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Oklahoma man reunited with guitar after nearly 60 years

December 10, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — It had been almost six decades since pedal steel guitar player Jerry Horner had seen the long-lost Fender Stringmaster.

Horner, 82, had driven from Tahlequah to the northwest Oklahoma City home of singer and Oklahoma music aficionado, T.J. Mayes.

Mayes and Horner had never met, but they shared a bond that was about to be back in Horner’s possession: a pedal steel guitar forfeited when Horner couldn’t pay the bill for work he asked to be done on it.

Mayes, who acquired the instrument about three years ago, decided to return it to Horner after learning the story of the musician’s former ownership.

Horner told Mayes what he remembered before he even looked at the 1950s Fender Stringmaster, which he had last seen on a tour bus in New Mexico.

“If it’s not the guitar, I’ll know if it is not it,” Horner told The Oklahoman .

It was back in 1959 near Roswell, New Mexico, that Horner had last seen the triple-necked Stringmaster. Horner was the steel player for the late Merl Lindsay and his Oklahoma Night Riders. He’d traded a four-neck steel guitar for the Stringmaster and used it on tour.

A steel guitar is an upright instrument that can have multiple necks a player can stand behind to play. A pedal steel is played sitting down, and the feet are used to move pedals that bend strings high and low, creating the classic country and western sound.

Lindsay was known for his nightclub, Lindsayland, a country music venue atop the Oklahoma City Farmers Market. In the late 1950s, Lindsay and his western swing band traveled the west, and frequently loaded up the bus to head to Compton, California, to appear on the national ABC-TV show “Town Hall Party.”

On one trip out west, Horner met another steel guitar player in Roswell. That player offered to convert the Stringmaster to add pedals. Horner had the work done on condition he would pay in full later, but he didn’t make the payments.

Several months later, the band was back in Roswell, and the county sheriff and the man who had modified the Fender guitar found the band’s bus and repossessed the Stringmaster.

Horner said he thinks he owed about $150.

“Since I had not paid him, he had full rights to it. It was my fault,” Horner said.

To play that night, Horner had to borrow a six-string guitar and set it in his lap to play. He soon found another pedal steel guitar to replace the Stringmaster.

“That’s where I lost track of it,” Horner said.

About five years ago, record collector John Dunning got a call from Merl Lindsay’s daughter in Oklahoma City. She wanted to part with memorabilia, records and other items from her late father, Dunning said. Lindsay died in the mid-1960s, and a family member was having an estate sale.

Dunning helped the family donate records, costumes and other memorabilia to the Oklahoma History Center. In the basement of the home was a pedal steel guitar that needed to be restored. Dunning took it and kept it at his record shop in Oklahoma City.

Mayes, a local rockabilly musician and lover of all things about Oklahoma music, came across the pedal steel at Dunning’s store.

Not long ago, Mayes posted a picture of it on a steel guitar forum. Horner saw it and got in touch with Mayes. Mayes said he decided to give it back to Horner.

“I’m not a steel player, and it just seemed like the right thing to do,” Mayes said. “It felt good to see Jerry reunited with his old steel.”

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Information from: The Oklahoman, http://www.newsok.com

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