Pop Goes The Country is an ongoing series where I explore country music’s biggest crossover hits
At this point in this series, we’ve already covered Marty Robbins in fairly good detail. As the music industry tried to figure out how they could catch up with rockabilly in terms of targeting teenagers, they found at least one answer in “A White Sport Coat.” Then, years later, Robbins would return to his cowboy roots by recording one of the best sagas in country music history, “El Paso.” The hits on display in this feature are a combination of good timing and popular appeal. Robbins’s final appearance in this feature, however, was a pure accident.
Engineer Lou Bradley says the story of Robbins’s hit, “Don’t Worry,” goes as follows:
“I came up here one time from Florida around 1960, and he’d [Jimmy Lockart] just done this session. He said, ‘Tell me what this is.” I said, ‘Sounds like a bass guitar but … ’ He said, ‘The preamp in the console distorted, and Grady Martin just played through it instead of fixin’ it.’ Everybody said it was a tube, but [engineer] Glen Snoddy said it was the transformer they used in the Langevin amps, shorted out from the high input level. I said, ‘How did that occur? Lockart said, ‘Well, Grady was playin’ electric with a mic, and then he was gonna play the tic-tac bass. So I wired him up direct and said, ‘Don’t hit it.’ I needed to go pad it down in the control room (to control the input so it wouldn’t blow up the equipment), He waited while I walked across the studio and got in the control room, and just as I was about to pull down the control, he just ticked it.”
Martin’s inadvertent “tick” would forever revolutionize guitar sounds. Sure, it ended up blowing the transformer of the preamp, but almost everyone had liked the sound of it, so they used it on Martin’s solo.
But that distinctive buzz vanished. According to Bradley, everyone tried to do everything to get it back, but it “just quit.” Thankfully, that magical sound would reappear years later, but for that session, it was a moment of dumb luck.
“Finally, Glen Snoddy sat down and designed the fuzz-tone, and sold it to Gibson,” Bradley said.
The fuzz device Snoddy invented became known as the Maestro Fuzztone, one of the very first commercially available guitar effects in 1964. The revolution continued the very next year when the Rolling Stones used it on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” But its influence would also reach certain country songs, particularly Merle Haggard’s “The Running Kind.”
As for “Don’t Worry,” however, Martin was the only one involved that didn’t care for the effect, ironically. Producer Don Law disagreed, choosing to leave the wrinkle in the final cut before anyone knew what would come of it. Of course, Martin’s tone quickly changed, as he would later release the aptly titled “The Fuzz” the same year as “Don’t Worry.” Join me next time on ‘Pop Goes The Country’ where we’ll discuss Jimmy Dean (yes, that Jimmy Dean) and “Big Bad John.”
This piece was written thanks to the following sources:
- Quote attributions go toward How Nashville Became Music City U.S.A. by Michael Kosser, specifically the chapter, “Lou Bradley, Knight Of The Console.”
- Other information was taken from Will The Circle Be Unbroken: Country Music In America by the Country Music Hall of Fame, specifically the chapter, “All Shook Up” by Colin Escott