Guitar Player Magazine
Nov. 1984

By Dan Forte


From his adolescence as a Beach Boys fan and his wood-shedding on pedal steel in cowboy bars to his tenure with LA's so-called "mellow Mafia," backing Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, and others, Dan Dugmore epitomizes everything that is California. Onstage, as in conversation, the 35-year-old guitar and steel sideman is calm, soft-spoken, unhurried - and decidedly laidback. "That's the way I play," he says, "and that's the way I am. It's not holding back; it's just trying to make it melodic - as opposed to just ripping off a bunch of scales up and down the neck. Rather than play something predictable, I try to do stuff that's a little more surprising."

Dugmore began playing electric guitar at 14, but it was the addition of pedal steel at 19 that has proved invaluable in his touring and session work with a long list of California-based artists, including Taylor, Ronstadt, Andrew Gold, Karla Bonoff, J.D. Souther, the Pointer Sisters, and Stevie Nicks.

His first 6-string was a Silvertone 3/4-scale with an amplifier built into the case. "My folks were in Sears," he recounts, "and this tag said 'Electric Guitar,' so they went, "Hey, there's one on sale for $99.00.' It was great, but it had pretty bad action. I stuck with it for about a year, and then I got a Fender Jaguar. It was surf music time. I had a [Fender] Bandmaster amp with the separate Fender reverb unit, too. That was so important. I said, 'This is what makes these guys sound so good.' My parents said, 'Dan, you don't need that little box, too, do you?' 'Yes! This is the whole reason it sounds that way.'"

The first band Dugmore saw playing electric guitars was the Beach Boys, with their white Fenders. "Being from California, " he elaborates, "I used to surf and go to the big surf festivals. I saw the Beach Boys with their white electric guitars, and I said, 'This is it! This is great. Turn up the reverb!' I saw Dick Dale, too. It was all just sounds, you know. 'How do they do that?' 'That little box.' And they'd always say, 'Now whatever you do, don't kick that box,'" he laughs, recalling the cacophony that comes from a Fender reverb when you shake its springs.

After the Beach Boys, Dan waas influenced by other California-based guitar groups, including Buffalo Sprindfield (he bought a black Gretsch solidbody, thinking he was getting a guitar like Stephen Stills' black Les Paul), Moby Grape, and the Byrds. The latter's seminal country-rock LP, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo [Columbia, PC-9670], inspired the guitarist to take up pedal steel. "Moby Grape and Buffalo Springfield sort of tended to be country." he details, "and a lot of stuff the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were doing was semi-country, but I didn't get into straight country until Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. Every night, I'd go listen to Jaydee Maness [who played steel on some cuts on that album] at the Palomino with Jerry Inman and The Palomino Riders."

After reading a survey of pedal steelers in the September '72 Guitar Player, Dan wrote a junior college term paper on the instrument, and eventually bought one himself. "That issue of Guitar Player had an article on all the guys who played on Suite Steel [Elektra, out of print]- it gave all their tunings and everything, except for Sneaky Pete's." Dugmore's first steel was a singleneck 10-string MSA with four knee levers and 10 pedals, bought from Sneaky Pete Kleinow, co-founder of the pioneering Flying Burrito Brothers.

"There were no steels to be found anywhere," according to Dan, "not in the valley, not in Hollywood, not anywhere. Country-rock was just starting to happen. Stores said, 'Well, we can order you one,' but I wanted one now. So I asked Sneaky, and he had a couple of spares. After I bought it, I said,'Can you tell me what it does and stuff?' and he went, 'No.' He had his own weird tuning, which is a B6. It was a C6 neck dropped down a half-step, but then he had it set up with the I to IV country changes, rather than the swing changes ordinarily found on a C6. His went B to E, instead of E to A. It's still a fourth, but he had it down in that tuning, which is what gives him part of that sound."

Along with Maness and Kleinow, Dugmore lists Buddy Emmons and Lloyd Green as major steel influences. "I learned a lot of stuff off their records. I'd just sit there for hours and just play the I, IV, and V chords while they played all the licks. Once in a while, you would be in the right position to see how they got that lick."

The same issue of Guitar Player that turned the guitarist on to pedal steel included a survey in which various players listed what they considered their best recorded work. "Buddy Emmons listed a Duane Eddy album he played on called Twang A Country Song [RCA, out of print]," Dan recounts. "I looked all over for it, and couldn't find it. My wife was working as a telephone operator, and one day she happened to place a call to Duane Eddy. She said,'Excuse me, but my husband is a steel guitar player, and he's been trying to find Twang A Country Song.' He said, 'Oh, it's been out of print for years.' And my wife said,'Shoot, I really want to get it for him, because it's his birthday tomorrow.' Duane said,'It's his birthday tomorrow? What's your address? I've got a couple of copies at the house, and I'll bring him one.' So the next day it's my birthday, and I'm sitting there, and there's a knock on the door. I open it, and he says,'Hi, I'm Duane Eddy.' That was so nice of that man. God, I was thrilled." [Ed. Note: Until this interview, Duane Eddy had no idea that the birthday boy more than 10 years ago was Dan Dugmore- who happens to be one of Duane's favorite contemporary steel players.]

Other than "just listening to good records and applying that knowledge," Dugmore is completely self-taught on pedal steel. "I never took any lessons," he reveals. "I just used what I knew from college about chords. But I had to learn on Sneaky's steel, so I sat down, played each note, wrote them down, stepped on the pedal, and figured out what they did. I later discovered E9 tuning, which is so much more open to licks and playing scales without moving the bar at all- which you couldn't do on Sneaky's B6. I started hearing these E9 players doing amazingly fast licks, and I realized there was no way I could possibly do it on that tuning. On E9, you have so many more choices of inversions. And the idea with steel is to move to the closest note and keep the common tones as much as possible."

Before long, Dugmore was playing five sets a night, five nights a week in cowboy bars in Orange County and the San Fernando Valley. "I realized that was the best place to learn my instrument," he stresses. "There were always places to work. It's perfect discipline, because sitting at home in your room, you always get up to watch TV or something. Also, it was fun to play with a band. You get to play a lot in a situation like that- as opposed to now, where you're already accomplished, and you can't be learning while you're up there onstage."

Dan's first real break came after seeing John Stewart, formerly of the Kingston Trio, at LA's Troubador. "I ran into him in the hall," Dugmore relates, "and I gave him one of my cards with my phone number on it. I said, 'If you ever need a steel player....' That week he called me to auditiion, because [multi-instrumentalist] Chris Darrow was leaving his band. That next week I was on the road- I didn't know what hit me."

While recording with Stewart, Dan met bassist Kenny Edwards, who in turn recommended Dugmore for a spot in Linda Ronstadt's group. "She just finished Heart Like A Wheel," says Dan, "so we toured while that went up and hit #1."

Also in the Ronstadt band was another steel guitarist, Ed Black. "That was around '74, when we were still sharing rooms on the road," Dan reminisces, "so Ed said, 'We'd better room together, because we're either going to be best friends or hate each other's guts.' We'd bring our steels up to the room, sit down face to face, and show each other things. That's when we worked out the twin solo for 'Silver Threads And Golden Needles' we'd do in concerts. Linda liked the way I played on the ballads, and she liked Ed's playing on the fast tunes. We used to do 'Steel Guitar Chimes' at the end of Linda's set, when she'd walk off." With exception of Ronstadt's album of Nelson Riddle arrangements, What's New, and subsequent big-band concerts, Dugmore has appeared on every album and tour since joining the group 10 years ago.

Because Ronstadt and James Taylor are both produced and managed by Peter Asher, Dugmore was on hand when Taylor re-recorded some material for his Greatest Hits LP on Warner Bros. "Carolina On My Mind' and "Something In The Way She Moves" has previously been hits on Apple so when Taylor decided to redo them, he added a pedal steel in the person of Dan Dugmore. "Dan is an amazing guitar player," Taylor said in GP's May '84 cover story. "I think pedal steel is the most demanding stringed instrument; it just requires incredible control and concentration. But his banjo, his acoustic guitar, and most recently his lead playing are fantastic, too. He's really been stepping out a lot. Dan is extremely sensitive to the overall sound. I have great admiration for him."

Contrasting his role in Ronstadt's band with his position in Taylor's, Dugmore agrees that "you do alter your style- you have to. With Linda, I always used to play my Les Paul, and when I joined James, it was not Les Paul music. So I switched to a Stratocaster. You just have to listen a lot. Listen for the right spot, the right range to play in. It's playing the right part, rather than underplaying. In cowboy bars, you tend to overplay a lot. After a while, you just learn to pad, instead of playing licks while somebody is singing. With James Taylor, nobody wants to hear screaming lead guitar over the vocals. With the steel, I try to fit in parts, rather than have steel from front to back, all the way through. I like to arrange it, like strings almost."

The most distinctive elements of Dugmore's steel playing are his bright, lead guitar-like tone and soulful, ultra-economical phrasing. "The tone is in the way you hold the bar and pick," he explains. "Steel relies a lot on touch, and everyone sounds different- their vibrato, their muting, how hard they press the bar. It's almost like a voice. I go more for a sustaining, long-note approach, just trying to make real nice inversions of chords."

Dan's most famous, and oft-copied, steel solo is on Ronstadt's hit version of "Blue Bayou"[Simple Dreams]. "That was recorded live on the take," he discloses. "I just worked it out in my head and sort of flew in with it. Most of the time, the solos are overdubbed. They're usually worked out a lot, especially if we're going to play them on the rhythm track. You have to remember that it's just a little piece of the whole record."

For his steel solo on "Crazy"[Hasten Down The Wind], Dan played on the C6 neck. "That was Linda's idea," he comments. "I was on the E9 neck, and she asked me to try it on C6, because it would be so much more authentic- sounding for that song. I didn't even have my pedals hooked up. We just did it with no pedals- so it was even more authentic, almost like a lap steel. I haven't been playing C6 for a while, but I'm going to go back to it. I miss it. But with playing all the rock stuff, C6 didn't fit in, because it's all big, fat jass chords. For rock, I like E9 better."

Following his 10-string MSA, Dugmore's next steel was an Emmons model he bought from Jaydee Maness. That was soon traded in for a Sho-Bud, the brand Dan still plays and endorses. "I've been playing that guitar for 11 years," he says, "and I'm about to get their new Super Pro model. It's got a quieter undercarriage, the action's smoother, and it's made of aluminum parts. Pedal steel companies used to be more different from each other than they are now. Emmons and Sho-Bud are a lot alike now, whereas 10 years ago, they were totally different."

When Dan is called on to play lap steel, he uses an old hollow Rickenbacker made of sheet metal. "I played that on "Mohammed's Radio [Linda Ronstadt's Living In The U.S.A.]," he details. "It's battleship gray, with the original pickup with the big magnet coming off of it. It screams."

On standard guitar, Dugmore alternates between several models, but usually chooses his Gibson Les Paul or an Ibanez Strat copy. "I got an Ibanez Artist model in 1979," he relates, "and I started endorsing them. I mainly use the Ibanez Strat with James Taylor. I put Seymour Duncan Stack pickups in it. On the black Les Paul, David Lindley took my pickup covers off years ago. I was talking to him about tone, and he said,'Gimme your guitar.'"

Other pieces in the Dugmore collection include a Les Paul Gold-top, a 1937 Martin 00-18H, a funky Magnatone lap steel with numbered frets, a Gibson J-200 he's had since 1966, and a Martin M-38 with koa wood back and sides. "It's got a wide body and a real nice wide neck," he says of the latter.

His amplifiers are a Roland Jass Chorus with JBL speakers for steel and a Music man 210 top with a 4x12 Music Man bottom for guitar. "I usually run the preamp on the Music Man at around 7," he says, "with the master around 6, for my Ibanez sound. That seems to be good for the Les Paul, too, which has more distortion and power at the same settings. The Ibanez is pretty clean. If I want to clean up the Les Paul, I turn the preamp down to about 5."

Dan's pedalboard (for standard 6-string) consists of a Boss DN-2 delay, Boss CE-2 chorus, and an Ibanez Tube Screamer, all hooked up to ACpower. "I like the Tube Screamer," he offers, "Because it sounds like a real tone; it's not a fuzztone or anything. Combining those effects, I can get just about any tone I need." On steel, he often uses an MXR Phase 100 for a Leslie speaker effect.

He strings both his steel and electrics with Ernie Ball Regular Slinky sets (gauged .010 to .046), "except on the steel, I use a wound .022 instead of an unwound, and I have an .011 on the G#, because it gets more tone that the .010. On regular guitar, I feel good about the .010, because when you get out there in front of all those people, you have so much more adrenalin, you can bend them real easy. Sitting around at home, they feel a little stiff, but if I played onstage with Super Slinkys, I'd bend them right off the neck."

Between tours with Rondstadt and Taylor, Dan has been playing sessions (he recently recorded with Dolly Parton) and working on his own tunes. "I have a little home studio here," he says. "But we have all these dogs and birds, so people hear these demos with dogs barking in the background and go, 'Oh, you cut this at Dugmore's.'"



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