Jimmy and Kathy at, you guessed it, Hoover Dam.
In 1934 on April 14th (seventy two years ago - count the candles), a kind and decent fun loving guy was born. Who could this be? My Dad, of course! Happy Birthday, Dad! Love, Curtis
Sad Note: We buried Jimmy on his birthday in Clearwater, Florida, April 14, 2006. He died at 1:00am on April 10th from complications due to Parkinsens. He is greatly missed not only by his family but a host of friends and aquaintences as evidenced by the scores of people at his Hendersonville funeral and Clearwater burial. I realize this is a late entry in that it's been over a year, but up until and even now, it's been very hard to think about him being gone. This site will remain operational as a tribute to the fascinating life he led and the kindness he demonstrated to everyone he knew.
Hi. I'd like to start out by introducing myself. My name is Jimmy Yates and the purpose of this site is to allow me to share some of my life's music memories with you. My wife, Kathy, continues to compile more text and pictures for my son, Curtis, to add to the site. I hope you enjoy my journey down memory lane.
I was born in Clearwater, Florida in 1934, the only child of a second marriage. My half brother and sister were grown. My father worked in the cemetary across the street and I played there with my friends while growing up. I still see those same friends today. Jimmy Cribbs was just down the street from me. Jack Rogers, Billy Holmes (deceased), Charles Curles and Royce Speed are some of the friends I have known all my life. I never cared much for school but I always had music in my soul. My mother played guitar and accordian and encouraged me to pursue music.
At age 17 I asked my father to sign for me to go into the Air Force. It was against his wishes, but he let me go. My military service started in October 1951. After basic training, I was sent to Greenland for a year. My military day job was in aircraft mechanics. But when I started making money at night playing my steel guitar, at the Airman's Club, I decided it was the easiest money I had ever made and was hooked. You know the saying, "If you enjoy your job, you'll never work another day in your life." That was how I felt. As my experience increased, a single neck steel guitar with no pedals was not challenging enough for me, so I built my own.
In 1954 I got married to my high school sweetheart. We had three children: Carley (1955), Christopher (1957), and Pamela (1959). Sadly, Christopher died in 1957. Curtis has told me that when he settles down and gets married, he wants to name his first son Christopher in memory of my son. Boy will he be one spoiled grandson!
When I got out of the military in 1955, I had been stationed at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa. I lived in Clearwater, and I bought a Harley for transportation. My motorcycle always gave me a great deal of enjoyment. I was in a band and my wife sang with us. We worked the clubs in the surrounding areas, and I also worked at a lumberyard during the day to support the family (and my music habit). One day while I was working at that lumberyard, an accident happened and 1800 pounds of lumber hit my leg. I was taken to the hospital and they were going to remove part of my leg to the knee. No way was I going to let them do that! Maybe they didn't mind giving up on my leg, but after all it wasn't their leg to give up on. On top of that, it was my pedal leg for my steel! With my refusal on record, they finally gave my leg the attention needed to save it. The doctor, John P. Lee, did the best he could, but I've still had a quarter disability in it ever since. I was off work a month and had to wear a brace for two years. During that time I continued to play my steel guitar come rain or shine. I also played with Florida's Championship Band. It was called the Sunset Valley Boys. In this 1959 picture of them, I was playing the first steel guitar I had built. One night in 1959 after getting off work at the club, four of us were headed back to Clearwater and a drunk woman hit us, headed the wrong direction, on Hillsboro Avenue in Tampa. We were taken to the hospital and released. The woman had no insurance, but we were thankful to be alive. Pete Howell (deceased) and I also worked together later on in life with The Boogie Man Show. It was at the Joyland Ballroom, a big circuit club on US 19 outside Clearwater.
The picture to the left is our group that played the Florida State Barn Dance. I have my steel positioned where you can see the three necks on it. I havn't heard from these guys in a long time. In 1962, my daughter Pamela was accidently run over by a car. Due to this tragedy and the death of my son Christopher, we needed to get away from the area and painful memories, so I moved my family to Phoenix, Arizona. I worked with Johnny Western at Madison Square Garden, in downtown Phoenix. He was a very personable guy and good singer. I enjoyed my time with him. He sent me this picture a few years ago, after I saw him backstage at the Opry. I worked with Howard (Curley) Surles at different times. He is a very good friend of mine and a very good country singer as well. A few years had gone by when he came to Nashville to cut a record, which was one of the highlights of his career. His nine year old grand-daughter, Crystal helped put a serial killer in prison who had cut her throat and left her for dead. She survived and by testifying against him, helped put an end to the murderous mayhem; a very brave little girl indeed.
I worked bars and clubs in Phoenix for awhile, then was offered a job in Page, Arizona at the Windy Mesa Lounge. While working there, Sal Mineo showed up and told the band about a movie being filmed there. It was The Greatest Story Ever Told, being produced by George Stevens. Among his other talents, Sal Mineo also played drums, so he sat in with the band while he was there. Everyone in the band worked in the movie during the day. I worked as a guard. Curtis has found three pictures of me in the movie! In the first one I'm standing in front of the gate to Jerusalem (the guard standing in front with the sword pointed down). In the second one I'm standing at the top of the walls of Jerusalem (the second guard - from right to left). In the third one I'm standing by the gate of the prison in Herod's open court (the first guard on the right side of the gate). Our movie work was about 3 weeks long [movie pass, picture with beard, check stubs].
The Royal Flush Lounge in Grand Junction, Colorado was my next gig. It was a big circuit club and a lot of stars frequented the place. I was there for about two years and had a great time. Sammy Culver, the Lead Guitar player, and I have kept track of each other to this day. Sadly, Sammy had ongoing problems with cancer. He was doing well until recently. Some local friends did a benefit for him in Denver to help with his medical bills. However, it greatly saddens us to report that Sammy lost his battle with cancer. His wife, Betty was there by his side to the end. We grieve with you, Betty.
Later I went on the road with Dal Perkins, who had moved from Abilene, Texas, to Phoenix, AZ. in 1946. He had been singing since 1957. I was in Alberqurque, New Mexico, working with a road band from Grand Junction, Colorado, when Dal came into the club and asked me to move back to Phoenix and work for him. We worked in a circuit club called JD's with a lot of the stars. Molly Bee was one of them and I enjoyed playing behind her. Another group you "might" have heard of was the Everly Brothers. We traveled many miles together and worked Nevada a lot. We were called The Versatiles. Dal was a great singer and aside from Hezzy Hall, at Harry's Capri and Billy Williams, at Mr. Lucky's, the best friend I ever had. When Kathy and I married, in 1971, Dal was my best man. He had a record named "Helpless" that hit the charts on January 13, 1968. It was on the charts for 3 weeks. Dal is no longer with us. He fought a long hard battle with cancer that ended in 2002. We truly miss him. >>> Hi Louise! We love you!
Then in 1966 I started working at Harry's Capri in Phoenix on Van Buren road. I needed a steady local job so my son, Carley could come live with me and go to school. It was a western band called, can you believe it,
I knew Billy Williams for years, back when he worked in a band at Mr. Lucky's called the Rogues. Harry's Capri was my regular job, and I worked at Mr. Lucky's on Monday nights, for awhile. When Kathy and I first went to Nashville, Billy was there and the first one to get in touch with us. He asked us to his house for dinner. It was so nice to see people from home and we really enjoyed his hospitality. Billy is a great lead guitar player and has gone on to much bigger and better things. He is a loyal friend and a great person. I visit him every time I go to Phoenix. We used to get together with Dal and talk about the good ole times, remembering the funny things that happened to us. When Dal died, and we flew to Phoenix, he drove us to the funeral. Later he offered us his truck to get around town while we were there. He would've given us the shirt off his back if we had asked. I'm fortunate to have such a loyal friend. He has sent me several CD's. He just finished one with Jeff Newman. It's great! >>> Hi Sherry!
A lot of changes had come about in my life and I was single again. My only son was living with me and my mother came to keep house for us. I took my GED and decided to go to barbering college for something to fall back on. I had graduated from barbering college and was working in a barber shop on the weekend during the day and playing steel guitar six nights a week, when I met my present wife, Kathy, and mother of two boys, Curtis and Todd.
Kathy and I dated for several months and after we got married on May 29, 1971, we bought a home in Tempe. Kathy had always liked music and she wanted to be in the business with me. I started her on drums, to see if she would stick with it. She did and I bought her a set of Ludwigs. In 1973 We decided to go on the road together and contacted Carl Rowland, a base player from Grand Junction, Colorado. We rented our house and toured on the road for several months. I quit the job at Harry's Capri, but went back from time to time to fill in for people.
Our band was called The Country Tree Climbers. Our first job was the Monday night gig at McGoo's. Kathy was so nervous she rushed every song we played and I thought she would get sick before it was over. Here is a picture of her with her first check. Our first job on the road was in Leadville, Colorado where we worked for a month. Then we went to Steamboat Springs, Colorado where we worked at a Holiday Inn. We then settled in Texas, via Las Vegas, and the boys went to school there till the end of the year. They were in grade school and after being on the road the first year, we decided to bring them back to Phoenix. They stayed with their Aunt Candace and Uncle Frank for a year while we went back on the road. At that time Kathy started on Base and became the lead singer. We got a new agent and hired a new drummer, T. R. (the pictures include: Steel Player - Bob Montgomery, Base Player - Howie Gamber, Drummer - T.R.Sheehan, Fiddle Player - Tracy Sheehan), from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. T.R. was one of the easiest people to work with we ever had, and we have remained friends ever since. We lost contact with him at one point, but are now back in touch. We also often write his father, Tracy. When the tour was up, we returned to Phoenix.
In 1976 after returning to Phoenix, we sold our house, and moved to Florida. While in Phoenix, the boys went to school and we worked in music. Kathy worked a couple days in a movie called "Escape from Bogen County" starring Jaclyn Smith. She got the job through the Bobby Ball Agency in Phoenix. At the same time, they were filming "The Gauntlet" starring Clint Eastwood.
In 1977, while in Clearwater, Florida, we called Nashville, and there was a steel guitar job opening with Stonewall Jackson on the Grand Ole Opry! It was time for the boys to get a steady place to go to school, so I took the job and moved to Nashville. When we got there Russell Williford and his wife, Bobbie, were so nice to us and helped us find a place to live. They took us to the Opry, backstage, the first time. They had boys the same age as ours and that made it nice for us too.
When I got to Nashville it didn't take long to run into Little Jimmy Dickens (at the Grand Ole Opry). Kathy and I together first met him in February of 1975. We worked back to back in a club in Laramie, Wyoming.
I've flown Radio Control Airplanes for several decades. Here's a picture of one I built from scratch named The Hot Toddy (after one of my sons). When I started flying them in Nashville, one of the first people I ran into was Benny (Jean Shepard's husband). He had seen me building an airplane years earlier at the "Bigger N' Dallas Club" in Lubbock, Texas, when Kathy and I were on the road. Jean Shepard was playing there at the time.
In 1984 both sons were away from home, so I decided it was time to put our duo back together. Kathy wanted to get back in the business, and I did not want to keep leaving her home alone. We cut a cassette to sell on the road. Actually, two. We went under the title The Nashville Connection and set out working the winters in Florida (Picture taken in Calhoun, GA.) I did all the booking myself. We worked four months the first year and three months every year afterward till 1997. It was a long gig! We had a lot of fun. We had registered our name, but in Florida, there was another band claiming "Nashville Connection", so we changed ours to Night Train and made the theme song Night Train. We still played country, but mixed it with other music. We were "Night Train" for the remainder of our time in Florida.
We did real well in Florida, but as time went on, a lot of people were coming from Nashville to do the same thing. This made it harder for us to make a living, due to the influx of cheap talent. We were told Texas was a great place to go, and we checked into it. It was not what we were looking for, so we continued working in Florida till we retired. The last few years we worked only prime dates, making all we could to retire on. I can tell you from experience, retire as early as you can. The years have really gone by quickly.
We were robbed in Houston, Texas in 1985 and lost a lot of valuable equipment. The insurance didn't fully cover our losses, but we got by. We continued to live in our house in Tennessee when not on the road working. We left the circut when my mother got ill in 1997. She died in 2000 and we haven't worked publicly since. Not long after, I started having a few health problems myself. I have tried to stay positive about things and go on living my life as always. Kathy has been there for me and helped every step of the way.
Everything has come full circle now, and Kathy and I decided to change our life style to do the things we always wanted to do. We started traveling all over the United States and took bus tours out of Nashville, with Gray Line. As she saw the need for people that were handicapped and others with special needs, and wanted to travel, she took on the job of being a tour guide chartering trips through Gray Line. The name of the group is Music City Song Birds. It was on the job training, the first and second trip, then she had the hang of it. She's a quick learner. Now she handles everything. I've stepped into the background and let her take over. We have traveled to some places I've wanted to go to all my life. Most of the time I only saw them from behind the scenes. It is different coming in from the front. Now you've got a general idea of my life up to the present. In June, 2005 we went on a charter to Cape Cod. I like traveling, but Tennessee is my home and I plan to stay here as long as I can. We've been to many places around town that people come from all over the world to see such as The Hermitage, The Opryland Hotel, The General Jackson, Ernest Tubb's record shop, etc. My 72nd birthday is here. Life has been good to me, but I've always said if I knew I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself! I hope this gets to all the people out there, who wonder what has happened to me. I would love to hear from you, so if you'd like, send me an e-mail at email@example.com. I have been in contact with a lot of people from the past and have enjoyed finding out about their lives. Some memories we've shared have been sad, but most of them are good. It has been fun going down memory lane. I belong to the NTSGA in Nashville and it is nice to see all the steel pickers every few months. I ran into Micky Fortune just recently, and it was like old home week. I have his latest CD and really enjoy it.
Kathy has a sister, Brenda, with whom she keeps close contact. Brenda would keep track of where we were and would come see us when we were close enough. Later she got married and had a girl (Jenny) and a boy (Patrick). Brenda is a teacher in South Dakota at a country school. She and her family are very special people to us. Kathy tries to visit her sister, back home, once a year, and visited with her mother and father in Erwin till they passed away. Kathy just got back from visiting with Brenda, in June 2005. [Curtis, Jenny, & Patrick.] When we go to Yellowstone this year (2005), Kathy is hoping to visit with Brenda then too. Update: Kathy got to visit with her sister again and they had a good time together. I'm glad we made it up to that part of the country because it's so much harder for Kathy and Brenda to hook up otherwise, and I know how much she cares about her.
While you wait for more information to be posted here, feel free to visit The Steel Guitar Forum and/or a good friend of ours, Al Marcus.
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Last updated on April 3, 2006.
This site and all it's contents are copyright 2004-2006 by Jimmy Yates.