By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — No single musician ever did more to popularize and display an instrument’s capabilities and range than Pete Drake did with the steel guitar. The legendary player, producer and label owner was honored last weekend by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum with official induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Drake, Ray Charles, The Judds, and Eddie Bayer all received their official medallions, had their exploits recalled and their songs celebrated.
For Drake’s widow Rose, the event was a long time coming and certainly well deserved. But she wants fans to understand just how deep her husband’s commitment to music was and how versatile he was as a player and producer. “He truly loved all kinds of music,” she told the Tribune during an interview last week. “His goal was always to serve the song, and sometimes that got him in trouble because he was always thinking about how best to serve the song rather than other things.”
Drake’s amazing ability as a player was highlighted on a host of immortal recordings from the time he relocated to Nashville in 1959 until his passing in 1988. He was a first call session musician, part of the famed A-team. But along with being on a host of country hits, Drake was on numerous folk and rock hits. As a producer some of the people he encountered included R&B vocalist Otis Williams and fellow Hall inductee Ray Charles.
“Pete enjoyed working with Otis a lot,” she continued. “But the person who really became his best friend was Jesse Boyce. He truly loved him. There was never any issues with musicians in the studio about anything but the music. He loved so many styles and so many people that he eventually started a record label because there were people who weren’t getting their just due from the Nashville music establishment.”
The list of giants who Drake worked with or produced includes (just for starters) Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, personal favorites George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride (:another person he loved hanging out with), Ernest Tubb, Peter Frampton, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.
But he was also an important figure in other areas of the music business, starting record labels and publishing companies. Indeed, Lois Drake is so busy these days handling the affairs of the various companies that she hasn’t had time to do the type of wide-ranging, archival book that his accomplishments merit.
“No I’m just too busy with the day-to–day business of running his companies,” she concluded. “We still are putting out lots of things today.” But she also wants people to know her husband not only loved music, but people. “One time for Thanksgiving we had 74 people in the house. He just said if there’s anyone out there who doesn’t have a place to go, tell them to come here. Well, that’s what they did.”
For more information on the staggering amount of sessions and personalities that featured Pete Drake, as well as his various companies, visit petedrake.org