HERE’S TO LEARNING A NEW TRICK: Sometimes old dogs need a helping hand


People who know me best know that I’m passionate about live music. There’s something about hearing my favorite songs performed live and in person that leaves me feeling almost euphoric.

But as much joy as I find in hearing live music, I haven’t ever taken an active role in actually performing it – at least not in a popular music sort of way.

Back in school, I performed with the concert and marching bands and learned to read music at a fairly early age. I began as a trumpet player, but switched early on to the euphonium, also known as a baritone, and turned out to be pretty decent. 

A number of years ago as an adult, I took a stab at piano lessons, but quickly found out there’s a good reason why most piano students are children. 

Whether it’s learning a new language or – in my case – a new instrument, it seems to be inherently more difficult for grown-ups to learn something new.

But after attending a few recent concerts that were exceptionally outstanding, I became resolved to finally become an active participant in my favorite pastime.

That’s why I seized the opportunity last week to snatch up a 1974 Sho-Bud brand, Nashville-made pedal steel guitar.

Featured predominantly in traditional country music and even the blues, the pedal steel guitar is instantly recognizable by both its appearance and its sound.

Maybe that’s one reason it has also found its way into a number of classic rock ‘n’ roll songs including “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John, “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne, and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by The Eagles. 

Why the pedal steel?

Why not?

I know lots of really talented guitar players and while most could probably sit down and get a sound out of a pedal steel, the instrument is specialized enough that several musicians have created a name for themselves – specifically as a pedal steel player.

Petal’s Wes Lee isn’t known as a pedal steel player per se, but the way he plays the slide guitar is enough to make Duane Allman blush. The same goes for Cary Hudson who learned at the altar of North Mississippi blues legend R.L. Burnside.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not under the impression I’m ever going to find myself on the same level as those greats, but even the idea of someday being able to sit down and play music with some of my friends is enough to make me giddy.

Unfortunately, I also happened to choose one of the most difficult instruments to learn how to play.

Through its series of pedals and knee levers that bend the notes up – or sometimes down – a half-step, it takes a mastery of understanding chord progression that will keep me on my toes for months and years to come.

But that’s OK. I’m up for the challenge. And without any other real hobbies, I also have the time to devote to my self-taught lessons.

Not to mention that old dogs like me need to tackle new tricks every now and then – if only to keep me on my toes as I navigate the second half of my life. 

And, no, I don’t think buying a used, pedal steel guitar qualifies as a mid-life crisis. But, if I’m wrong, just think how great I’ll look in the midst of it.


Gustafson is the not-so mild-mannered editor/publisher of The PineBelt NEWS.