The Day the Earth Stood Still

Sometime during 1979, the band (Mike Smith and the Country Volunteers (aka Kevin Lynch and the Cadillac Cowboys) see the band's web site) arrived to set up for its regular Friday afternoon gig at the famous Mr. Flood's Party in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was always fun to try to cram an entire band onto the small stage, raised about 4 feet off the ground. While three or four musicians milled around on stage setting up mike stands, amps, guitars, and the like, Alan had just finished setting up his single neck 10-string MSA (built circa 1973). He turned around to plug in the guitar cable into his amp, and as he bent over his butt bumped into the steel guitar.

This nudge (aggravating the already forward tilt that the steel was set up with due to Alan's long legs and short pedal rods) caused the back legs to be lifted high enough that the center of gravity eeked over the front legs. From that point on, everything happened in slow motion. Alan turned around to join the entire bar full of people, open-jawed, watch as the steel leaned further and further forward.

After what seemed forever, the steel finally hit horizontal. Had the steel been on the ground, or a larger stage, it would have fallen flat on its face and that would have been that. However, the body of the steel was clearly seen to be over the edge of the stage and its momentum kept it going, over the edge, onto a table a foot lower than the stage. By this point, the steel's energy had been converted nearly fully into angular momentum, causing the legs to continue up and over the body. Strings were heard to twang as the steel rolled over itself, legs now rolling off the table into the air, body following the legs in a perfect belly-flop onto the floor, where a crash (accompanied by more twanging) finished the show. The sound took quite a while to die down, but it was heard to the end, as the crowd remained in a state of hushed, incredulous awe.

No Olympic dive judges were present that day to officially award the clearly deserved "10.0" to this remarkable One-and-a-Half off the 1.2 meter platform. Seeing that the steel had not been torn limb from limb, Alan calmly descended from the stage, picked up the instrument, and dusted it off. Setting it back up on stage, he plugged in, this time taking care to watch his butt. He settled in, donned his picks, and played a lick. The steel was ... Perfectly In Tune!!!

Upon further inspection, the only harm seen was a 1/4 inch piece of ivory binding missing from the front of the body, and of course, the emotional scars which Alan, despite his courageous ability to laugh outwardly about the incident, still carries with him.

When Alan decided to move to a single-neck 12-string universal pedal steel, guess what brand he purchased. He still plays the 12-string, but has never tested whether the later model MSA holds a tuning like the earlier one. In other words, he has never experimented by dropping it from a height. Some questions are better left unanswered.

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