Ahead of His Time: Pete Drake Debuts His Talking Guitar on Jimmy Dean in 1964
In 1964, musician Pete Drake debuted his talking steel guitar on the Jimmy Dean Show. His innovative use of what would be called the talk box, later used by Peter Frampton, Joe Walsh, Roger Troutman and Jeff Beck, added novel effects to the pedal steel guitar.
The album Pete Drake and His Talking Steel Guitar, harkened back to the sounds of Alvino Rey and his wife Luise King, who first modulated a guitar tone with the signal from a throat microphone in 1939. The unique sound of the talk box with a steel guitar was new in the 1960s, and it made the sounds of vocalizing along with the strings of the steel guitar [source]. According to an interview of Drake:
You play the notes on the guitar and it goes through the amplifier. I have a driver system so that you disconnect the speakers and the sound goes through the driver into a plastic tube. You put the tube in the side of your mouth then form the words with your mouth as you play them. You don’t actually say a word: The guitar is your vocal cords, and your mouth is the amplifier. It’s amplified by a microphone. [source]
Drake played on Bob Dylan’s three Nashville-recorded albums, including Nashville Skyline, and on Joan Baez’s David’s Album. He also worked with George Harrison on All Things Must Pass, and produced Ringo Starr on Beaucoups of Blues in 1970. [source]
Drake produced albums for many other musicians, and founded Stop Records and First Generation Records. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Walkway of Stars in 1970 and the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1987 and into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 2010. [source]