For singers, the search for the sweet spot leads to odd metaphors—like “sing that high B flat as if an egg were cracking open at the back of your throat,” or “imagine an ocean wave rising up from your pelvis.” There are no such metaphors in the pedal steel world; instead, players often have their own technical formula for good tone. Some swear by certain cables, pre-amps, speakers, picks, or bars; others claim it has to do with a certain order of operations, the high cut on the amp, or the amount of pressure exerted on the bar at certain points along the fret board. As with singing, the solution is often highly individual and almost impossible to fully communicate. It is something you have to learn yourself along the way.
Lil Wayne does his share of gangsta posturing, but half the time he starts chuckling before he gets through a line. He’s a ham. He is heavy on pretense, and thank God. Like Dylan, theatricality trumps authenticity.
As the Internet got going, in the early 1980s, futurological professionals liked to speak of “dead platforms,” archaic media rendered silent and/or invisible by the advent and ascendance of subsequent media. My own most poignant experience of a dead media platform, at that time, had been my discovery, at a swap meet in the early 1970s, of several reels of very thin, oddly brittle steel wire, the precursor to magnetic recording tape. The seller had no idea what might be recorded there, nor indeed whether the wire had ever been used. Neither the seller nor I had any idea where we might find a machine capable of playing them.
Maybe the least expected of the factors that went into making ska in those years, and the one many would argue that most nearly approached it in sound, leading most directly to its birth, came not from Jamaica at all, or even from the Caribbean, but from West Tennessee, and more specifically from South Memphis, and more specifically than that, from the band called the Beale Streeters, and most specifically of all from the right hand of their pianist and sometime singer-songwriter, a Memphis native named Rosco Gordon.