LifeNotes: Steel Guitar Great Laid To Rest

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• December 31, 2013
Johnny Sibert

Johnny Sibert

Steel Guitar Hall of Fame member Johnny Sibert was buried at Woodlawn Memorial Park on Monday, Dec. 30, following graveside services.

The gifted and humble steel-guitar legend died at age 80 on Dec. 21, following years of declining health. He was best known as being a key component of the classic country sound of Carl Smith.

Sibert was born in Indianapolis but was raised in Music City. He began attending Grand Ole Opry shows as a boy and was inspired to learn to play steel guitar at age 14. His career began when he joined the Radio Playboys band of Big Jeff Bess. The group performed regularly on Nashville’s WLAC radio.

Future Country Music Hall of Fame member Carl Smith (1927-2010) heard Sibert on the radio and invited him to audition for his band, The Tunesmiths. The steel guitarist became a member of Smith’s group in 1951 when he was just 17 years old.

Sibert’s playing can be heard on such big Carl Smith hits as “Are You Teasing Me” (1952), “Hey Joe” (1953), “Loose Talk” (1954) and “There She Goes” (1955). He also played on such hits as Little Jimmy Dickens’ “Out Behind the Barn” (1954) and Kitty Wells’ “Heartbreak U.S.A.” (1961), as well as on records by Johnnie & Jack, Lefty Frizzell, The Everly Brothers, Carl Butler, The Maddox Brothers & Rose, June Carter, Freddie Hart, The Collins Kids and Rosemary Clooney.

After a stint in Kitty Wells’ band in 1959-60, he returned to Smith as the star’s bandleader, 1961-69. Sibert reportedly grew tired on life on the road and quit the group thereafter. By the mid-1970s, he’d put his instruments aside and had given up music entirely.

He became a longtime security guard at The Tennessean newspaper beginning in 1977. He was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1998.

In later years, he became a mentor to Chris Scruggs, whose playing style closely emulates Sibert’s. Scruggs is now a leading figure in Nashville’s Americana-music scene. Johnny Sibert retired in 1998. He lived in Smyrna, Tenn.

John Neil Sibert is survived by his son, John Devin Sibert; brother Roger Paul Sibert and grandchild Kelsey Pagen Sibet.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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