More than 20 steel guitars will sing, wail, cry and generally fill the air with classic country sounds all day Sunday at the Steel Guitar Jamboree, sponsored by the Northwest Steel Guitar Association.
One of those steel guitarists will be Dean Simmons, who has been one of the Inland Northwest’s finest practitioners since 1951, when he got his first job at age 19 at the old Corral on North Division.
In those days, the sweet, soaring sound of steel guitar was relatively new.
“When I was growing up, Gene Autry was one of my idols,” said Simmons, who still plays regularly with the band Pend Oreille. “He had a real cool steel guitar player.
“And then I started listening to Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys and Spade Cooley.”
Simmons fell in love with country swing, the musical genre in which the steel guitar and the even-more-complex pedal steel guitar comes into its own.
“I like that driving sound, that swing,” he said.
Since that first job, Simmons has played with dozens of bands, including such national acts as T. Texas Tyler and Hank Thompson. He also did a 1 1/2 -year stint from 1962 to 1963 on “Jamboree,” a Spokane TV show with local cowboy singer Cliff Carl.
More recently, Simmons provided the swinging sounds in the Interplayers Ensemble’s stage show, “Always … Patsy Cline.”
He has been able to make a living as a steel guitarist all of his life, mainly because he has also been a steel guitar teacher.
“I started teaching at Hoffman’s (a local music store) in 1951 and I’m still teaching for them after 50-some years,” said Simmons.
The instrument is not in the highest demand, for a few reasons. A pedal steel guitar can cost into the thousands (although much cheaper models are available for beginners); it can be a difficult instrument to play; and a great musical ear is required.
When Simmons or another accomplished player gets wailing, they will be using their feet on the pedals, their knees on the knee levers and both hands on the strings.
The Steel Guitar Jamboree, open to the public for a $10 admission fee, will feature a number of performance segments. Those include a Gospel Steel performance at 9:15 a.m., a Jerry Byrd tribute featuring Ray Monee at 12:45 p.m., player showcases at 1:30 and a Round Robin Jam at 4.
Simmons will perform at about 11 a.m. with members of his band. He will also do a “twin steel” showcase with one of his young and talented students, Ryan Geise.
Does Simmons ever play the steel guitar’s acoustic cousin, the dobro?
“That’s more of a folk instrument,” he said. “I’d rather play the swingy stuff.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.