This article should actually have been written before the Loretta Lynn story because had Hal not been in Bradley’s Barn recording with George Jones, he never would have been in a position to know Loretta or become the TV and recording session giant he became.
George Jones was not only arguably the greatest pure country vocalist in the history of country music, but a colorful character as well. It was always fun and never boring being in the George Jones band. The band itself had some real characters in it as well including outlaw artist Johnny Paycheck who at the time was the bass guitarist. Hal and Johnny stayed friends until his passing in February of 2003 because of the relationship they began by being on the road together backing up the country music giant.
Early George Jones recordings were drowned in Hal Rugg steel guitar licks and here is why; when George asked Hal to do the road work he said he would if George would agree to use him in the studio as well. That was the beginning of Hal’s rise to the top of the ranks as far as a studio session player was concerned. It didn’t take long before Hal was in demand and he was forever gratefully that George allowed him the opportunity to show his stuff. They even wrote some songs together such as an instrumental entitled “Jonesy.” Take a listen:
Here’s a family story that you may find entertaining. Let me set this up; as popular as Hal was with his fans his wife Vicky was just as popular with people inside the music industry he worked in. It also needs to be stated that she did a great job of keeping his finances. For independent musicians it could be tricky as checks didn’t always come in as planned or in order. She in essence kept him organized and free to do what he was meant to do… make music.
On one particular occasion Hal was told, as were the other band members, that George wanted them all to get the same crew cut he was wearing. That’s right, George wanted the entire band to have the same haircut he had. This was a tour Hal was counting on for the next several paychecks. His response?
Well he obviously didn’t have any intentions of getting the mandatory crew cut so the next thing you know Vicky Rugg is looking incredulously at her husband who is standing in the doorway, the same husband who is supposed to be boarding George Jones’ bus for a national tour! As upset as Hal was that he was asked to get the haircut, it did not match the upset of a musician’s wife with bills to pay and four kids to raise looking at a husband who was supposed to be on tour making money. The next thing you know Mr. Rugg was sporting the very crew cut he detested and jumping on the bus looking, as did the other band members, much the uniform part of a sixties country act.
Needless to say, dressing like a session picker was much more relaxed and comfortable so the many, many days he spent in a studio were days he dressed without rhinestones and a crew cut though he did have to cater to the whims of whomever the producer was. I remember him, the consummate true cowboy from Arizona, saying he also detested the puffy sleeve look that resulted from the disco and Vegas show culture’s influences in the seventies when they bled into the country realm. In upcoming stories we’ll talk about his hundreds of TV appearances, the shows he was a band member for, and a trip with the Bill Walker Orchestra to do the Boston Pops, some pranks the musicians pulled on one another and more… but suffice to say that the foundation of his career happened with George and Loretta. It is also accurate to say that the sounds he helped create from the very beginning helped him craft a career that lasted decades and landed him firmly on the Mount Rushmore of Pedal Steel Guitarists.
We know Hal would be proud of the work we are doing with Matty’s Vision. Please remember to donate when you can. Times may be challenging but the needs of these special students are ongoing and it is the reason we put so much time and effort into making you all aware of how much music adds to their lives… until next time – we thank you for your ongoing support and prayers for our mission in endeavoring to provide musical instruments and opportunities to the visually impaired.