Steel guitarist Dan Dugmore translated an interest in country-rock in the late 1960s into a career as an A-list Nashville session musician starting in the 1990s. Born in Southern California, Dugmore was…
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Dan Dugmore Biography

by William Ruhlmann

Prisoner in Disguise Steel guitarist Dan Dugmore translated an interest in country-rock in the late 1960s into a career as an A-list Nashville session musician starting in the 1990s. Born in Southern California, Dugmore was inspired to take up the pedal steel guitar by seeing such country-rock progenitors as the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Poco, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He wanted to learn to play the instrument, but couldn't find one for sale. So, he introduced himself to the Burritos' steel guitarist, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, who sold him one. After learning to play it, Dugmore joined John Stewart's backup band, and he can be heard on the Stewart album Phoenix Concerts (1974) (as well as later Stewart releases). The same year, he appeared on Dory Previn's self-titled LP, and successfully auditioned for Linda Ronstadt's backup band. Joining Ronstadt gave him entrée to the Los Angeles session scene, and for the next decade-and-a-half, whenever a pop/rock performer needed a steel guitar, Dugmore tended to get the call. In particular, he began working with James Taylor regularly, starting with the re-recording of "Carolina in My Mind" on Taylor's 1976 Greatest Hits album. During the rest of the 1970s, in addition to appearing on Ronstadt's million-selling LPs Prisoner in Disguise (1975), Hasten Down the Wind (1976), Simple Dreams (1977), and Living in the U.S.A. (1978), and Taylor's equally successful JT (1977) and Flag (1979), he played on albums by Andrew Gold, Pablo Cruise, Karla Bonoff, David Gates, Richie Furay, Michael Martin Murphey, the Pointer Sisters, and J.D. Souther, among others. In 1980, Dugmore joined with other Ronstadt/Taylor backup musicians including guitarist Waddy Wachtel to form the band Ronin, which released one self-titled album. Also in 1980, Dugmore joined Taylor's backup band, alternating tours between Taylor and Ronstadt until 1984, when Ronstadt turned to performing traditional pop music with an orchestra. Dugmore continued to tour with Taylor through 1988, and participated in Taylor's infrequent recording projects after that. In the 1980s, in addition to appearing on Ronstadt's Mad Love (1980) and Get Closer (1982), and on Taylor's Dad Loves His Work (1981), That's Why I'm Here (1985), and Never Die Young (1988), he played on albums by Engelbert Humperdinck, Bernadette Peters, Juice Newton, Stevie Nicks, and David Crosby.

By the end of the 1980s, however, Dugmore was finding fewer opportunities to play steel guitar on pop albums in L.A., as the country-rock trend had long-since passed. He therefore relocated to Nashville and began looking for work playing on pure country sessions. It didn't hurt that Taylor and Ronstadt had come to be revered in country music, but it still took Dugmore a while to establish himself fully in Music City. In the early '90s, he mixed sessions with pop clients (Warren Zevon, Neil Diamond) and country ones (Kenny Rogers, Hank Williams, Jr., Lynn Anderson, Suzy Bogguss, Chris LeDoux, Tanya Tucker). By 1993, he was appearing on dozens of Nashville-recorded albums annually, adding to his list of clients Highway 101, Kathy Mattea, and Ronnie Milsap. 1994 was even busier, including first-time sessions with Billy Ray Cyrus, Charley Pride, Eddy Raven, Collin Raye, Pam Tillis, and Bryan White. And so it went for the rest of the '90s, as Dugmore did return business from those he had worked with before, and added to his resume work with such notable country artists as Deana Carter, Ty Herndon, Martina McBride, Patty Loveless, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, Matraca Berg, Lorrie Morgan, Sawyer Brown, Earl Thomas Conley, Toby Keith, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Don Williams, Kenny Chesney, Montgomery Gentry, and SHeDAISY. Along the way, he also found time for sessions with non-country artists including Joan Baez, Michael McDonald, and Olivia Newton-John.

As the 21st century dawned and Dugmore entered his fourth decade as a professional musician, he did not slow down, adding such names to his country clientele list in the first several years of the century as Loretta Lynn, Travis Tritt, Alabama, John Anderson, Brooks & Dunn, Joe Diffie, Earl Scruggs, Mark Chesnutt, Willie Nelson, Keith Urban, Lee Ann Womack, Reba McEntire, and LeAnn Rimes, while also working with veteran pop artists like Graham Nash, Janis Ian, and Kenny Loggins. In 2003, Dugmore finally decided to make a disc of his own, and he recorded Off White Album, a collection of Beatles' songs played on the steel guitar and released on his own Double D label.

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