My musical influences are varied. In the 60s, I lived in Fernandina Beach, Florida. We weren't very far from the Georgia state line, so I heard plenty of country music. I found that the sound of the pedal steel always caught my attention. I also got a healthy dose of surf music, since I was living in a beach town.
When Dad got an 8-track player, I heard lots of The Ventures, Glen Campbell, Simon & Garfunkel, The Association, Herb Alpert, and other music. I was particularly intrigued at how The Ventures could turn all those songs into solid instrumentals.
In the 70s, Mom and Dad were turned on to Gordon Lightfoot. Osmosis made me take a liking to his music. I was impressed by the fact that all of his songs sounded different, and that he performed them well on his records. At this time, I started noticing people around me who were playing guitar. The acoustic guitar work on Lightfoot's recordings interested me. I liked the sound of it.
I realized that I could distinguish melodies and harmonies in songs when I heard them. I could hear the individual instruments. I had no idea what the notes or chords were, but I could tell that the changes were there. I also found that I could mentally follow the rhythm pattern in songs. Some people have told me that I have a natural talent for music, even though I have no formal musical training.
As a teenager, I first became interested in actually playing music when I saw my cousin's banjo. I already had friends learning to play guitar, but this was the first time I saw a banjo in the flesh. I thought it would be cool to be trying something different from everyone else. I didn't hear a lot of bluegrass music, but I was very familiar with Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs. I liked the driving sound of their music.
Mom and Dad bought me a cheap banjo and a copy of "Bluegrass Banjo", by Peter Wernick. I taught myself to tune the banjo and read tablature. I was picking my first tune a la Scruggs style within a month.
My introduction to performing live bluegrass music came after the Air Force sent me to Abilene, Texas. A band in need of a banjo picker heard of me and took me under their wing. During my first live performance, I stepped up to the microphone to take my first public solo, and the microphone fell out of the stand.
I was home on leave at a local club, and saw my first pedal steel guitar up close. I always knew what it was, but never thought about playing one. I watched the steel player and was fascinated by his use of the pedals and knee levers. The club owner was one of Dad's friends, and offered to lend me a pedal steel guitar to learn how to play. It was a single neck guitar with 2 pedals and one knee lever. That guitar and an instruction book ("Pedal Steel Guitar", by Winnie Winston) launched me on my quest to learn about this odd contraption.
In 1982, I separated from the Air Force and moved back to New Braunfels, Texas. I figured out quickly that if I were going to play music there, it would have to be with the steel guitar. There was no bluegrass music in the area. This gave me the incentive to focus on the pedal steel.