Buddy Charleton, who created some of the signature sounds of 1960s country music as a member of Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours, died January 25th at his home in Locust Grove, Virginia. Charleton's pedal steel gave voice to Tubbs' misty tears of memory on "Waltz Across Texas" and added hot licks to numerous other Tubbs tunes. He was 72 years old and suffering from lung cancer.
Charleton was born in New Market and played in clubs around Northern Virginia, sometimes accompanying Patsy Cline. When pedal steel legend Buddy Emmons left the Texas Troubadours, Charleton's reputation landed him the job and the 23-year old took his first airplane ride to join the band in Oregon. The brief biography on Charleton's web site calls it one of the most difficult moments of his career: "...the first night with the Troubadours when somebody in the crowd said 'Hey, that's not Buddy Emmons!'"
But it became what some have called Tubbs' hottest band. The singer and bandleader seemed to know what he had in Charleton and guitarist Leon Rhodes and featured them on a bunch of instrumentals. Check out this video of "Cool It" from Tubbs' TV show for a lesson in pedal steel pickin'.
Charleton was a prime example of the long-running influence of jazz and swing on country musicians. He and Rhodes played some hot, HOT solos on Troubadours instrumentals like "Honey Fingers" and "Rhodesbud Boogie."
Charleton left the Texas Troubadours in 1973 and moved back to Virginia, where he became a teacher. His students went on to lend their own pedal steel voices to the work of country's biggest stars: Bruce Bouton with Garth Brooks and Reba McEntire; Tommy Detamore with George Strait; Pete Finney with the Dixie Chicks; and Tommy Hannum with Emmylou Harris.
Buddy Charleton was a master teacher and a virtuoso soloist but, as he told the Washington Post in a 1995 review of an annual event called the Steel Guitar Jam, "The steel player's job is to back the singer. What we're all doing today, I call it hot-dogging. But it sure is a lot of fun."
And he sure was good at it.