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Posted at 5:11 PM ET, 01/27/2011

Buddy Charleton dies; Washington steel guitarist influenced generations

By Terence McArdle

Buddy Charleton, the steel guitarist whose work with Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours, influenced several generations of musicians, died Jan. 25 at his home in Locust Grove, Va. He had lung cancer.

Mr. Charleton and standard guitarist Leon Rhodes joined the Troubadours in the early 1960s and were known for their dazzling string work and interplay on such instrumentals as "Almost To Tulsa" and "Rhodesway Boogie."

While Tubb pushed Rhodes and Charleton to focus on very simple, melodic solos during his vocal numbers, he also encouraged them to showcase their technical abilities with dizzying improvisation during their portion of his revue.

Often playing in ballrooms to dance audiences, they added such jazz standards as "Take The A-Train" and saxophonist Gene Ammons' "Red Top" into the band's repertoire. This boundary blurring approach to musical genres inspired a kindred spirit, singer Willie Nelson, who recorded with them on his 1966 album "Country Favorites, Willie Nelson Style."

"A steel guitar player has a bar in his left hand and some picks on his right hand, and it's not comfortable for him to go 90 miles an hour playing a tremendously fast song," Rhodes told The Nashville Tennessean. "No matter how fast I could play on my guitar, though, Buddy could do it on the steel."

If his speed astounded other musicians, Mr. Charleton was perhaps best known for his sensitive accompaniments on such Tubb ballads such as "Waltz Across Texas" where the sweet sound of the steel contrasted with the singer's tart drawl.

After leaving the Troubadours in 1973, Mr. Charleton embarked on a long career around teaching steel guitar in Fredericksburg, Va. Steel guitarists influenced and mentored by Mr. Charleton include Bruce Bouton of the Garth Brooks band, Pete Finney of the Dixie Chicks and Tommy Hannum, who has worked with Emmylou Harris, Ricky Van Shelton and locally, with the Rosslyn Mountain Boys.

If you have any memories of Mr. Charleton please leave them below.

By Terence McArdle  | January 27, 2011; 5:11 PM ET
Tags:  Buddy Charleton, Willie Nelson  
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