Scott Middleton

BIOGRAPHY – Speedy West

Speedy Wesley Webb West was born on January 25, 1924 in Springfield, Missouri. American country pedal steel guitar pioneer and a record producer, West is one of the greatest virtuosos that country music has ever produced, bridging the western swing and rockabilly eras with extraordinary expression in playing the steel guitar.

At age nine West became interested in music, first instrument being a $12 Hawaiian guitar, which his father helped him learn how to play. As he got older he wanted a National steel bodied resonator model, which his father sold his guitar to be able to buy it for him. In 9th grade he won a prize in an amateur contest. During a jam session sponsored by KWTO-AM, Slim Wilson introduced him young Wesley as Speedy West and the name stuck.

He spent countless hours listening and practicing steel playing like Leon McAwliffe. He also admired the talents of; Brother Oswald, Little Roy Wiggins, Billy Robinson, Jerry Byrd, Joaquin Murphy, Noel Boggs, Bob Willis, and several other Grand ‘Ol Opry stars.

In 1946 he and his wife and children moved to L.A and joined a group called ” The Missouri Wranglers”. In 1947 Speedy bought a new amp created by Leo Fender, who 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 grill.

Now equipped with a new amp, West 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, California, a pattern maker, built West a pedal steel. Bigsby had also built a 3-neck non-pedal steel for Joaquin Murphey. West asked for a three-neck steel with four foot pedals, and Bigsby went to work building it.

He met Jimmy Bryant at a gig he did in the late 1940’s in the “skidrow” part of town in L.A. After watching one another perform, the two were very impressed by each other and started making music together. That was the beginning of their personal and professional relationship. Speedy frequently played with Jimmy Bryant, both in their own duo and as a part of the regular Capitol Records backing band Tennessee Ernie Ford and many others. He also played on Loretta Lynn’s first single.

Throughout the years West played on over 6,000 recordings with a total of 177 different artists, and was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1980. Following a stroke in 1981, West was no longer able to play, although he continued to attend events devoted to steel guitar playing. His health deteriorated, and West died on November 15, 2003, in Broken Bow, Oklahoma.