Modern country fans may not recognize Buddy Emmons’ name, but they have almost certainly heard his work. The legendary steel guitar player passed away Wednesday (July 29) at the age of 78, but his talent lives on in the music of many other country icons, not to mention his influence on country music as a whole.

Emmons, known as “The World’s Foremost Steel Guitarist,” was born in 1937 and raised in Indiana. He received a lap steel guitar from his father when he was only 11 years old. His dad signed him up for lessons, and it wasn't long before Emmons took a liking to country, studying players like Hank Williams’ steel guitarist Jerry Byrd and Herb Remington to hone his skills.

The young player played in local bands in South Bend, Ind., before leaving high school at 16 to pursue a career in music. Traveling around with his guitar in hand, he ended up playing with musician Casey Clark, which is when Little Jimmy Dickens happened to hear him. That fateful moment was of course a turning point in Emmons’ career. Dickens sent a telegram inviting him down to Nashville from Detroit, where he was living at the time, to be a part of WSM’s Studio C “Friday Night Frolics.” The senior artist flew Emmons down for the event, but before he left, he took the stage at the Grand Ole Opry for the first time. From then on, Emmons’ life would never be the same.

“It was like a lightning bolt struck,” says steel guitarist Steve Fishell. “You can see photos from that day with Dickens onstage and other steel players like Jimmy Day waiting in the wings, watching Buddy. His execution was flawless, and his ideas were brilliant. It was like nothing ever heard before on the Opry stage. Buddy was dropped into the hottest band in country music, and it was an incredible launching pad for him.”

Emmons played for Dickens for a year before starting the Sho-Bud Company, one of the most successful steel companies in the industry. He went on to play for artists like Ernest Tubbs' Texas Troubadours, Ray Price’s Cherokee Cowboys and Roger Miller. Emmons stretched boundaries by recording the first serious steel guitar jazz album in 1963, played with the Everly Brothers for a decade and did session work with icons like Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, George Strait, Ricky Skaggs and many others.

In 1981, Emmons was honored for his accomplishments by being inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, the star suffered a repetitive motion injury in 2001 that prevented him from continuing to play full time, but he continued to record occasionally, play at steel guitar shows and perform on A Prairie Home Companion until he passed away.

Emmons is survived by two granddaughters and two grandsons. His wife, Peggy, passed away in 2007. He will be missed greatly in the country music family, and Taste of Country sends condolences to his family and friends.

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