Steel Guitar Hall of Famer Walter Haynes, who also wrote and
produced hit country music songs, died Jan. 1 in Tyler, Texas. He was 80, and
was known for his work with Jimmy Dickens, Del Reeves, The Everly Brothers, Jeanne Pruett and
“When you heard Walter play on things like Jimmy Dickens’ ‘We Could,’
the tone was just so beautiful,” said broadcaster, musician and historian Eddie Stubbs.
“That steel guitar sounded almost like it was breathing.”
Haynes’ legacy is not solely defined by his steel guitar prowess. He produced
Pruett’s “Satin Sheets” and Cal Smith’s “Country Bumpkin,”
and also produced artists including Reeves, Marty Robbins and Bill Monroe.
And though he was not a prolific songwriter, he co-wrote (with Hank Mills)
Del Reeves’ No. 1 1965 hit, “Girl on the Billboard.” The inspiration for
that song came when he saw a Coca-Cola billboard that featured a swimsuit-wearing model.
Without a pen and paper handy, he scribbled ideas for the song in his dust
on his car’s dashboard.
Yet steel players and traditional country music fans speak first of Mr. Haynes’ contributions
as an instrumentalist. Raised in Kingsport, Mr. Haynes moved to
Nashville in 1949 as a fiddle player. Two years later, he had switched to
steel and was working toward a sound that was complex and intricate for its time.
He became a major influence on Buddy Emmons, who would join Dickens’ band
after Mr. Haynes left the group in 1955. Emmons would later broaden the impact
of the pedal steel guitar and would become beloved in doing so. Less celebrated
than Emmons, Mr. Haynes was nonetheless crucial in bridging instrumental eras.
Mr. Haynes provided a link between the simple lap steel of the 1940s and
the more sophisticated pedal steel styles of Emmons, Lloyd Green and others.
“There was a time when Walter Haynes was a critical part of steel guitar
recording in Nashville,” said modern day steel guitarist Pete Finney.
“He’s too often overlooked in the history of pedal steel.”
An addition to his time in Dickens’ Country Boys group, Mr. Haynes worked
the road with Ferlin Husky and Webb Pierce.
He also worked for 13 years as a staff musician on the Grand Ole Opry.
In the studio, he was versatile enough to play on such disparate recordings
as Dickens’ rockabilly-fused “Hey Worm! (You Wanna Wiggle),”
Patsy Cline’s elegant “Walkin’ After Midnight” and
rocker J.J. Cale’s 1971 Naturally album.
Mr. Haynes also worked some music-related “day jobs,” heading up Moss Rose Publishing
and serving as an assistant to Owen Bradley at Decca and as a vice
president at MCA Nashville. In young days, he was a dashing fellow, as well:
Elvis Presley once asked him for hairstyling advice.
“He and I were roommates in the early 1950s,” said Bob Moore, the legendary bass
player who also spent time as a member of the Country Boys band. “He had a lot
of fun, and he was just a plain old nice guy.”
At the time of his death, Mr. Haynes had been teaching music lessons in
Bullard, Texas, where he lived with wife Cindy.
Services will be held Sunday, Jan. 4, at Tyler Metro Church, 7525 Old
Jacksonville Highway, Tyler, Texas, 75703.
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