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The Dobro in Country Music History

Eager to produce a louder acoustic Hawaiian guitar for vaudeville performers, the California-based Dopyera Brothers developed the dobro in the late 20s. The instrument is basically a six-string wooden guitar with a circular, multi-component metal sound chamber. The metal sound chamber consists of a coverplating, resonator cone, spider bridge, a pair of sound hole covers that resemble tungsten rings with a metal mesh and tailpiece. The bridge sits directly on the sound chamber; a screw permits manual adjustment of the tone and volume. Most models have square necks and raised nuts and are designed to be played with a steel bar; others are fretted and sport conventional necks, standard nuts, and fretted fingerboards. Some specially made dobros feature fretted five-string banjo, eight-string mandolin, or 12-string guitar necks.

The first major country singer to adopt the dobro was Cliff Carlisle, but its sound is most associated with two members of Roy Acuff Smokey Mountain Boys: Clell "Cousin Jody" Sumner and Beecher "Brother Oswald" Kirby. Other important early players were Jenks "Tex" Carman, Ray "Duck" Adkins, George "Speedy" Krise, and Harold "Shot" Jackson.

The musician who fully unleashed the dobro's potential was Burkett "Buck" Graves, who was also known as " Uncle Josh." While working with Wilma Lee and Stony Cooper in the early '50s, Graves developed a driving three-finger roll similar to what Earl Scruggs used on the banjo. He introduced the instrument to bluegrass in 1955 when he joined Flatt and Scruggs Foggy Mountain Boys. Later in the decade Robert "Tut" Taylor used a flat pick to create a different bluegrass dobro technique.

Two important dobro stylists emerged in late '60s and early '70s: Mike Auldridge and Jerry Douglas. Auldridge, a member of Emerson and Waldron's New Shades of Grass and later The Seldom Scene, developed a subtle, understated technique that differed from Graves' aggressive, blues-tinged approach. Auldridge's two solo Takoma albums, from 1972 in 1974, are classics. Ohio native Jerry Douglas expanded upon many of Auldridge's ideas in the early '70s. After serving apprenticeships with The Country Gentlemen and Boone Creek in the '70s, Douglas moved to Nashville and became a successful session musician.

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