Roddis Franklin “Pete” Drake was a record producer, record company founder, and musician whose steel-guitar playing was heard on hundreds of hit recordings. One of the most sought-after backup musicians of the 1960s, he played on such gigantic chart toppers as Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden,” Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors,” Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay,” and Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man.” Drake played on thirty-eight of forty-eight BMI (Broadcast Music, Incorporated) award-winning recordings in 1966 alone. He also played his steel guitar on five of Elvis Presley’s movie soundtracks.
Drake was born in Augusta on October 8, 1932, the son of a Pentecostal preacher. His brothers, Jack and Bill, performed as the Drake Brothers. Jack was a bass player for Grand Ole Opry star Ernest Tubb’s band, the Texas Troubadours, for twenty-four years.
At age eighteen Drake drove to Nashville, Tennessee, heard steel guitarist Jerry Byrd on the Grand Ole Opry, and was inspired to buy a steel guitar in an Atlanta pawnshop. He organized a band, Sons of the South, in Atlanta in the 1950s; it included future country stars Jerry Reed, Doug Kershaw, Roger Miller, Jack Greene, and Joe South.
In 1959 Drake moved to Nashville at the suggestion of Kathleen Jackson, owner of Atlanta’s popular Egyptian Ballroom nightclub. He went on the road as a backup musician for Don Gibson, Marty Robbins, and Carl and Pearl Butler. The first hit single he played on was Roy Drusky’s “(I Don’t Believe You Love Me) Anymore” in 1960. In 1964 Drake had an international hit on Smash Records with his “talking steel guitar” playing “Forever.” He made the talking sound by speaking into a mouth device he had created that was connected to the steel guitar.
Drake had a productive association with folk singers Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. He played on Dylan’s three historic Nashville-recorded albums, including Nashville Skyline, and on Baez’s David’s Album.
After Drake met George Harrison of the Beatles at Bob Dylan’s New York home, Harrison invited him to England to work on All Things Must Pass. In turn, Harrison persuaded fellow Beatle Ringo Starr to come to Nashville to produce his Beaucoups of Blues album with Drake in 1970. This marked the first time a member of the Beatles had recorded in the United States.
Drake produced albums for many other music stars, including B. J. Thomas, the Four Freshmen, and Leon Russell. He founded Stop Records and First Generation Records. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame’s Walkway of Stars in 1970 and the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1987. He died in Nashville, Tennessee, on July 29, 1988.