Bud Isaacs

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Bud Isaacs
Bud Isaacs c. 1950.jpg
Background information
Birth nameForrest Isaacs
Also known asBud Isaacs
Born(1928-03-26)March 26, 1928
Bedford, Indiana, U.S.
DiedSeptember 4, 2016(2016-09-04) (aged 88)
Yuma, Arizona
Instrument(s)Pedal Steel Guitar
Years active1942–2015
LabelsRCA and others

Forrest "Bud" Isaacs (1928–2016)[1] was an American steel guitarist who made country music history in 1954 as the first person to play pedal steel guitar on a hit record. He is known for his playing his innovative technique on Webb Pierce's 1954 recording of a song called "Slowly" which became a major hit for Pierce and was one of the most-played country songs of 1954. Isaacs was the first to push a pedal while the strings were still sounding to create a unique bending of notes from below up to join an existing note; this was not possible on older lap steel guitars.[a][3] The stunning effect he created was embraced by country music fans and many lap steel artists rushed to get pedals to imitate the unique bending chords that he played.[4] Music historians pinpoint the actual dawning of country music's modern era to Isaac's performance on this song.[3][5] He became a much-favored session player and performed on 11 top country records the year following the release of "Slowly". Even though pedal steel guitars had been available for over a decade before this recording, the instrument emerged as a crucial element in country music after the success of this song.[3]

Indiana-born Isaacs was trained on Hawaiian guitar as a youth and quit school early to perform professionally with numerous country artists including Red Foley, Little Jimmy Dickens and Chet Atkins on the road and in recording sessions.[6] He became a member of the house bands at the Grand Ole Opry and the Ozark Jubilee. As a solo performer, he recorded a number of seminal instrumentals for RCA records, including "Bud's Bounce" and "The Waltz You Saved for Me".[6] He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1984.[5]

Early life[edit]

Isaacs was born March 26, 1928, in Bedford, Indiana. His father was a millworker at Bedford Cut Stone Company.[7] His mother enrolled Isaacs in lessons provided by the Oahu Music Company located above Hoover's Confectionary in Bedford.[7][8] Initially he played a conventional acoustic guitar Hawaiian style (horizontally across the knees) with raised strings.[8] He persisted at the Hawaiian academy but preferred the lap steel style and tunings[9] of Noel Boggs.[8] With his acoustic guitar at age fourteen he performed with Pee Wee King's band on the Grand Ole Opry and was offered a job,[b]but the offer was withdrawn when his true age was revealed.[4][7][8] He soon moved up to a Rickenbacker electric lap steel.[4]

At age sixteen he acquired a Gibson "Electraharp", one of the earliest commercially available designs of a steel guitar with pedals.[10] He quit high school that year to become a professional musician.[8] He made his radio debut on WIBC-AM in Indianapolis and in 1944 began traveling throughout the Midwest to perform on various barn dance shows.[11] He worked in Texas, Arizona, Michigan and elsewhere during the following decade.[11] With the Electraharp, he recorded the song "Big Blue Diamonds" for King Records.[8] He worked for numerous artists in recording sessions and on the road[1] and was a member of the house band of the Grand Ole Opry for many years. He recorded as a solo performer for RCA from 1954 to 1960.[1] and created his much-copied[5] "Bud's Bounce" and "The Waltz You Saved for Me".[6]


After receiving a new custom pedal steel, a double neck eight-string,[12]: 32  made by west coast guitar maker Paul Bigsby in 1952, Isaacs experimented with it, trying to imitate the sound of two fiddles playing in harmony.[2] Bigsby's new steel guitar design featured a pedal mechanism which changed the pitch of two strings simultaneously. Isaacs was not the first to use pedals.[5] Speedy West had been using a pedal steel since 1948;[5] however, Isaacs was the first on a recording to push the pedal while notes were still sounding.[13] Other steel players strictly avoided doing this, because it was considered "un-Hawaiian".[13] On a Webb Pierce recording session in Nashville in November, 1953,[2] producer Owen Bradley asked Isaacs to try his technique on a solo for the song "Slowly".[2]The song became one of the most-played country songs of 1954 and was No. 1 on the Billboard's country charts for seventeen weeks.[4] It was the first recording of a pedal steel guitar on a hit record.[11] This single performance by a session musician produced a rare and unlikely stylistic overhaul of the steel guitar sound in Nashville-produced country music.[10] Steel guitar virtuoso Lloyd Green said, "This fellow, Bud Isaacs, had thrown a new tool into musical thinking about the steel with the advent of this record that still reverberates to this day".[14] Attempting to put Issacs' innovation into words, music historian Tim Sterner Miller described it:, "... two pitches changing in contrapuntal motion against a sustained common tone..."[2] Not only was the song embraced by the public, it was immediately recognized by lap steel (non-pedal) guitarists as something unique that was not possible[2] to achieve on their instruments.[3] Now a favored session player, Isaacs performed on 11 top country records in 1955.[15] In an interview in 2012 by Jon Rauhouse, Isaacs said, "I had the only pedaled steel in town at the time. I got sessions with everybody!"[4] Dozens of instrumentalists rushed to get pedals on their steel guitars to imitate the unique bending notes that he played.[4] In the months and years after this recording, instrument makers and musicians worked to recreate Bigsby's mechanical innovation and Isaacs' musical innovation.[2] Even though pedal steel guitars had been available for over a decade before this recording, the instrument emerged as a crucial element in country music after the success of this song.[3]

Personal life[edit]

In 1956, the Gibson company hired Isaacs to consult on their pedal steel instrument, later introduced as the "Multiharp".[5] Isaacs married Geri Mapes, also a musician, and they worked together with an act they called the "Golden West Singers".[6] The couple eventually retired to Yuma, Arizona, where Isaacs died September 4, 2016[11] at the age of 88.[6] He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1984.[6] Record companies issued three compilations of his recordings, Master of the Steel Guitar (2005), Swingin’ Steel Guitar of Bud Isaacs (2005) and Bud’s Bounce (2006).[11]


  1. ^ Theoretically, it was "possible" on a lap steel, but not possible to play it rapidly with perfect intonation; the pedal version was immediately recognizable.[2]
  2. ^ At that time, many of Pee Wee King's orchestra members had been taken by the WWII draft; King was actively seeking new musicians. Judge George D. Hay auditioned Issacs for King and made the job offer.[9]


  1. ^ a b c "Bud Isaacs/Biography & interview". countrymusichalloffame.org. Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. September 5, 1989. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Miller, Tim Sterner (2017). The Oxford Handbook of Country Music. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190248178. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e Duchossior, A.R. (2009). Gibson Electric Steel Guitars: 1935-1967. New York: Hal Leonard Books. p. 116. ISBN 9781423457022. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Rauhouse, Jon (September 1, 2012). "Wire and Hinges: How Pedal Steel Guitar Legend Bud Isaacs Changed the Course of Country Music". fretboardjournal.com. The Fretboard Journal. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Carlin, Richard (2013). Country music : a biographical dictionary (ebook ed.). New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415938020. Retrieved December 4, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Bud Isaacs/Artist Biography". allmusic.com. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  7. ^ a b c "Bud Isaacs Just Wanted to Play Music". lawrencecountyhistory.org. Lawrence County Museum of History & Edward L. Hutton Research Library. Retrieved December 10, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Cundell, R. Guy S. (July 1, 2019). "Across the South: The origins and development of the steel guitar in western swing (PhD Thesis)" (PDF). b0b.com. Adelaide, Australia: University of Adelaide. Retrieved November 29, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Stubbs, Eddie (January 20, 2006). Bud's Bounce/Album Liner Notes. Hamburg, Germany: Bear Family Records. p. 6.
  10. ^ a b Humphrey, Mark (2004). The Encyclopedia of Country Music : the ultimate guide to the music. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195176087. Retrieved December 3, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d e Oermann, Robert K. (September 9, 2016). "LifeNotes: Pedal Steel Pioneer Bud Isaacs Passes". musicrow.com. Music Row Magazine. Retrieved December 2, 2020.
  12. ^ Babiuk, Andy (2008). The story of Paul Bigsby : father of the modern electric solidbody guitar (1st ed.). Savannah, Georgia: FG Publishing. p. 22. ISBN 9780615243047.
  13. ^ a b Ross, Michael (February 17, 2015). "Pedal to the Metal: A Short History of the Pedal Steel Guitar". Premier Guitar Magazine. Retrieved September 1, 2017.
  14. ^ Winston, Winnie; Keith, Bill (1975). Pedal steel guitar. New York: Oak Publications. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-8256-0169-9.
  15. ^ Baldwin, Lonna (September 21, 1984). "Duo Brings Nashville to the Country". Weekend supplement. No. Vol.98, No. 314. Spokane Chronicle. p. 34. Retrieved December 4, 2020.