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Jimmy Crawford

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Biography

One of country & western music's greatest athletes of the pedal steel began his training at only four years old, learning music at the feet of his father Eugene Crawford and uncle Garland Crawford who performed as a duet with a big following around Columbus. When the lad knew five or six chords on the mandolin -- and was still four years old, because that took him much less than year -- and could sing a good "Jesus Loves Me," they would drag him out of bed to come sing on the duo's 5:30 a.m. radio broadcast. The first pedal steel playing that Jimmy Crawford recalled hearing was that of Jerry Byrd, but that was enough to make him want to dedicate his life to the instrument. He spent years playing along with this artist's records. By ten years he was working out harmony parts and "picking up every kind of recording" he could get his hands on, according to his memoirs. The first big-name country artist he backed up was the great Buck Owens, not a bad start. One of Crawford's local brethren in the country music scene was Johnny Paycheck, at that point still going under the name Donny Lytle. The two men became members of George Jones' band around the same time, creating a hard-edged rocking country sound that at least honestly earned the nickname of "honky tonk" because that was one place where one was bound to hear such music with a crying pedal steel always figuring in prominently. Crawford's listening interests led him to Western swing, and a fascination with that music's twin pedal steel lineups continued to fuel this player's interest in harmony. He began working with Bob Gallion, Bill Tustin, and Woody Woodham at the Jamboree in Wheeling, WV, where they made a contact with Western movie cowboy star and singer Jimmy Walker. The latter artist was thrilled with their band, hiring them as his own to work under his MGM contract. Of interest to jazz fans is the fact that one of the Walker band's little mascots was Lenny Breau, who would grow up to be one of the most famous Canadian jazz guitarists. Breau's parents also worked the Jamboree and they would bring him along to the shows when he was only six. Some guitar lessons ensued, young Breau perhaps seeming like an old-timer in terms of students to Crawford, who after all had started out even earlier. The combo became the staff band at WWVA, where they worked with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper. With the addition of banjoist John Clark on banjo, the aggregation took on the new title of the Clinch Mountain Clan, following Cooper and Edwards to the Grand Old Opry in 1957. The pedal steel man stayed in Nashville ever since, working with, among many, Cowboy Copas, his old boss Jones, Hank Snow, and in the Rainbow Ranch Boys with fiddler Buddy Spicher. Faron Young was his boss for two years, the end of the job coinciding with a down period in this artist's career. The flow of studio work was beginning to dwindle, a sad factor of life in Nashville, where some players are "in"...but only for awhile. Crawford went back to work with Ferlin Husky after dropping out of playing entirely for a spell. He then worked with Johnny Wright and Kitty Wells for nearly seven years, an experience that put him over the top in terms of the road life. He decided he'd had enough. Crawford always preferred the studio anyway, where he left tracks figuratively and literally with the genre's greatest artists. His solos glow warmly on classic albums by Dolly Parton, Chet Atkins, Ray Griff, and many others. He branched into bluegrass and the acoustic Dobro for sessions with the innovative Osborne Brothers, including an unforgettable version of the standard "Lost Highway." He took on the difficult task of following up steel guitar genius Hal Rugg for country goddess Loretta Lynn, and also performed with Slim Whitman, Radney Foster, and other country artists produced by fellow pedal steel player Pete Drake. Crawford likes to write instrumentals and his tunes have been recorded by Lloyd Green, Doug Jernigan, Chet Atkins, and others. Fans of the genre of gospel pedal steel will also come across this artist, as he has released a series of lavishly praised collections of this material. Like many of his peers, he has been involved in pedal steel design and technical innovations on the instrument. ~ Eugene Chadbourne

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