Jackie Phelps Biography

Apologies offered in advance, but any discussion of guitarist Jackie Phelps is also a discussion of "effing," or "eefing," which is a kind of rhythmic wheezing vocal that was said to be popular among hillbillies, although not to the extent that homemade liquor has been. There are examples of effing as far back as old-time music was recorded and an oral history of it before that. The phenomenon of mass culture even embraced effing briefly around the late '60s, along with just about everything else weird in existence. This is where Phelps comes in, however, because while Jimi Hendrix popularized the idea of setting a guitar on fire and Dr. Timothy Leary popularized the drug LSD, Phelps was the man who "eefed" or "effed" on the immensely popular Hee Haw television show, usually in combination with fellow eefer (eefmate?) Jimmy Riddle. This television series, lowbrow as it was, was something of a museum of great country performers, all of whom had backgrounds in much more substantial material. Phelps, for example, served as both guitarist and banjoist with Bill Monroe as a member of the Bluegrass Boys. When banjo honcho Earl Scruggs and his new sidekick Lester Flatt disrupted gravity on earth by leaving the Monroe band in 1947, Phelps came in as replacement guitarist, flanked by new banjoist Don Reno. In 1954 he put in another stint as a Bluegrass Boy, utilizing a two-finger banjo style and leading to the following assessment from fiddle whiz Benny Martin: "That sumbich could play "Little Rock Getaway" on a jew's harp!" Phelps was a regular cast member on Hee Haw from 1969 through 1986, joining such talented country artists as Grandpa Jones, Minnie Pearl, Buck Owens, and Jeannine Riley. As a guitarist, Phelps was greatly influenced by the sophisticated, uptown but still twangy guitar instrumental records of Chet Atkins. When Phelps first started making a name for himself in Nashville, he played quite heavily in the Atkins style, parlaying this into a regular gig on the Grand Ole Opry. In the mid-'50s, Phelps joined Roy Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys when Acuff, wincing at the new popularity of rock & roll, finally relented and tried integrating the dreaded electric guitar into his band. The idea bombed for Acuff, who was hardly the rocker type, but did nothing to hurt the reputation of Phelps in Nashville. A track by this band is featured on the Vanguard compilation entitled Nashville at Newport. One of the great mysteries of the used record pile is whether there is actually a solo Jackie Phelps album that consists totally of eefing. There is no real evidence of such an album actually existing, although certain collector snobs like to talk about. People like this are a bit "eff-ete," one supposes. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi


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