The musical term ‘steel guitar’ usually conjures up notions of twangy country tunes rife with lyrics about heartache and romantic betrayal. Steel Harmony host, Paul Hanson, uses his two-hour Thursday night show to quash that stereotype. Each week he showcases a multi-faceted instrument that has a surprising history and has gone through an amazing evolution over the years.
Like most all of the Two Harbors Community Radio on-air personalities, Paul is a passionate student of the genre that he presents to the public. The student becomes the teacher when he speaks about the history of the instrument and the exact definition of ‘steel guitar’ as a style of music. “It was a result of Captain Cook bringing the Spanish guitar to Hawaii. In 1889, Joseph Kekuku applied a steel bolt to the strings on the neck of an old Spanish Guitar creating the first slide guitar style of playing. He would go on to become internationally famous, touring Europe for years.”
Paul also gave a much more inclusive definition of the steel guitar when he said, “It is really a style of playing as much as it is a particular instrument. There is the slide technique of playing using a steel bar or glass bottleneck like the Dobro used by Delta bluesmen. Then there’s the lap, or Weissenborn, also called the Hawaiian, steel that has a squared off neck and no resonating cavity. And finally, there is the pedal steel that most people have come to associate with country and Texas swing music. The pedal steel, in the hands of a true master like Buddy Emmons, has found homes in such genres as classical, bebop, rock, Dixieland, jazz and even Nigerian Jùjú music. It is more versatile than what most people think.”
As part of the core group of former 80’s KUMD DJs and engineers, Paul was involved in the early efforts to make community radio a reality in Two Harbors. As a result, Steel Harmony was one of the station’s inaugural shows. He credits his neighbor, Dave Slatterly, for mentoring him in the rich history of the steel guitar, without which the show would have followed a different path.
Steel Harmony airs Thursdays at 7 p.m. and re-airs Saturdays at 4 p.m. KTWH-LP, 99.5 FM, is a volunteer run non-profit serving the town of Two Harbors and surrounding area with a broadcast range of 10 miles. It streams online at ktwh.org.