Musician Spotlight – Pete Drake

Pete Drake left a musical legacy that will live forever in American music history. As a musician his instrument was the steel guitar and he played it in a way like no other, even though he was always quick to credit other great players for their talent and influences on his ability to play and to create. To try to list all the musicians, songwriters, artists, singers, and bands that he played with, recorded with, and or/produced, was their publisher, or mentor, could fill this entire magazine. Meet Pete Drake.

Born in Augusta, GA on Oct. 8, 1932, Pete built his first steel guitar when he was 18 years old after hearing one played in Nashville and quickly became one of Atlanta's first pedal steel guitar players. In 1954 he started his band, “The Sons of the South”, which included superstars Jerry Reed, Doug Kershaw, Roger Miller, Joe South and Jack Greene. In 1959 he moved to Nashville and went on the road with Aubrey Williams, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, and Marty Robbins. 1960 found him playing on The Grand Ole Opry and recording with Roy Drusky on his 1960 hit “Anymore” and then George Hamilton IV's “Loveliness All Around Me”, and Pete began his incredible career as a session player. He played on so many hits that on one Billboard Top Country Hits chart his steel guitar was featured on 59 of the 75 songs listed.

In 1961 and '62, Pete was signed as a recording artist on Starday Records releasing “For Pete's Sake”. In 1963 he signed to Smash Records where he had his million selling hit record, “Forever”, where he picked up the nickname, “King of the Talking Steel Guitar”. He also released the solo album “Steel Away” for Word Records. Some of the scores of classics Pete played on were “He Stopped Loving Her Today”, George Jones, “'Lucille”, Kenny Rogers, “Stand By Your Man”, Tammy Wynette, “Behind Closed Doors”, Charlie Rich, “I Never Promised You A Rose Garden”, Lynn Anderson. He played on Elvis Presley's “How Great Though Art” album and on the soundtracks for the films, “Double Trouble”, “Clambake”, “Speedway”, “Spinout”, and “Easy Come, Easy Go”. With Bob Dylan, he played on the albums, “Self Portrait”, “John Wesley Harding”, and “Nashville Skyline”.

In 1962, along with Tommy Hill, Jerry Shook, Ralph Emery and his brother Jack Drake, Pete founded Window Music Publishing and Tomake Music. Some of writers he helped develop included: Bill and Dottie West, Ed Bruce, Frank Dycus, David Allan Coe, Mary Ann Kennedy, Buzz Rabin, Lathan Hudson, Rick Beresford, Linda Hargrove, Sonny Throckmorton, Jeff Tweel, Susan Longacre, Pam Rose, Larry Kingston and Michael Clark.

Pete could play any style of music. Check this list out: Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Tammy Wynette, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb, Marty Robbins, Roy Rogers, Loretta Lynn, Joan Baez, Hall and Oates, George Jones, Patty Page, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton, Carl Perkins, the Everly Brothers, Perry Como, Charley Pride, Tracy Nelson, Reba McEntire, The Monkees, Kenny Rogers, Kitty Wells, Conway Twitty, Joe Simon, Steven Stills, Tex Ritter, Julie Andrews, Charlie Rich, Vicki Carr, Waylon Jennings, Lynn Anderson, Earl Scruggs, Leon Russell, Don Gibson, Del Reeves, Kris Kristofferson and Stonewall Jackson, are just a small sample from many hundreds of artists on whose albums Pete played.


As a Producer, some of the artists he produced include: Ringo Starr, BJ Thomas, Billy Walker, Jan Howard, Ernest Tubb, Ferlin Husky, Jean Shepard, Tracy Nelson, Slim Whitman, Jean Shepard, Oak Ridge Boys, Melba Montgomery, Johnny Bush, Justin Tubb, Ronnie Robbins, Linda Hargrove, Pam Rose, Leon Russell,  Bobby Vinton, Ray Pillow, Tommy James, Marshall Chapman, Lonzo & Oscar, George Hamilton IV, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, the Vic Willis Trio, Otis Williams, Larry Kingston, Box Car Willie, and I'm honored to add my band from Iowa, The Ozone Ramblers. In 1981 Pete won a Grammy Award and a Dove Award producing BJ Thomas's “Amazing Grace” album.

In 1970, Pete traveled to England to play on the classic George Harrison album, “All Things Must Pass”, where he also met Ringo Starr who came to Nashville soon after when Pete produced his solo country album “Beaucoups of Blues”. While in England, Pete turned Peter Frampton on to his famous “talk box”, giving him one as a gift.

In 1964, Pete was voted “Instrumentalist of the Year” by the Country Music Association and “Instrumentalist of the Year” by Cash Box magazine along with “Fastest Climbing Instrumentalists” by Record World. In 1970, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fames “Walkway of Stars”. In 1987, Pete was inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame and he was awarded the “Master Award”, by the Nashville Entertainment Association. In 2007, he was inducted into the Musicians Hall Of Fame as a member of the Nashville Studio “A” Team, and most recently on Sept. 11, 2010, into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, in Atlanta, GA.

Pete Drake died on July 29, 1988. He was quite a guy, an extraordinary talent, and he opened my eyes to the world of recording, professional songwriting, music publishing and production. I owe him a great deal and I am proud to have known him, and to have been honored and blessed to have him as a producer, a publisher, and as a friend. Pete even gave me a “real” job after I moved to Nashville, working for him at his house. A tremendous musician and a great man.

Visit Pete Drake online at his very cool site where you can watch videos, see photos, and read more at

©2010 by Bronson Herrmuth



  1. Hello,
    I am currently researching for a short book about Pete. Thank you for the well written article.
    Rose has told me of the days of a “house-full.” I would love to talk with you sometime.
    Bret Campbell

  2. Pete was one of a kind. His legacy will be the credits you read above – but, Pete was also a gifted Softball Player and Pitched for his team I managed and played for. Pete was one of the nicest people you will ever hope to meet and his sense of humor was wryly used on me more than a few times. He’d say things like, “Lathan, you always fail to amaze me.” and I’d thank him for saying it before thinking about what he had said.
    Pete was one of the most laid-back record producers in the business and was instrumentalist enough to let the “pickers” pick on his records. Most producers try to micro-manage recording sessions. Pete would say, “Let’s cut a good record” and more times than not – that’s exactly what happened.
    I owe Pete my success for introducing me to BJ Thomas and recording many songs of mine on BJ. BJ and I played at least 100 rounds of golf and I made a lasting friend of BJ and his wife, Gloria who was my co-writer on a lot of BJ’s records.
    I love you Pete Drake. I know GOD is enjoying your Talking Steel Guitar Sound in his Heavenly Band.
    Lathan Hudson

    • I’m with you Lathan and thank you for your post here. Pete’s son, Johnny, is my sons Godfather and I’m sure he will also really appreciate your words here about his dad. I’ll make sure he sees it.

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