Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

March 27, 2013

Pickin' and grinnin' ... or at least pickin'

By Mike Redmond

— Occasionally I am seized by what I like to call "diabolical impulses."

These are not like your regular, garden-variety impulses, the ones that make you buy the candy bar from that display next to the cash register, or purchase that tractor I mentioned a couple of weeks back, or break into snappy dance steps as you walk through the living room. (Not that I ever did such a thing, you understand. It's just an example.)

Those impulses are fairly benign (unless you're not supposed to eat Milky Ways, in which case, uh-oh). A diabolical impulse, on the other hand can (A.) get you into trouble, (B.) forever alter your life, (C.) cost you a lot of money, and (D.) all of the above.

And the answer is almost always (D.), which, of course, leads to (E.) you're going to have a tough time explaining it to normal people.

These sorts of impulses can only be planted by dark forces, which is why I call them diabolical. And as you have probably guessed, I am in the grips of one even as we speak.

As you have probably not guessed, it involves a pedal steel guitar.

A pedal steel guitar, for those of you who don't follow such things (that would be those normal people I mentioned) is the swooping, crying, ear-catching sound you hear in country music.

I used to play it some. In fact, I got deeply into it, which was the problem. The pedal steel - a contraption that requires both hands, both feet, both knees, and both hemispheres of your brain to play - is not an instrument that willingly gives up its secrets. It plays mind games.

It used to wake me up in the middle of the night. "Pssst," it would hiss from my music room downstairs, "Come on down, Mike. I've got something I want to show you. It's off an old Ray Price record. You'll love it." And I would pad downstairs at 2 a.m. to play one lick. One. And play it I would, until I was two hours late for work.

Eventually, I got too busy to devote that much time to the steel, so I swapped it for a jazz archtop guitar, and I thought that was that.

Ha. Guess who's been calling me in the middle of the night for the last two weeks? Guess who convinced me to sell a banjo so I'd have some ready cash? And then guess who got to my friend Frank, who was talking about putting together a country band just for fun and mentioned that the steel position might be open.

If that's not the devil at work, I don't know what is.

So here I sit, a wad of cash burning a hole in my pocket and an Ebay page full of pedal steels in front of me. Or off I'll go to my favorite music store, Arthur's, just to see what they might have in stock. Actually, I've already done the latter, although I have had enough presence of mind not to take the bankroll along.

Get thee behind me, Satan. Quit playing pedal steel licks in my head. Quit reminding me of how pedal steel is essentially a big box of problems, and playing it is problem solving - which I love. Quit picking on me for not picking on a steel.

For heaven's sake, I'm still explaining the tractor.

© 2013 Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.