Originally created 12/14/01

Beatles admired country

The recent death of former Beatle George Harrison brought to mind the late record producer and musician Pete Drake, an Augustan who played pedal steel guitar on Mr. Harrison's classic 1970 album All Things Must Pass.

Roddis Franklin "Pete" Drake was born in Augusta on Oct. 8, 1932, the son of a Pentecostal preacher. He grew up in Atlanta and moved to Nashville, Tenn., in 1959.

In the 1960s he played steel guitar on Lynn Anderson's Rose Garden, Charlie Rich's Behind Closed Doors, Bob Dylan's Lay Lady Lay and Tammy Wynette's Stand by Your Man. He played on five of Elvis Presley's movie soundtracks.

Sometime in the late '60s, he met Mr. Harrison at Mr. Dylan's home in New York. That led to Mr. Drake flying to England to play on Mr. Harrison's All Things Must Pass album.

The album was co-produced by Mr. Harrison and Phil Spector (famous for his "wall of sound" pop recordings) for the Beatles-owned Apple Records label. Other musicians on that album included Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, organist Billy Preston and guitarists Eric Clapton and Dave Mason.

While making the album, Mr. Drake and Mr. Starr became friends, and that led Mr. Drake to invite Mr. Starr to record in Nashville. Mr. Starr already had turned the old Buck Owens' song Act Naturally into a Beatles' hit.

Those sessions marked the first time any Beatle had recorded in the United States.

"I told Ringo I'd produce the recording sessions," Mr. Drake said, "and then I came back to the states and heard his Sentimental Journey album. I thought to myself, 'Oh, Lord, what have I got myself into?' However, Ringo came over and we did the Beaucoups of Blues album in three days. It turned out well and sold over half a million copies in the United States alone."

Mr. Drake died in Nashville on July 29, 1988.

Several other country musicians were connected to Mr. Harrison over the years, including the legendary Tennessee rockabilly artist Carl Perkins.

In 1998, Mr. Harrison attended Mr. Perkins' funeral in Jackson, Tenn., and sang Mr. Perkins' Your True Love while playing an acoustic guitar. Mr. Harrison already had been diagnosed with throat cancer; the same condition that had killed Mr. Perkins.

The Beatles recorded several songs Mr. Perkins wrote, including Honey Don't, Matchbox and Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby. Mr. Harrison and Mr. Starr joined Mr. Perkins and Mr. Clapton in 1985 for a cable TV special marking the 30th anniversary of the release of Blue Suede Shoes, a classic song Mr. Perkins wrote and recorded.

The matchup of the British rockers and country musicians really wasn't all that strange.

Nashville and Liverpool may be thousands of miles apart, but the emotional ties of country and rockabilly music played and sung by great musicians shortened that gap considerably.

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 31 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@morris.com


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