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Kayton Roberts is a Man of Steel

WANT TO GO?

10th Annual Hank Williams Tribute Concert

Presented by FOOTMAD

WHERE: Culture Center Theater

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: Adults $20, seniors $15, students $10, children 13 and under free.

INFO: 304-415-3668 or www.footmad.orgCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Steel guitar player Kayton Roberts has no plans to slow down, at least not any time soon.

"I'm 79-years-old," he said, proudly. "I'm shooting for 179, and I'll keep going until they toss dirt in my face and bury me."

Roberts will finish up a busy 2012 by performing Saturday night with Rob McNurlin and John Lilly at their annual Hank Williams tribute show. Now in it's 10th year, the concert will be held at the Culture Center Theater.

Roberts, a noted session player in Nashville, has been playing with McNurlin for about three years, but he is probably better remembered for his three decades playing steel guitar for country music legend Hank Snow.

Snow, who wrote and recorded songs including "I'm Moving On," "The Golden Rocket," "Hello Love" and the updated American version of "I've Been Everywhere," was inducted in the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1979. His career spanned more than 50 years, from late 1940s until his death in 1999 at the age of 85.

"I was with him right up until the end," Roberts said. "I was a pallbearer at his funeral."

Roberts met Snow through fiddle player Chubby Wise, who played in Snow's band. While the band was on break in the mid-1960s, Wise returned home to Lake City, Fla., where Roberts was living and playing in a local dance band.

Snow had recently lost his rhythm guitarist, and Wise came out to see Roberts play.

"I was just playing rhythm that night," Roberts said. "I hadn't even brought the steel out."

Wise was impressed with what he heard and said someone had told him Roberts could play the steel guitar, too. Roberts offered to get the instrument from his house and show him. Wise said sure.

"He was also as drunk as a coot," Roberts remembered.

He retrieved the guitar and played a couple of Hank Snow songs.

"And Chubby just got in the floor, laughing his butt off," Roberts said.

Roberts said he'd played the songs just like Joe Talbert, Snow's original steel player, used to. Wise told him Snow had been looking for years for someone who played the steel guitar like Talbert but had never found anyone. The problem was Snow already had a steel player -- and a good one.

"Jerry Crawford was a great steel player," Roberts said. "He could play rings around me, but Hank didn't like him too much. They just weren't fond of one another."

And Crawford didn't play in the same style as Talbert or Roberts. Wise helped Roberts get the job playing rhythm guitar, and he more or less waited in the wings until Crawford quit a year later.

Roberts got into music in an odd way. His father was involved with bands, mostly with management and promotion.

"He never played in any of them," he said.

But Roberts said there were always musical instruments around, and sooner or later, he was just bound to pick them up and try them.

"I started off playing guitar and singing," he said and laughed. "I won several big contests for that in Florida, but I never wanted to be a singer. It just wasn't for me."

Instead, he focused on different string instruments. From guitar, he picked up the bass.

"It didn't take me long to hate that thing," he said, which led him to the steel guitar.

Roberts said he plays the steel guitar the old way. When steel guitar players moved to playing with pedals in the 1960s, he never followed. He just never liked the sound.

Roberts said he still loves to play, and between shows with Rob McNurlin and the Beatnik Cowboys, church shows and the occasional tribute to Hank Snow, he keeps as busy as he wants to.

"I'll work as long as I'm able," he said. 

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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