Monday morning (8-16) was a moment of firsts for the Country Music Hall of Fame as they announced their inductees for the 2021 class. It was the first time in eleven years that more than three individuals were inducted, and the first time both a drummer, and surprisingly, a steel guitar player have officially made it into the Hall.
Due to a tie in voting, both drummer Eddie Bayers, and steel guitar player Pete Drake are the newest inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Though both may not be houshold names, they’re both also some of the most prolific musicians in their respective fields, with thousands of recording sessions logged, and thousands of songs graced by their musicianship.
They were inducted alongside Ray Charles in the Veterans Era (READ MORE), and The Judds in the Modern Era (READ MORE).
When you’re the steel guitar player that performed on “He Stopped Loving Her Today” by George Jones, “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette, as well as “Lay Lady Lay” by Bob Dylan and “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, that speaks to just how important your legacy is, and how your playing has impacted country music. It seems scandalous that no other steel guitar players are in the Hall of Fame of country music, which is so synonymous with the instrument. But Pete Drake is as good of a place to start as any.
Born in Agusta, Georgia in 1932 as the son of a Pentecostal preacher, Pete Drake drove to Nashville when he was 18, saw Jerry Bird on the Grand Ole Opry, and immediately knew what he wanted to do with his life. By 1959, he was part of Nashville’s “A-Team” of musicians as the go-to steel guitar player for some 30+ years. Five days a week or more, he laid down steel on some of country’s most memorable songs.
Because of the particular setup he used to get the sweetest steel guitar sound possible was not very loud, Pete Drake rarely performed live, keeping his impact mostly out of the public eye. He also died relatively young on July 19th, 1988 at the age of 55 due to emphysema, meaning he didn’t get the golden years to rest on his laurels or soak up accolades. That’s why this Hall of Fame induction feels so special now.
Similarly, it’s almost easier to list off the country songs drummer Eddie Bayers played on than the ones he didn’t when he started his session drummer career in earnest in 1979. Originally from Maryland, the 72-year-old who was classically trained actually started as a keyboard player, performing regularly at Nashville’s Carousel Club in 1973. He didn’t learn drums until a couple of years later, but it became his passion.
Albums from George Jones, George Strait, Ricky Skagss, Rosanne Cash, Reba McEntire, Tanya Tucker, Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, even acts from the rock and pop world like Elton John and Bob Seger feature the drumming of Eddie Bayers. There are few musicians as prolific as Eddie on any instrument. In the early stages of country music, drums were outright forbidden. And even after they were allowed in, they were relegated to the background. But Eddie’s tasteful, and reverent style to country’s roots—while also stepping out when he had the opportunity—made him the drummer of choice for many producers.
Though folks in the country music industry will immediately recognize these names and not need to be sold on their impact, neither were really the sort of side player superstars some might have been hoping would make the Hall of Fame where musicians are only selected once every three years, and usually one at at time. Steel player Ralph Mooney, guitarist and harmony singer Don Rich who was so important to the Buck Owens sounds, Redd Volkaert, Lloyd Green, harmonica player Mickey Raphael are some of the more high-profile names who could have been selected, and would have received more buzz.
It also feels like if the Hall of Fame was going to induct two people in one category in 2021, it could have been in the Veterans Era where there is such an incredible backlog. As two musicians get in, performers such as The Stanley Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Maddox Brothers and Rose, Crystal Gayle, let alone Dwight Yoakam, Tanya Tucker, and a host of others still remain on the outside looking in.
But when you speak to anyone in Nashville about what session players are surefire Hall of Famers that deserve this distinction, Eddie Bayers and Pete Drake are the #1 and #1A names mentioned. Only fitting they went in together.