Hometown, Beckley, West Virginia
The path that took Russ Hicks from playing in rock ‘n roll garage bands to being one of the top session musicians in Nashville, crisscrosses the United States several times. But from an early age, there was little doubt that he would become one of the greats. Today, Hicks is known as one of the country’s best pedal steel guitar players, whose extraordinary career in music spans over 50 years.
Among his many honors and accomplishments are:
2006 Recipient of the Nashville Tennessee Steel Guitar Association "Legends" Award
2011 Induction into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame
2015 Induction into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame
"The highway called when I was young..." RH
Growing up in West Virginia, musically gifted Russ Hicks learned to play guitar at age thirteen. While still in high school, he formed a rock ‘n roll band, The Teen Tones. Within a year, the band was signed to Decca Records and relocated to Las Vegas. After a year there, Hicks rejoined his parents, who were then living in Aiken, South Carolina. He graduated from Aiken High School and a couple of days later, he moved to Chicago to play with The Versa-Tones. When he was 21, he joined The Impellas and moved to Houston where they played in clubs. By the year’s end, Hicks moved back to West Virginia. He got married and taught music lessons. He reformed The Versa-Tones, playing in clubs and backing local artists. The band also made appearances on The Buddy Starcher Show, broadcast on WCAS in Charleston, WV.
While attending a telethon at a local TV station, Hicks, who was in the studio audience, watched in amazement as the great Buddy Emmons played the pedal steel guitar in Little Jimmy Dickens' band. Hicks was so inspired, he quit his rock 'n roll band and bought himself a Gibson Electraharp. He took up the instrument and quickly found his true calling.
"I was doing a TV show in Florence, SC, and had a girl singer. Whenever Connie Smith came out with a new song, I would buy the record and give it to the girl singer to do on the show, so that I could attempt to play the steel parts that Weldon Myrick played on the record. Weldon was one of my absolute heroes. One day my phone rang, and the caller asked to speak to me, and said it was Weldon Myrick. I thought it was one of my band members playing a joke, so I said, "Sure you are!" and hung up on him. Lucky for me he called back and told me he was quitting Connie to play on the Opry staff band and that he thought I should come to Nashville and audition for the job. I did so, and that’s how I got to Nashville.” Russ Hicks
After touring and recording with Smith for a year, Hicks joined Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys (the band featured five fiddlers at that time). When Price's band relocated to Texas, Hicks left Price and remained in Nashville, where he was then hired by Kitty Wells, and toured with her for three years. After that, Hicks returned to the Slim Mims Show, which had relocated to Orlando, Florida.
In the 1970’s, when Hicks returned to Nashville to concentrate on session work, he met fellow West Virginian and studio veteran Charlie McCoy. Hicks found himself working with some session musician legends such as Grady Martin, Hargus “Pig” Robbins, Pete Wade, Buddy Harmon, Bob Moore, Roy Huskey, Jr. and Harold Bradley. He played on records by Marty Robbins, Ronnie Milsap, Mickey Gilley, Larry Gatlin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom T. Hall, Don Gibson, Wanda Jackson, Townes Van Zandt, the Charlie Daniels Band and many more. He was also featured on various movie soundtracks, including Clint Eastwood’s Every Which Way But Loose. Hicks joined the Nashville based band Barefoot Jerry, led by fellow West Virginian (and “A list” studio picker) Wayne Moss. Hicks was a member of the house band (led by Charlie McCoy) on the TV show Hee Haw from 1980 to 1992.
Hicks has been a feature performer for many years at steel guitar shows throughout the United States, and around the world. He has led many workshops, and taught music from his home. He set up his studio, Woodshed Records, and began producing and recording his own albums/CDs. Hicks still performs regularly at events and radio shows in the Nashville area, and at steel guitar shows around the country.
Hicks has four lovely daughters that are the lights of his life. Three are in Nashville, and one is in Los Angeles. He visits with them often and enjoys spoiling his grandchildren.
"Tribute to Buddy Emmons" by Russ Hicks
"...my life to this day has never been the same."
“I can't hope to be able to put into words what's been in my soul for all these years concerning this man, but I want to try. In 1957 in Beckley, W.Va., Little Jimmy Dickens came to town to play a March of Dimes Telethon on the local TV station. He had his band, The Country Boys, with him... twin lead guitars-Spider & Howard, bass-Joel Price, no drummer, and playing a triple neck Bigsby was Buddy Emmons. I didn't watch them on TV, I was there in the studio audience watching every move he made, not believing my eyes or ears. The parts he played with the guitars; the solos he played by himself; it was all so unbelievably amazing to me; I can safely say that my life to this day has never been the same. I was playing lead guitar at the time with a R&R band and had just bought a new Gibson Les Paul (Fretless Wonder). After 'experiencing' the Country Boys and Buddy Emmons that weekend, a few days later I quit the R&R band and traded the guitar for a Gibson Electraharp and set out on the same road I travel today, which is mostly trying to pull out of my steel just a semblance of what I heard him play in 1957. However, at that same time my ego allowed me to set a goal for myself, and that was for someday Buddy Emmons to know my name. Well, I came to town ten years later and a little while after that Jimmy Crawford, myself, and Buddy Emmons formed a publishing/production co. Pixenbar Music, and during that same time I was lucky enough to record an album with him and Jimmy and John Hughey and Sonny Garrish called The Nashville Bar Association. Who says dreams can't come true? In 1967, I was on the road with Connie Smith and we were in the middle of a tour with Ray Price in California. Buddy was with Ray and on one of their nights off Buddy and a couple of Ray's boys flew to Vegas to 'roar'... well, Buddy missed his flight back to the gig and I 'sat in' for him... the next day he thanked me and paid me 40 dollars... of course I didn't want the money but he insisted and I took it, and I'm glad I did because I still have those two twenty's. I've discovered thru the years that there's probably only a handful of people who have gotten really close to Buddy, but I'm satisfied just to have been able to be around him, what little time that's been, and to know he didn't mind me calling him my friend. To me, Buddy Emmons is the 'reason'... he's the reason a lot of us do what we do for a living... and he's the reason steel guitar is what it is today.” Russ Hicks