Don Helms, Steel Guitar Legend

Don Helms (1927-2008) was an American steel guitarist who played with some of the most iconic country music stars of the mid-20th century, including Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, and Elvis Presley.

Helms was born on February 28, 1927 in Alabama and began playing guitar at a young age. He joined Hank Williams’ band, the Drifting Cowboys, in 1943 and played on many of Williams’ classic recordings, including “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Hey Good Lookin’,” and “Cold, Cold Heart.” It was Don Helms at the steel guitar for 10 out of 11 Hank Williams Number 1 hits.  After Williams’ death in 1953, Helms continued to play with the Drifting Cowboys and later went on to work with Patsy Cline and Elvis Presley.  His steel guitar playing stands out in songs like, “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Waterloo,” “Blue Kentucky Girl,” and “Long Black Veil.”

Don Helms’s Steel Guitar via YouTube Screen Grab

Helms’ distinctive steel guitar playing was an important element in the sound of the classic country music of the 1950s and 1960s. He continued to perform and record music throughout his career and was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1983. He has played with at least 54 Country Music Hall of Fame Members.

After a stroke later in life, he had to relearn how to play. Watch this video of Don Helms with Charley Pride as he plays the very same steel guitar he played on so many iconic recordings.  After watching, you’ll see that he never skipped a beat! Be sure to watch to the end and hear Helms and Bill Anderson talk about how he acquired the steel guitar.

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