Steel guitar great Wesley Speedy West, who played with electric guitarist Jimmy Bryant, to record some of country's greatest instrumentals, has died at 79.

Speedy, born Wesley West, had been in poor health for years after he suffered heart and congestive problems.

Born in Springfield, Missouri, Speedy started playing the steel guitar when he was 13.

He was the son of Finley G West - a linotype operator at a gospel publishing company who played guitar and sang gospel songs.

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.

Speedy West

Approximately 1942, Wesley and Opal moved to Strafford, near Springfield, Missouri, where they lived on the family 200-acre farm.

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 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.

Speedy, inspired by Arnold's steel guitar player, Little Roy Wiggins, began to play the steel locally on jam sessions broadcast over KWTO radio in Springfield.

A major turning point occurred when a sailor, 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.

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 to Southern California.

During the first few months after arriving in Los Angeles, Speedy worked during the day at a drycleaners.

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 a VFW Hall in Southgate.


Speedy found a new steel guitar idol - Joaquin Murphy, who played with the Spade Cooley band.

In the spring of 1948, Spade Cooley - a character in James Ellroy crime novels with a 23-piece western swing band that included a full horn section - hired Speedy.

Cooley also hosted the Hoffman Hayride TV variety show, broadcast by KTLA on Saturdays, and played dances.

But Speedy's job with Cooley lasted only 5 months.

Cooley's erratic behaviour caused him to repeatedly fire and then attempt to rehire several band members.

Speedy chose not to accept being rehired after he fell victim to one of his tirades.


Speedy's first recording session was in 1949 with Eddie Kirk who sang "Candy Kisses".
Speedy worked full time doing recording sessions.

He joined the Hank Penny western swing band in early 1949 where he was allowed to be more creative in his playing.

In 1950 Speedy's steel guitar career and reputation were given a boost after 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.
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 recognisable, not only on the west coast, but internationally as well.


Between 1950 and 1955, Speedy (with and without Bryant) played on over 6,000 recordings with a total of 177 different artists.

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 future sessions.


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.


In the early 1950's, Speedy appeared in three Western movies, while still working the daily Hometown show at KXLA and 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 and a TV show hosted by bandleader Bob Crosby.

He enjoyed another guest spot on Lawrence Welk's very popular ABC-TV and Dinah Shore's NBC Chevrolet Shows.


Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant first met when playing in different bars on the same street in 1947.

Cliffie Stone put them together on his "Hometown Jamboree" radio and TV programs for 11 years.

Stone also recommended West and Bryant to Capitol where they recorded together until splitting in 1958.

Among albums were "Two Guitars Country Style" in 1954 and "West of Hawaii" four years later.

Speedy and Jimmy's final recording session for Capitol, as a team, was October 9, 1956.
But Speedy's contract with Capitol was renewed and he continued to record solo until 1962.

West and Bryant, known as the Flaming Guitars, played on Los Angeles sessions for many artists country and non-country as well as recording five albums on their own.
Their sound was a healthy hybrid of Texas swing and jazz.

Bryant died in 1980 at 55.

A year later, West suffered a stroke, curtailing his performances.


Back 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.


In 1963, the famed Queensland born LeGarde Twins, latter day Nashville residents, invited Speedy to Australia.

While here for 44 days Speedy performed on country TV shows, concerts and radio stations.

Although not able to play anymore because of a stroke in 1981, Speedy attended various events promoting the steel guitar, such as the annual Steel Guitar conventions in St. Louis, Dallas and Tulsa.

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