Old video of talking electric guitar

Peter Frampton wasn't the first guitar player to put a plastic tube in his mouth to make his instrument talk. Pete Drake, a phenomenal steel guitar player, shows his stuff in the delightful video with an unusually moribund group of backup singers, musicians, and people who are sitting around in what appears to be a drug- or witchcraft-induced trance. When my wife saw this video she said, "This is where David Lynch got his ideas." (Via Sound Scavengers)


  1. I mean, where to begin? There’s so much about this that’s Awesome… the weird set, the strange facial expression Mr. Drake makes when he sings to the camera, the person in red squatting nervously in the background (visible at 2:35), the way the clouds spell “PORNOGRAPHY”… I could go on.

  2. That’s a Sonovox, or something like it.

    Wikipedia has an article about Sonovox and its relatives at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk_box

    Devices like this were around as early as the thirties. You can hear the effect in old radio commercials of the era (wish I could remember the product that made it famous…). The guitarist Alvino Rey used it on record in 1939. And the sound turns up in movies such as “Dumbo,” where it modulates the whistle of the circus train, Casey Jr.

    According to the same Wiki, the Pete Drake track in the video dates from 1964.

  3. Peter Frampton he ‘aint. I have used a “Talk Box“.

    I misspent my youth doing sound and lighting for local bar bands. Certain notes can really rattle your teeth. It hurts.

    Wikipedia says it dates back to 1939. Who knew?

  4. A recording of this was played on Top 40 stations in the early 1960s. I was 9 or 10, but I remember it vividly. Never did know who did it. The background chorus sounded like he borrowed the Rayletts.

  5. I don’t think it’s drugs or witchcraft, but the alienating pressures of conformity of the ’50s, which continued into the ’60s for most. Maybe the band had a fight.

  6. Gawd, I haven’t stopped humming this thing since I heard it. Mark, what have you done to me? Get it out of my head! It burns!

  7. It’s painfully obvious that Drake is Satan, and the backup singers are his thralls. Especially the Dan Akroyd lookin’ one.

  8. Mrs. Frauenfelder is right: This is pure David Lynch!

    It’s such and incredible video… and the song… eerie…

  9. Ladies and Gentlemen, introducing the cast of the new Pete Drake biopic, “Sittin’ Creepy.”

    John Malcovich as the uncharasmatic yet socially inept MC! Betty White as the autistic bench-sitting moron! Alfred Molina as Pained Backup Singer #3! And burn-victim impersonator James Woods as the irrepressable Pete Drake!

  10. Now, there are enough clues in this video to make anyone believe that it’s actually a lip-sync, which would explain their odd behavior.

    1) The sound coming out of Pete’s mouth HAS to be picked up by another microphone close by in order to be heard. We don’t even see one in that top-down shot.

    2) That gal with the back vocalists sure as hell doesn’t look like she’s singing that high note at 1:40.

    3) I hear at least three women singing.

    4) Around 2:06, the guitarist clearly isn’t playing what we’re hearing.

  11. After your third an fouth viewing you’ll start appreciating the MC’s passive aggressive tendancies, “He got the brilliant idea one time to make his steel guitar talk.”

  12. Gothic and sinister and a very pretty melody! One of those musicians was the last to see Laura Palmer alive.

  13. After your third an fouth viewing you’ll start appreciating the MC’s passive aggressive tendancies, “He got the brilliant idea one time to make his steel guitar talk.”

  14. …probably ten minutes of indiscrimitate pseudo-beastiality with the on set stuffed animal props that abruptly ends when a bell rings.

  15. Seeing this makes me very happy. I bought a Pete Drake record on Starday many years ago. The song “I’m just a guitar” from the album is one of my favorite incredibly strange music tracks.

  16. How in the world this ever ended up as the post to follow one of mine is beyond me. Seriously, I feel like Shirley McLaine when coincidences like this happen. And that would be good if I could dance, but I can’t, so it scares the bejesus out of me.

    Back in the mid ’90s, I was living in Olympia Warshington. I would make frequent trips down to Centralia and Chehalis to hit the thrift shops and to visit Richard’s Art Yard.

    On one of these trips, I found a record called 50 Country and Western Hits. It was one of those half-assed Starday compilations of Nashville also-rans. I picked it up for my girlfriend at the time. Until I scrutinized the album cover.

    There were the standards in all of their early sixties grand-ol-opry wannabe stylings; White Stetsons, bolo ties, toothy smiles.

    Until on reached a photo of this balding, pallid, liver-lipped nobody called Pete Drake. On this album he has one of those vacant thousand mile stares and a paisley shirt.

    In all honesty, I never looked at the album cover until I heard his song. A Frampton-esque tribute to the late Porte Waggoner’s Satisfied Mind.

    Always wanting to assume that art is born from adversity, and trying to make sense of the soul wrenching truth meets Steven Hawking vocals, and not knowing Drake’s background, I contrived my own history of Pete Drake.

    In my mind, he was a young trachiotamy (sp?) victim, who fell in love with the true country legends, but because of his ailment (pasty, liver-lipped, voice-box-removed) couldn’t sing. So he picked the closest instrument to a human voice box (steel guitar) and rigged the open hole in his neck to a microphone wired in to the pickups on said steel guitar so he could sing.

    That is a pretty amazing thing to want to believe in, no?

    I began collecting as much of his steel guitar work as possible. I have a lot. I love it more than Charlie Rich singing “Life Has It’s Little Ups and Downs”. And, that, my friends, is a lot.

    I am also a huge believer in mix CD’s (nee Mixtapes). Mark, forgive me, but anyone who is going to dig this deep into Pete Drake deserves to contact me at mike@mountholly-lamano.com for instructions can connect for more info…am I wrong?

    I swap.

    So, long story short. Mr. Drake was not disabled. He played steel in The Sons of The Pioneers back in the ’50s. He became a session musician for Nashville. He worked an early morning job as a milkman (his nickname was The Milkman) will sitting in on literally every session requiring steel guitar that came out of Nashville from 1959 to roughly 1974.

    Most of you not prone to overalls and bare feet (I pity you) can sample mor of Nick Drakes work on Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.

    Thanks for the coincidence, Boing Boing. I wish I could say it was the first time, but I can’t.

  17. Oh, yeah, and at this point in the night I know my spelling is awful and my grammar is worse.

    But keep in mind, as poor as my grammar is, my grampar is poorer.

    Good night.

  18. Feliz (#23)

    Yes. Until recently, almost all musical performances on TV were lip synced from tape or even vinyl. There were several reasons for that:

    1) TV/film studio time was (and is) a lot more expensive than audio only studio time. Why waste money setting up all that sound gear for realz?

    2) At least back then TV studio audio boards would not be up to the task.

    3) TV studios are built for video. The acoustics usually suck. For example a TV studio floor is often concrete (sometimes with a light coating of rubber) so the cameras can dolly and truck around smoothly. Audio studios use carpet.

    4) When you are trying to sell your latest single by playing it on TV, you want it to sound exactly like the record.

    P.S. I guarantee you that the applause was also canned. Often an audio specialist called a “sweetener” (closely related to a foley artist) would do all that in post production.

  19. @26. The girl in white next to the bacon tree IS Laura Palmer!!!

    That would make where the song took place the black lodge!

  20. Very astute comments, David Carroll (37).

    To expound on your third point (and state the obvious), the average viewer doesn’t want to look at a bunch of microphones and cables obscuring the faces of the performers and the, ah, astonishingly life-like sets. It’s no different than MTV videos…the “performance” is more about a visual fantasia than about witnessing someone show off virtuosity (this isn’t Vladimir Horowitz or Beverly Sills, this is a talk-box steel guitar feature…which is awesome, imho). So lip-synching comes as no surprise. It’s really amazing how many actual live performances were recorded for television cameras back in those days, but I don’t think it was because the audience was “purist” and refused the “fakery” of lip-synching. Hollywood musicals normalized lip-synching decades before this.

  21. Catullus @#31

    Wow, you could be right. Add a lot of hair, a few years and 1 pipe and you could have 2/5s of Murph and the MagicTones.

    Seriously, the era and genre look right for them to be in Memphis as the Stax records house band. It would be interesting (to me, anyway) if we could get confirmation of this…

    Great observation!

  22. The singer Millie Kirkham usually performed the extremely high notes for songs recorded in Nashville.


    The audience for these TV shows would not expect frantic whooping-it-up unless it was clog dancers. And this isn’t a fast dance tune. Think of the country music culture in that time period. People behaved differently. It didn’t mean that they were zombies or lobotomized. Sheesh.

  23. The folks at SoundScavengers were wondering why 40 people have signed up today…I think we know why, don’t we?

  24. This is the stuff my parents used to play on their old record player console in the living room while drinking martinis after work.

    And yes, that is definitely Alfred Molina in the back up singers.

    Imagine Pete doing “do you feel like I do” on that thing with the back up singers. Awesome!

  25. Wow, I really love that song.

    The guitarist and bassist might be Cropper & Dunn, but it’s hard for me to tell without another 15 years of age (and hair) on them. It might be worth noting that while those two worked out of Memphis, Pete Drake was a Nashville guy. Could still be them, though.

  26. I’d bet money that it’s not Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn on guitar and bass. Dunn’s face was quite a bit fuller than the bass player’s in this clip:

    Duck Dunn:

    The MC at the beginning gets creepier every time I watch him, but the band itself and the song don’t really strike me as that bizarre. It’s amusing to think of the set as mirroring a real life situation…

    “Just another sunny day in front of the tar-paper shack, playing muh steel guitar through a talk-box with some friends, ya know. Ol’ Darvel dragged his fane-cee! new Vibrolux amp out here to hit some chords behind me on the Straty-caster, and my it sure does sound heavenly. Let’s hear those high notes one more time, girls! Ah-one, ah-two…”

  27. So the blond behind him is just there to look pretty? She’s not singing and her hand-claps were not even trying to look like they could have been audible in a universe where syncing might have attempted to look authentic.

  28. Pete Drake is also responsible for one of Ringo Starr’s best albums, “Beaucoups of Blues”. Ringo met Pete at the Harrison “All Things Must Pass” sessions, and Pete was fascinated that Ringo was such a big country music fan.

    Fuller story here: http://www.jpgr.co.uk/pas10002.html

  29. I thought it was Aldo Rey as well, but a productive minute of Googling found that his name was Alvino Rey, and he was as much fun as I remember from the old King Family TV show back in the day. It’s been a lot of fun hearing three of his songs again. I love the link between him and ARCADE FIRE. They have two members who are grandsons of his, and they even put one of his sons on a B-side of theirs. Great tip of the hat to a great musician, boys!

  30. Drakes fabulous version of Waylon Jennings’ Abilene is well worth finding and hearing.

    Sadly, I didn’t get to see this video before it was taken down.

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