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The Jackson Steel Guitar Commute

May 25, 2019 by Dawn Jackson

Third thunderstorm of the day.
Hank is in the bathtub.
Hank is my dog. 
Audrey Mae is asleep in her chair behind me.
The caramel in her calico matches the caramel suede of the high back rocker.
And her black splashes and white add a nice contrast to the earth tones and woods of the guitars that surround her throne.
Wonder why storms affect big dogs most.
Little dogs seem to do alright with it.
Audrey Mae sleeps right through the thunder and lightening and rain relentlessly attacking the metal roof like mini shrapnel spewing from cannons in heaven.
There are no gutters so the cabin is completely shrouded by a veil of pouring water.
Kinda resembles the view behind Keown Falls.
That’s one of the bazillions of waterfalls along the endless miles of heavily canopied trails around here.
This place is considered a rain forest.
Rabun County is said to be one of the rainiest counties east of the Mississippi.
We supposedly get as much rain as the Pacific Northwest.
I learned that after I moved here.

Hank at New River Amphitheater

Hank and I travel back and forth from my cabin in Clayton to Dad’s place in Dahlonega.
Its about an hour twenty minute drive across the North Georgia backroads.
Sometimes Audrey Mae comes with us. She kinda likes to travel and explore too.
We can either wind through Lake Burton, down to Sautee Nacoochee and Helen then toward Suches.
Or head south on 441 toward Toccoa then cut across through Clarkesville and Cleveland.
All about the same, give or take ten minutes.

Or an hour.

Just depends on what kind of mood I’m in.
Or what kind of mood the weather is in.
My cabin is a little farther north and deeper into the Appalachian mountains than Dad. 
About as far northeast as you can go in the red clay state.
Fifteen minutes from the borders of both North and South Carolina.
Dahlonega is more in the foothills. 
That’s where the Appalachian Trail starts. 
Or ends, I guess depends on which way you’re looking at it, but a larger percentage of the AT thru hikers start south and head north.
Springer Mountain is where the southernmost blaze is painted in white on a rock.
Not the usual tree suspect.
And there’s a plaque dated 1934 that reads
    Georgia to Maine
        A Footpath for
        Those who seek
        Fellowship with 
        the Wilderness
Dahlonega is also where the second significant US gold rush occurred, only behind….wait for it….
North Carolina! 
Yep. California was number three. Fifty years later. How bout that.
So, the three of us (Hank, Audrey Mae and I) stay in the apartment over the shop when we’re there.
Some evenings Joseph comes up and hangs out and plays his mixes for me and we might work on a song.
There’s a bronze sign outside the lower door with the Jackson Steel Guitar logo and “Established 2005” under it.
That’s fifty years after my grandfather, Shot Jackson, started putting foot pedals on Fender guitars.
Hey, and he was born in North Carolina!
A gold nugget.
Papaw’s first shop was a chicken coop behind his neighbor’s house.
Our shop is behind Dad’s house.
Still pulling strings. 
Waiting on the next gold rush.
We build pedal steel guitars, lap steels and all kinds of components that go on guitars and bend strings.
My dad is David. He comes up with all kinds of designs on how to bend a string better.
Uncle Harry lives outside of Nashville in Lebanon, Tennessee.
He has a shop behind his house too.
He helps machine and perfect the parts that help bend a string better.
We take raw wood and raw aluminum and cut and mill and drill and tap and glue and sand and spray and assemble rods and pullers and keys and pedals until they all move and work together and it starts looking like an instrument.
Then we put strings on and tune them up until they learn their first sounds and begin to make beautiful cries.
Then we send them out into the world so others can enjoy.
Not a bad commute.

“Together Again” as told by a Pedal Steel Guitar

April 20, 2019 by Dawn Jackson

Its a rainy mid-April Saturday with a lingering chill taking one last desperate swing at Spring. Not feeling a run today. By the look of him stretched across the bed, I’m pretty sure Hank isn’t either. I hunker down, crank up the fire in my cozy li’l North Georgia cabin and find my way to Zane King videos, searching for voids or gaps to fill in with a lap steel lick here and there. 

I get to “Together Again” and quickly learn there are, for good reason, none. And it would be wrong on so many levels to even try. I put the lap steel down, turn up the volume on the Genelecs and close my eyes. Its like watching a movie. Now, if you’ve never heard a pedal steel guitar tell a story, just push play and follow along. She has all the lines.

:03 She slowly inhales as the door opens and
:10 throws a lazy and easy-breezy haven’t seen you in a while but who cares look your way. How’s it going, good.
:30 She composedly walks through the door as pleasantry exchanges and chit chat continue.
:55 She crosses the room and cracks the window; takes her coat off and tosses it on the chair; agrees to a drink; toasts to the good ol days; begins to seem moderately interested in catching up.
1:20 The conversation gradually becomes more tensive and pleading.
Around 1:42 her aloofness begins to turn disquiet, until at
2:07 She resolves that She is so glad and relieved…finally Together Again.
She caves and admits around
2:19 “I’ve totally and completely missed you”.
2:36 “O-M-G I can’t believe how long its been and how much I’ve missed you.”
2:45 Passionate kisses with a trail of I love you’s.
2:49 A little more fussing…”don’t ever leave me again”..
3:00 She starts to settle back down, begins to collect herself; pushes her hair out of her face; bites her lip; closes her eyes.
3:17 She’s still doing a little fussing, but smiles.
3:26 One more kiss. 
3:31 She slowly exhales.

What a great story. That’s what a pedal steel guitar does. She whispers and cries and yells and fusses and reprimands and gives thanks and shouts praises. She tells her side of the story with honesty and confidence and intensity and rawness. I can feel her torment and rapid change of emotions as easily as I can my own.

Notice the way Zane King approaches, attacks, releases and confidently controls the strings and pedals. He dances with her. He pays attention to her responses and reacts accordingly. He begs a little and She gives, then begs back, and he gives. A graceful tango.

Her creation was methodical and painstaking. A unique body, color and voice, she is a rare piece of art. She is temperamental and complicated and executes most kind when handled and treated with respect, devotion and adoration. She demands attention. Given it, she will sing to you unlike anything else. She’s the most beautiful instrument I know.