Born Wesley W. West January 25, 1924 in Springfield MO, to parents, Finley G. and
Sue Arthur West. Finley was a linotype operator at a gospel publishing company,
and in his spare time, played guitar and sang gospel songs.
At age 9, Wesley became interested in music because of his friends and neighbors, the
Cline's boys, three brothers. One played steel guitar, another banjo and the other
played guitar. The boys' parents suggested to Wesley's father, that he should buy
him an inexpensive $12 Hawaiian guitar. Wesley spent all the time he could learning
to play the instrument with the help of the Cline's as well as his father.
Wesley's interest in music continued to grow and he yearned for a more expensive
instrument, namely, a National steel-bodied resonator model costing $125, which the
West family could not afford. In order to give Welsey what he so desperately wanted,
his father sold his own guitar in order to buy the National. In the 9th grade he won
a prize in a school amateur contest.
By the late 1930's Wesley spent countless hours practicing and listening to steel
players like Leon McAuliffe. He also admired the talents of Brother Oswald Kirby,
Little Roy Wiggins, Billy Robinson, Jerry Byrd, and several other Opry stars.
In 1941, at age 17, Wesley married his first wife, Opal Mae. They lived in St. Louis
for a year, where Wesley worked at a factory that made machine gun bullets on behalf
of the war effort. He played music as much as possible with a friend, Cleat Jones.
Approximately 1942, Wesley and Opal moved to Strafford, MO, near Springfield, where
they lived on a 200-acre farm owned by Wesley's father. Farming was vital to the
war effort. One of their main crops was tomatoes. He also milked up to 33 cows daily.
After the war ended, Wesley continued to farm but found more time to play music and
develop his skills.
In 1946, a Grand Ole Opry tent show came to Springfield starring Eddy Arnold and
Minnie Pearl. Inspired by watching and listening to Arnold's steel guitar player,
Little Roy Wiggins, Wesley began to think about pursuing a musical career.
Wesley began to play the steel locally on jam sessions that were broadcast over KWTO
radio in Springfield, and played with friends and other local musicians at every
opportunity that came along. A major turning point occurred when a sailor, who was
passing through town, told Wesley about the wonderful musical opportunities
available in Southern California. He told him he could make as much as $25 a night,
which sounded like a gold mine just waiting for him.
Wesley was playing at a jam session sponsored by KWTO at an event called a pie
social. Slim Wilson, a local country music personality, introduced Wesley to the
audience as "Speedy West", a name which he would later adopt.
Partly because of the influence of Little Roy Wiggins' style of playing, Wesley
bought a huge, hand-carved, 7-string doubleneck steel from an individual, which he
paid off in installments.
On June 13, 1946, with only $150 in his pocket, Speedy and his wife and their 2-1/2
year old son, Donnie, packed all they could into a 1936 Lincoln Zephyr and headed
for Southern California. Following several breakdowns, they arrived in Los Angeles
3 days later.
During the first few months after arriving in Los angeles, Speedy worked during the
day at a dry cleaners. After working all day he played steel guitar at night, starting
out with a group called the Missouri Wranglers, all part-time musicians, who played
the VFW Hall in Southgate.
Speedy found a new steel guitar idol - Joaquin Murphy, who played with the Spade
Cooley band. Speedy soon adopted another idol by the name of Noel Boggs, who played
in Hank Penny's band, as well as the Bob Wills and Cooley bands.
Speedy admired Joaquin so much that he attempted to copy his style and then realized
that it would be more beneficial to him to develop his own style rather than copy
Speedy worked as much as he could at night and on weekends, playing at local bars,
such as, Murphy's and the nearby Fargo Club and the four Aces.
In 1947, Tex Williams auditioned Speedy to replace Joaquin Murphey, who had left
the band. Although Speedy didn't get the job, he fondly remembered how Tex
encouraged him to sit in with the band, and to keep pursuing his ambition.
In fact, sometime later, Tex offered him a job, which he did not accept because of
In 1947, Speedy bought an amp created by Leo Fender, who owned a radio shop in
Fullerton, CA. In addition to amplifiers, Leo also designed and built steel
guitars. This amp was called Fender's Professional Model, which had an all-wood
body and handle with chrome trim on the front grille.
Now equipped with a new amp, Speedy felt the necessity of having a more up-to-date
steel to replace the homemade electric steel he brought from Missouri. Paul Bigsby
from Downey, CA, a pattern maker, built Speedy a pedal steel. Bigsby had also built
a 3-neck non-pedal steel for Joaquin Murphey. Speedy asked for a 3-neck steel with
four foot pedals, and Bigsby went to work building it.
Speedy took delivery of his Bigsby pedal steel on February 8, 1948. The four pedals
were side by side, a design that would later influence all pedal guitars. He
developed his own tuning technique.
In 1948, Speedy was working at Murphy's Club, locted in the skidrow area of
Los angeles, when he first met Jimmy Bryant. Jimmy was working down the street from
Murphy's, at the Fargo Club. One night Jimmy came to see Speedy play and said to
him: "I really like your playing -- why don't you come down to the Fargo Club and
dig me". Speedy was so impressed by Bryant's talent that he said, "he couldn't
believe what he was hearing". That was the beginning of their long professional
and personal relationship.
In the spring of 1948, Spade Cooley, who had a 23-piece western swing band that
included a full horn section, hired Speedy. At the time, Cooley also hosted the
Hoffman Hayride TV variety show, broadcst by KTLA on Saturday nights, in addition to
playing various dance jobs. Speedy's job with Cooley lasted only 5 months. Cooley's
erratic behavior caused him to repeatedly fire and then attempt to rehire several
band members, only Speedy chose not to accept an offer of being rehired after he
fell victim to one of his tirades.
After Cooley, Speedy played at the Riverside Rancho in the Shambrock Cowboys band.
It was about this time that friends familiar with the talents of Speedy, introduced
him to Cliffie Stone, assistant A&R man for Capitol Records.
Speedy's first recording session was with Eddie Kirk who sang "Candy Kisses".
Beginning in early 1949, Speedy worked full time doing recording sessions. One of
the first lessons he learned was to play "commercial", and produce the sound
expected by the producer. Speedy learned very quickly that he would not be able to
develop his potential for session work if he continued to focus on his own style and
try to dazzle everyone with his own talent.
Speedy joined the Hank Penny western swing band in early 1949, where he was
allowed to be more creative in his playing.
Late 1949, Speedy left Penny when he was hired by Cliffie Stone for his daily
radio program, Dinner Bell Round-Up, as well as Cliffie's Saturday night dances at
El Monte Legion Stadium. Like Penny, Cliffie Stone allowed and encouraged Speedy,
as well as other band members, to be creative and expand their talents as much as
possible. Many performers launched their careers with the help of Cliffie Stone's
Hometown Jamboree, such as, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Merle Travis, Eddie Kirk, and
In December 1949, Cliffie Stone took his show to TV. The shows were broadcast
over KLAC-TV from 7-8 PM on Saturdays, live from El Monte, and were known as the
Hometown Jamboree. After the TV broadcast, the band played for an hour of dancing
before they took to the air again for a second Hometown Jamboree over KXLA radio.
While at Hometown Jamboree, Speedy received a lot of encouragement from Merle
Travis, who was also a member of Hometown. Merle suggested that in order to promote
his name recognition more, Speedy should have Bigsby make him a nameplate for the
front of his pedal steel. Bigsby crafted a Birdseye maple panel that snapped onto
the front legs with Speedy's name on the front. Merle Travis also took many opportunities
to promote Speedy when he would be on tour in various parts of the country.
Leo Fender also contributed a lot toward Speedy's success, as well as many other
musicians. Leo not only provided the musical equipment, but also would make himself available
on location at some of the dances and shows, with the tools and equipment necessary
to service the musicians' instruments.
In 1950, Speedy's steel guitar career and reputation were given a major boost
following a recording session with Tennessee Ernie Ford and Kay Starr. The songs
recorded were "I'll Never Be Free" and "Ain't Nobody's Business But My Own", and
both reached the top hits on country charts as well as the pop field. Ernie and Kay had
offers to appear around the country, including the Grand Ole Opry in 1950. Speedy
and his Bigsby were also along.
Because of his style of playing on "I'll Never Be Free", Speedy landed an
instrumentalist contract with Capitol. He did his first session in January 1951,
with Bryant accompanying him. This was the beginning of the West/Bryant recordings
that resulted in making their style very well known and recognizable, not only on
the west coast, but internationally as well. Copies of their records have become valuable
collectors' items today.
Speedy and Bryant's outstanding work on Tennessee Ernie's hit records led to
increasing session work for them beyond Capitol, the daily Dinner Bell Roundup
radio show over KXLA, and the Hometown Jamboree. Much of the session work was with
Capitol artists and Hometown performers, such as, Gene O'Quinn, Merrill Moore,
Cliffie Stone, Molly Bee and Bucky Tibbs. Some other artists they recorded with
were: Sheb Wooley, Johnny Horton, Wade Ray, Johnny Bond, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans,
Doye O'Dell, Gene Autry, Sons of the Pioneers, and many others. Speedy also credits
both Lee Gillette and Ken Nelson, A&R men with Capitol, for encouraging their
innovative and creative style of playing.
Between 1950 and 1955, Speedy (with and without Bryant) played on over 6,000
recordings with a total of 177 different artists. Some of those artists include
Frankie Laine, Jo Stafford, and Paul Weston's Orchestra, Billy May's Orchestra,
Betty Hutton, Helen O'Connell, Doris Day, Johnnie Ray, Ella Mae Morse, Spike Jones,
Jean Shepard, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and many others. Mitch Miller, A&R man for
Columbia Records, was so impressed by Speedy's playing on Frankie Laine's 1951
recording of "Hey Good Lookin" that he paid him double on that session as well as
In the mid-1950's Speedy helped Bobby Bare get started in show business. He first met
him following Bobby's trip to L.A. via hitchhiking and riding rail cars. Bobby
presented himself as a songwriter when he came to KXLA radio station. He asked
Speedy to listen to some songs he had written. They both went to Studio B at the
station where Bobby sang several songs. Speedy told him he should record them
himself. Bobby stayed with Speedy for several weeks during which time they went to
Bakersfield to record some demo dubs. Speedy started promoting them to various
record companies. As a result Ken Nelson at Capitol Records signed him up as an
artist. Bobby then recorded four songs with Speedy's band on Capitol.
Also in the early 1950's, Speedy appeared in three Western movies, while still working
the daily Hometown show at KXLA, plus the Saturday night show and dance..
During this time, he continued to work on recording sessions.
He also landed a guest spot on Red Foley's ABC-TV show, "Ozark Jubilee",
from Springfield MO, in addition to a TV show hosted by bandleader Bob Crosby.
He enjoyed another guest spot on Lawrence Welk's very popular ABC-TV show, plus
Dinah Shore's NBC Chevrolet Show.
Speedy and Jimmy Bryant's final recording session for Capitol, as a team,
occurred October 9, 1956, however, Speedy's contract with Capitol was renewed and
he continued to record, as a single, until 1962.
With the onset of rock and roll, the music scene involving Capitol and
Hometown Jamboree began to decline. In addition, Cliffie Stone was occupied
full-time managing Tennessee Ernie, whose career was exploding with the release
of Merle Travis's Sixteen Tons plus beginning his prime time TV show on NBC.
Speedy changed equipment in 1957 to a Fender 1000 pedal steel. He sold his
Bigsby, which he later regretted because of its historical value.
The Hometown Jamboree was cancelled in 1959 after which Speedy and other
Hometown musicians started working the Las Vegas/Reno/Lake Tahoe club circuit.
Their group was Billy and the Kids, featuring Billy Strange, Merrill Moore, the
Black Sisters and Speedy.
In the spring of 1960, Speedy was asked to report to a small studio in L.A.
where an unknown singer from Washington and her husband were to arrive to record.
The singer turned out to be Loretta Lynn and husband, Mooney. Impressed with her
voice, Speedy suggested that they release the musicians in the studio and hire
some capable studio pickers and rent a better studio. He rounded up some of the
Hometown people he had recorded with for years, such as Roy Lanham, Harold Hensley,
Roy Harte and Billy Liebert. Speedy also suggested that Loretta overdub harmonies on
her original song, Honky Tonk Girl, an idea that he borrowed from Patti Page.
The opportunities no longer available for country musicians in the L.A. area,
Speedy made arrangements to go to work for Fender Musical Instruments as manager
of their warehouse in Tulsa, OK. He moved to Tulsa in September, 1960.
After moving to Tulsa, Speedy continued to play steel guitar, although not
full time because of his employment with Fender. He had his own band for several
years and played at various locations in the Tulsa area for dances, special
events, etc. He had many opportunities to travel around the United States and
abroad, performing on behalf of Fender as well as appearing at several universities.
In 1963, the LeGarde Twins invited Speedy to Australia. While in that country for 44
days, he performed on the Twins' country TV shows, as well as appearances at various
events, TV and radio stations.
In 1967, Speedy traveled to Japan to represent Fender at the International Trade
Fair. While in that country, he also performed for various other events.
Speedy looking at the International Guitar Hall of Fame plaque
at his home in Oklahoma.
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