaw is a bit of a story in itself.
Jiggs told us he was playing steel, lap steel, in his home town
with the local folks. One of the venues was a place called
the Coliseum. On one occasion, they booked Hawkshaw there. Jiggs said he
was backstage and had put his steel guitar on the stand and got it tuned;
Standard tuning and all. Hawkshaw came walking back there and said to Jiggs,
"Give me an 'E'." Jiggs said "Okay." And Hawkshaw went ahead and
tuned his guitar. He started playing a song and Jiggs said he just
started playing along behind him. The first thing you know Hawkshaw asked Jiggs,
"You want to help me out tonight? Well, you're going out there first,
so you just leave your guitar and amp out there and when I go out just
back me up." Jiggs said, "Sure, I'll back you up."
So they went out there and well, right there in the middle of the gig, Jiggs
said Hawkshaw says, "Well, I can tell you one thing, you're going to
be losing your steel guitar player. I'm taking him to Wheeling with me."
And he hadn't even asked Jiggs yet.
They came off back stage after their appearance and Hawkshaw said, "I offered
you a job. And he told Hawkshaw, "I don't think I can do that."
And he said, "Why?" Jiggs told him, "I'm a married man. I got a little
boy. I can't just run off and leave them behind."
Hawkshaw then said, "Let's go talk to her."
They got into Jiggs' car and drove up to his house, clear up
about eight miles. Hawkshaw talked to his wife. And Jiggs told her that he'd
like to do it. She said, "You go do it, if that's what you want to do."
Hawkshaw said, "Well, let me take your guitar and amp with me.
And you can come up next Saturday night."
Jiggs just said, "Yeah, I'll be there next Saturday night."
Hawkshaw wanted to take his guitar and amp because was afraid Jiggs
wouldn't show up. It was a bit of insurance on his part.
Jiggs told Hawkshaw, "Alright, go ahead and take the damn guitar
and amp. And I'll see you next Saturday night."
Jiggs' son Mike related a recollection from Hawkshaw's ex-wife Reva
about the hiring of Jiggs. When Hawkshaw got home that night, its
said that Hawkshaw was so happy that he was jumping up and down
on the bed with glee that he had 'finally got me a great steel player'.
One can only imagine the sight of someone as tall as Hawkshaw jumping
up and down on the bed. But it also shows you a bit of Hawkshaw's
opinion of the steel guitar expertise of Jiggs and what he was
looking for in his band at the time.
Then came Saturday night, which Jiggs can still remember to this day.
"And I walked out on that stage and I had never before been
in front of 3,000 people in my life. I walked out there and man,
my knees were blistered from knocking so much.
I'm scared to death. And Hawkshaw began to sing a song,
about Panama or something, Pan American Express. He started
singing that song and I'm just about like
to freeze. I'm going in there and backing him up. He turned it over
to me and I started to take a break and it just tore the
house down. Man, did that relax me. From then on man, I'm okay."
He told us about his relationship with Hawkshaw.
Hawkshaw had two sisters but he didn't have any brothers.
Jiggs was four years younger than he was, being 20 at that time while Hawkshaw was 24.
They hit it off pretty good. Jiggs thought it was partly because he
was looked at like his kid brother. They never had any problems.
They always got along great. They never had any arguments of any kind.
Mary Jean Shurtz wrote in a 1948 "National Hillbilly News" column
of Hawkshaw forming his band back in 1948, including Jiggs. She also
mention the other members of Hawkshaw's troupe at that time, Budge and
Fudge and Smokey (perhaps Smokey Pleacher) who was the comedian who
also sang, then, too.
For a time, Jiggs and Hawkshaw were a part of the WFIL Hayloft Hoedown.
They were only on that show six months, June through November. Two men and their wives run
that show he told us. They brought in headliners each Saturday night.
He got to meet such stars as Eddy Arnold and the Sons of the Pioneers.
Then Jiggs and Hawkshaw went back to the WWVA Jamboree.
There was a group that was very popular then. They did a lot of work
there and up in Canada. Doc Williams and the Border Riders. He was on
that show. His wife, Chickie. His brother Cy, played the fiddle.
He had a blind accordion player. Marion Martin. And they were on
the show. And there was also a guy by the name of Big Slim.
In speaking of Big Slim, the Lone Cowboy, Jiggs begins to relate
how he became one of the pallbearers at his funeral in 1966.
When Jiggs' son, Boots, was home from the Air Force during
the Viet Nam war, he said, "Dad, let's run down to Wheeling."
Jiggs said okay; and they went down to Wheeling.
Jiggs then ran into Gene Johnson, who used to be Hawkshaw's manager.
"Did you know Slim died?" And Jiggs replied, no he didn't.
He said, "Yeah, the funeral's this afternoon. Could you be a pall
bearer?" Jiggs told him he would.
He mentions Don Kidwell, who finally quit the business and became a pilot
for Pan Am. He was up in San Francisco. He was two years younger than
Jiggs and he had some pictures of him flying a 747 - flying
somewhere between Saudi Arabia and someplace else. He sent me some
pictures. He became a pilot when he got out of the music business.
When he started playing the steel, he was using a double-neck,
a Rickenbacker - the same one he was using when he joined up with Hawkshaw
Hawkins. But it had its moments for Jiggs. He said it was made out
of metal. But he couldn't keep it in tune. They would travel when
it was below zero and he would have to take it into a warm studio
but he could not get it in tune and he could not keep it in tune.
Jiggs told us he met up with another steel player one night on a show
they were playing - Noel Boggs, of Spade Cooley's band. The show was at
the Capitol Theatre in Wheeling, WV when they were with the WWVA Jamboree
He was backstage and got to talking with Noel, who was using
two different steel guitars at the time.
Jiggs related to Noel the trouble he was having. Jiggs said, "I told him I has having the
darnedest problems. I can't get it in tune. I can't keep it in tune.
Unless its been setting in the building all day temperature wise."
He told me you go to your music store and tell him to get a hold
of Fender out in Fullerton, California
and you get yourself a double-necked Fender double-8 and your
problems will be over.
So Jiggs went and bought one - the one that's in the picture.
A blonde ash Fender and he said he played that thing for years. Jiggs told us,
"Man, you could haul that thing around and they weren't no problem keeping
that in tune."
During the next five years, he pursued his musical career with Hawkshaw
Hawkins. About early 1952, Jiggs left Hawkshaw's group and joined
Toby Stroud's Blue Mountain Boys and WWVA. Later,
Jiggs worked with George Morgan for a couple of years. And later with a
bluegrass group - Don Reno and Red Smiley who had a fiddle player by
the name of Toby Stroud. The four of them traveled quite a bit then,
mostly in the south. Following that period, he served as a staff musician for one
year at radio station WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, where they would
book him out with various acts on the show.
We got to talking about an article that appeared in an old Cowboy Songs
magazine. That article was the result of his fan club president, Gloria
Meckling of Wellsburg, WV. She arranged to have it published. Jiggs didn't
even know she was gonna do it. She brought the magazine backstage
and told him, "I've got something to show you." She wrote that article
and got it published. Jiggs still recalls her fondly, still remembering
her address to this day, a wonderful gal who treated him good.
Jiggs talks of where he made most money when he was with Hawkshaw Hawkins.
Most of the acts out of Nashville, when you went to work for them, you
went on salary. And that was all you had. Salary and they paid
your motel bills and that was it. But Hawkshaw let Jiggs keep his "picture
rights." Jiggs would walk out on the stage at night and well, $50 was
a heck of a lot of money back then and he'd stand there and sell a bunch
of pictures. And that money went into his pockets.
Jiggs remembers a time when he was down in Charleston doing a
gig with Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. He was back stage talking
to Copas' steel guitar player.
He said, "How's Hawkshaw to work for?" And Jiggs said, "I like him,
we always got along good."
He asked, He pay pretty good?" I said, "Well, I do all right.
I got my picture rights."
He said, "You got what?"
Jiggs said, "I got my picture rights."
"You sell your own pictures?"
"You're damn right I sell my own pictures.
Ain't no one going to sell my pictures and make money
on it and me not get any of it. Ain't no way I'm going down to the Opry
if they're gonna sell my picture and make money and not pay me anything.
We talked a bit of Roy Acuff - who in his autobiography told of letting
his band sell their recordings and photos (and in fact in our collection
is a Smoky Mountain Boys picture folio) and was happy for them. Jiggs
told us some stars would allow that, but most wouldn't. Sometimes that
arrangement resulted in some pleasant joshing by the other musicians. He
told us of one encounter with the steel player for Cowboy Copas who jokingly
told him - hey, you go back to Nashville with Copas and I'll go with
Hawkshaw. But Jiggs wasn't teasing when he said, "Oh no, I'll keep the job I got."
When we brought up Cowboy Copas, it brought back another bit of a tidbit
that he said he would run across now and then with the acts back then.
Its about the artists and when they tell you where they're from.
Cowboy Copas always said he was the Oklahoma Cowboy. But, on the contrary,
he was from Ohio, though he told everybody he came from Oklahoma. His
dad was a judge in Columbus. But Copas thought it would 'sell better'
if he told folks he was from Oklahoma.
Jiggs related a bit about the other steel guitar players - Joaquin Murphey
who was on the west coast - a "hell of a good steel man." Noel Boggs
came up again - he asked if we knew of Nelson King who was a disc jockey
over radio station WCKY in Cincinnati back then. He said that when
his show came on the air each night, he'd start the show with the old
Leon McAuliffe (another legendary steel guitar player) tune, "Steel Guitar
Rag." But the recording Nelson played was the one by Noel Boggs. Jiggs
had high praise for another steel player who was on the Hee Haw band
for a time - Curly Chalker.
In 1954, he moved to New York and for three years, played in various
night clubs. The life on the road had gotten to him. And he wanted
to spend more time with his family. When he went to New York, he
hooked up with Al Dufrane and the Bunkhouse Buckaroos. They were
being heard over WICY every Tuesday evening in 1954 at 8:30pm. From
there, he continued in the music business, doing club work in Canada
as well as upper New York state. He relates that life on the road
had gotten to be a hassle, having a wife and kids at home. One Canadian
tour was arranged by Oscar Davis who later became a press agent
for Elvis Presley.
But after one tour, his wife told him he'd been gone a while and
they weren't having much of a marriage. So, he took the job up in New York
at that time and stayed with it for three years. The band would play in
such places as Cornwall, Ontario, Lake Placid, New York, Merrimack Lake
and other venues in the area.
Early in 1960, Jiggs left the music as a business for a while, looking
for a more steady job and income that kept him at home. He began working
for a cemetery, which eventually, he bought in 1966. He was with that
for about ten years, selling it about 1976.
Jiggs tells us he used that Fender steel guitar up until about 1975.
At that time, a guy in Mansfield, Ohio was having a show with
Buddy Emmons there and he went up to Buddy and talked to him. Buddy
had a pedal steel guitar there and Jiggs bought it.
Jiggs said he learned the pedals. And told us, "It's a whole new
ball game. You got to practically learn all over again."
He just took it home and had a stereo in his bedroom
when he was living in Florida. Actually it was in his 3rd bedroom, and
he'd go in there at night and his wife would be watching TV and he'd
be in there for three or four hours and he would do that every night
and every night and he'd play along with the stereo. Its
the easiest way to learn he says.
In 1976, he moved to Ft. Myers, Florida and joined the Sam Bass and
the Country Sounds down in Naples. Jiggs worked with Sam Bass for more than
During the course of our conversation - which at times seemed to cover
just about everything as the topics came up - we came back to the style
that Jiggs used, especially on the pedal steel. He felt his style
was different than most pedal steel guitar players and he told us why.
"Most steel guitar players learned on pedal. I learned the steel with
a lap steel. Then I incorporated (what I used with the) lap into pedal.
So I got both worlds. And I mixed it up. I got my steel guitar to
playing that was a little different than a lot of them.
But not all that different. But there was some things that
I did that they didn't do because I tried to incorporate some
of my lap steel. Some of them have never played lap steel - just started
right out on pedal. Pedals come out in '52. They never even
touched lap. You may incorporate what you do on lap with your
pedals and it works out a little different (sound)."
After working with Sam Bass, he worked at another club with his own
band in Ft. Myers. There, he worked for about eight years. Jiggs
relates that it was something else - they would play to packed houses
on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.
In 1984, Jiggs won the People's Choice Award as Instrumentalist of the
Year for the Naples chapter of the Florida Country Music Association. In
1985, he joined the Sundown Band in Ft. Myers where he was still a member (in 1987).
In 1985, he won Instumentalist of the Year Award from the Ft. Myers
chapter of the Florida Country Music Association.
In 1986, he was again Instrumentalist of the Year for the Ft. Myers chapter.
During that occasion, the Sundown Band was honored as Band of the Year.
During his career, Jiggs has backed stars from the Grand Ole Opry and
the Wheeling Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia.
|Artists backed by Jiggs Lemley|
| Hawkshaw Hawkins
|| Hank Snow
| Merle Travis
|| George Morgan
| Cowboy Copas
|| Moon Mullican
| T. Texas Tyler
|| Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper
In talking with Jiggs, you soon learn that his memory is lightning quick
and can rattle dates and people off like it had happened yesterday. And
you catch the enthusiasm and enjoyment he had for those times, too. He
got to work with Moon Mullican in Dayton, Ohio around 1950 when he was
quite popular at the time. He remembers meeting Minnie Pearl for the first
time at a package show in Youngstown, Ohio.
Later on, Jiggs relates a bit more of his encounter with Moon. At that
show, he also ran into Lazy Jim Day (who was with WLW in Cincinnati back
then) - who Jiggs affectionately recalls
as the "...craziest guy I ever worked with; you talk about a comedian."
At this particular show, Lazy Jim and Moon were backstage telling
jokes all afternoon. He did a song everyday called the "Singing News."
Jiggs told us what it was like to be traveling on the road back then,
between gigs. The guys in the band would be packed in the car, they'd
have the local country radio stations on as they drove and when they
heard the intro to a song - they knew instantly who it was. The stars
of that era had distinct sounds.
In talking about other acts they worked with, he tells of a time
they were working with the Louvin Brothers. Back then, they had a
fiddle player by the name of Tater Tate. The two of them got to be
pretty good friends during that time. Jiggs would grab Hawkshaw's guitar
and they'd be back in some room playing one tune after another, having
a ball. Before you know it, someone would come looking for them and tell
them, hey, don't you know you're on next?
Another guy he tells us he got to be real good friends with
was J.D. Sumner, who worked with Elvis for a time. He was part
of the Stamps Quartet and owned the Stamps Publishing Company.
He was a couple years older than me; he died a couple years ago.
But they became real good friends. Jiggs told of a time he ran
into him in Naples, Florida several years ago. He hadn't seen him
in a long time. Jiggs was standing on the sidewalk and J.D. was
getting off his bus and he was walking towards Jiggs. "Hi JD." Jiggs
yelled out. He just stopped dead in his tracks Jiggs said. And he
just stood there and looked at him a little bit, and he said, "Jiggs
is that you?" and he said, "Yes." And then when they went into
the church - they were doing gospel show - he dedicated a song to Mr. Lemley.
He told Jiggs he had a Mercedes that Elvis had bought him
for Christmas. And still had it. J.D. related to Jiggs that the
thing that really hurts him is when people get to talking like
"Elvis has been seen." He said Vernon Presley (Elvis's dad) came
to J.D. and said, "J.D., will you make the funeral arrangements.
I just don't think I can do it." J.D. went ahead and made the funeral
arrangements for Elvis. And when this talk comes up about Elvis being
seen here or there, it just burned J.D. up to no end.
Jiggs' career has involved him in shows with such celebrities as:
|Appearances by Jiggs Lemley on Shows With The Following Acts|
| Minnie Pearl
|| Eddy Arnold
| Sons of the Pioneers
|| Roy Clark
| Jimmy Dean
|| Hank Snow
| Carl Smith
|| Bill Monroe
| Lulu Belle and Scotty
|| Grandpa Jones
| Thrasher Brothers
|| Jimmy Dickens
| Jerry Clower
|| Del Wood
| Hank Williams, Sr.
|| Ernest Tubb
| Pee Wee King
|| Elton Britt
| Don Reno and Red Smiley
|| Toby Stroud
| Ken Curtis
|| Sunset Carson
|And others too numerous to mention.
The list of people that Jiggs has worked with is pretty impressive. But, he told
us of all the people that he met when he was on the road, musicians were
the one he loved to be around. "Because they're good people," he says;
"There's some bad ones, but they're so few and far between. And the
bigger the star, the nicer they are. Because they don't have anything
Our conversation drifted to a mention of Jerry Byrd, the legendary Hawaiian
steel guitar player. Jiggs said he met Jerry at the King Records studio
in Cincinnati, Ohio when he and Hawkshaw Hawkins were there.
He told us when Jerry came to the Grand Ole Opry,
he tried to keep his tuning a secret. And he succeeded for a while.
But the guys finally picked it up, Jiggs says; "It was the C6th tuning.
And Jerry was so smooth. God, he was good." Everyone in Nashville wanted
to use Jerry on their records, including Hank Williams.
Jiggs said played steel up until 1998. The last gig he played was
New Year's 1998. He told us his eyes had gotten so bad that he couldn't
see the frets. And when you set that bar down and everybody says aw,
Jiggs you've been playing that steel guitar for so long you can
play it with your eyes shut. He said, "No, you can't. You set that bar
down and if you're not on that fret, you're sour, you're out
of tune." He sold that guitar to his next oldest boy. He says he's got
two boys that play the steel guitar. And they're both pretty good. But
he still has his dobro - his wife told him he couldn't sell the dobro.
Jiggs told us how he got his dobro, a story in and of itself.
It's got the "Dobro" name right on the neck. He first ordered it
out of a factory about the mid-1980s. A guy out in Florida, who worked
a friend of Jiggs out in Nashville, Buck "Uncle Josh" Graves who used
to play for Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Buck and and a guy out
here in Florida were selling dobros. So Jiggs went out to see him
and he wanted to charge Jiggs something close to $690 dollars.
Jiggs was just about ready to pass. But he couldn't.
He knew he was doing this through Buck or Uncle Josh.
Jiggs came home and called Josh and asked him if he was selling
guitars down here. He said, "Yeah, why?" Jiggs told Josh he wanted to
buy a dobro but the price was too high. Josh said, "You go back out
and see Eddie." So, he went back out there and the price had dropped
to $395. Jiggs told him to order it. Buck did him a favor Jiggs says, but
he'd know him since about 1950.
The conversation drifted to a discussion about the various steel guitar
tunings we read about in the magazines. We listened as Jiggs told us the
front neck on a double-necked pedal steel is a chromatic E-9th tuning.
And the back neck is a C6th tuning - that's the old Jerry Byrd tuning.
Only now on the pedal steel guitar, you've got ten strings instead of six.
The chromatic E-9th makes everything so easy.
When you have your pedals, you drop the first pedal and it drops
your G into an E-minor. You don't even had to move the bar.
Then you let up on the pedal and you're back in G.
Or you set the second pedal down and you're at C.
And if you want D you don't have to go up 7 frets, you just go up
two frets and use the pedal and there's your D. "Oh, its so much easier," Jiggs
tells us, "Then, when you get yourself a pedal steel guitar and
you start on it, oh, its a whole new ball game. Its like learning
all over again. The more you learn, the more you'll like it."
"But I tell you, I wouldn't take a million dollars for the life I've
had. I'm 74 and I don't know how much longer I got. But I told
my wife, if I die tomorrow, I think I've lived as much as any one
man that's lived 85 - 90 years. Because I've done the things I
wanted to do.
I've been lucky. There's been a lot of hard work to it, too. There's
a lot of work, but I've had some luck, too. Right place at
the right time."
We've been trying to ascertain which Hawkshaw Hawkins recordings
that Jiggs Lemley played on. Our list here is courtesy of the efforts
of Mike Lemley and Jiggs Lemley himself. Where you see a (?), Mike is
thinking the steel guitar is being played by his dad based on listening
to the recording and knowledge of his dad's style.
|Appearances by Jiggs Lemley on Recordings by Hawkshaw Hawkins on King Records|
||I'm Waiting Just For You
||A Heartache To Recall
||Dog House Boogie (?)
||Memories Always Linger On
||I Wasted A Nickel
||I Am Slowly Dying of A Broken Heart
Credits & Sources
- National Hillbilly New; March-April 1948; Mr. and
Mrs. Orville Via; Huntington, WV
- Country Song Roundup No. 10; February 1951; Charlton
Pub. Corp.; Derby, CT
- Cowboy Songs No. 19; March 1952; American
Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Cowboy Songs No. 36; August 1954; American
Folk Publications, Inc.; Derby, CT
- Video from Jiggs Lemley Induction into the Florida
Country Music Hall of Fame 1987; courtesy of Mike 'Boots' Lemley, son
of Jiggs Lemley.