Pete Drake And His Talking Steel Guitar

Or how a pedal steel guitar player influenced The Beatles, Peter Frampton and ’80s electro funk.

Pete Drake And His Talking Steel Guitar

"HIS NAME IS PETE Drake. He got the brilliant idea one time to make his steel guitar talk and he actually does it, right now, with a beautiful song, Forever." On one level, that's all there is to say about today's MOJO Clip Of The Day but, as with any strange piece of music, and any MOJO Clip Of The Day for that matter, there's always a stranger story waiting to come out.


Born in Augusta, Georgia in 1932, the son of a Pentecostal preacher, Pete Drake worked as a record producer and sought-after session musician in the ’60s in country music mecca Nashville, Tennessee (it's his pedal steel guitar you can hear on Charlie Rich’s Behind Closed Doors and Bob Dylan's Lay Lady Lay).

However, he is also one of the little-known heroes in the history and development of the voice synthesizer most commonly known as the Vocoder, as outlined in Dave Tompkins' beautiful and meticulous 2011 history of said voice-altering tool, How To Wreck A Nice Beach.

Drake was not the first to modulate a steel guitar sound with the human voice. That honour goes to Alvino Rey and his wife Luise in 1939, who used a carbon microphone placed against the throat (a prototype version of the Sonovox).

No Pete Drake, no Peter Frampton’s Show Me The Way.

But Drake successfully modified and updated the technique, hooking an eight-inch paper-cone speaker-driver and funnel to his guitar amp, the guitar sound travelling to Drake's mouth via a clear plastic tube on the end of the funnel.

Drake first used the device on Roger Miller's 1963 hit, Lock, Stock And Teardrops before recording three albums worth of "talking steel guitar" records between 1964 and 1965.

George Harrison was a fan. Drake's talking pedal steel appears on All Things Must Pass and the Nashville producer's skills were subsequently employed on Ringo’s 1970 C&W tribute, Beaucoups Of Blues.

Oh, and in in case you were wondering who was responsible for Pete Frampton picking up the voice box for his mega-million selling double live album, Frampton Comes Alive, well that would be Pete Drake. But don't hold that against him. The man was an innovator.

Just listen to him here in the studio with George, Ringo and Phil Spector during the ATMP sessions and tell me that you're not hearing the sonic birth of Roger Troutman's Golden Throat Talk Box.