Sneaky Pete Kleinow



by Greg Leisz

I was a teenage guitar player in the waning days of my 60′s garage band years when I first heard the pedal steel guitar of Sneaky Pete Kleinow. I was immediately drawn to that sound. I didn’t really know what the hell it was at first but I sure wanted to find out. Sure I knew what a pedal steel guitar was, heard it a lot in country music but I never thought about trying to play the instrument myself. Sneaky Pete’s playing blew my mind the way Jimi Hendrix’s had — doors were opened I didn’t know existed. He was turning up on a lot of the records I listened to in those days. I picked up a lap steel and eventually did learn to play the pedal steel myself.

In retrospect, one thing I can hear now when I listen to stuff Pete recorded in the late 60′s and early 70′s was that he had one foot planted in tradition and the other firmly planted in the emerging world of contemporary rock and roll. On one hand he had been inspired by the peerless playing of Jerry Byrd, Speedy West, Ralph Mooney and other steel guitar players who had come before. He even played an 8 string Fender pedal steel, an instrument that was considered somewhat outdated at the time. But man, the things he could do with that instrument!

Sneaky Pete was a member of the first generation of players that made the switch from non pedal to pedal steel guitar. Like many of those pedal pioneers he developed his own unique style. He brought a real sense of adventure and experimentation to his playing using distortion, phaseshifting and delay effects to go along with the genre defying music that was so prevalent during that time. In my opinion Pete had an impeccable sense of timing, taste and tone not to mention his melodic sensitivity and inventiveness. As an unschooled, self taught musician he played everything straight from the heart. We are fortunate to have so many great examples of his beautiful playing on some classic recordings -

A few examples –

All tracks but particularly check out “Christine’s Tune

“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”

“It’ll Take A Long Time”

“Love Has No Pride ”

“Take It Easy” and “Our Lady of the Well”


Various instrumental tracks
Particularly check out “It Makes No Difference”, “Beat the Heat”, “Oklahoma Stomp”,
“Cannonball Rag”, “Sleepy Lagoon” and “Sneak Attack”


Posted in Featured, Unsung Hero / 3 comments

3 Comments on Sneaky Pete Kleinow

  1. john russell says:

    What Greg said! I started out to be a folksinger/guitar picker until I heard Sweetheart of the Rodeo and the Flying Burrito Bros. The latter group featured Sneaky Pete on steel. Next thing I knew he shows up on records by Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and other singers I was very fond of. During a band tour of the midwest in 1976, I acquired a Fender 8-string pedal steel like Pete’s–the beginning of a wonderful journey. It was through guys like Sneaky Pete that I got schooled not only in the technique of pedal steel but the sense of melody and passion. If you play well but that’s missing, you’re gonna end up sounding like the thousands of other hot shot players–whatever your instrument. I’ve been at it for some 35 years now, listening to all the well-known players and just recently discovered Greg Leisz’s playing. I can only say “I’d like to have the career he’s having.” It’s great to play in honky tonk bar bands but it’s even greater to get to work with folks like Joni Mitchell and Bill Frisell. Thank you, Greg for taking the pedal steel beyond country music–imagine the many folks now aware of this instrument who never would have been. –John Russell

  2. Jim McKelvey says:

    Hey Greg,

    Great review of Pete! Hope to see you on Cayamo 2013…

    Your buddy,

    Jim Mckelvey

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