Ron Kyne is man of steel (guitar)

September 16, 2011|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Ron Kyne of Falling Waters, W.Va., is a freelance steel guitarist who started playing the instrument when he was 9.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

Ron Kyne is a quiet guy. He works evenings as custodian for Frederick County (Md.) Public Schools. He's a family man, spending time with his wife, Mary, and daughter Brittany, 15.

But set Kyne at a steel guitar, and he finds his voice.

"The steel guitar was made for him," Mary Kyne said. "When he sits down behind it, he plays with such passion."

Kyne, 37, of Falling Waters, W.Va., keeps a busy schedule as a freelance steel guitarist. He sits in with local and regional bands during concerts. Music studios call him when a band needs a steel guitar in their recordings. And he has opened for Connie Smith, Michael Twitty (the son of Conway), and the gospel group the Fritz Family as well as other national touring acts.

Recently, Kyne was honored to be one of a handful of steel guitar players accepted to perform a set at the 2011 International Steel Guitar Convention. The convention, which took place Sept. 1 through 3 in St. Louis, featured 100 of the top steel guitarists in the United States.

"I had seen it on the Internet, and I said, 'I'd like to do that sometime,'" Kyne said during a visit to The Herald-Mail. "I got to play on the same stage with Doug Jernigan, who gave me my first lesson on steel guitar."

Kyne's musical development started early. His parents introduced him to the resonator guitar, often referred to by the brand-name Dobro, when he was 5. A few years later, at age 9, Kyne tried a steel guitar, and he was hooked.

"I've been 28 years on the steel," he said.

A steel guitar is a complicated, heavy, amplified instrument sort of halfway between an electric guitar and a piano. Kyne's favorite instrument is made by Mullen. It comes in three cases: the amplifier; the seat, which stores finger picks, a foot pedal, cables and other gear; and the guitar itself, along with its legs, connecting rods and other foot pedals.

Kyne hauled the instrument to The Herald-Mail's photo studio for a portrait. He left the amplifier at home and brought the other two cases on a hand dolly.

"The guitar alone weighs 80 pounds," he said.

But once the guitar is assembled, Kyne can make it sing. His Mullen has two fretboards, each with 10 strings. One is pitched more for the hard, twangy sound of country music. The other is better for blues or jazz.

After playing the instrument for just a half-dozen years, Kyne's musical career was advanced by meeting Jernigan.

"When I was 15 years old, my parents surprised me with a steel guitar lesson with Doug Jernigan," Kyne said. "We had to drive to Virginia. He was giving a group lesson. It was eight hours of playing. You had to buy a little amplifier (and use headphones), so only you could hear yourself."

Jernigan left his mark on his young student. And Mary Kyne said she thought that lesson might have played a part in her husband being accepted to perform at the steel guitar convention earlier this month.

When she contacted convention organizers about Ron performing, she was told there was a three-year waiting list. Dejected, she decided to try anyway. She submitted a demo CD of Ron's playing, as required, and she mentioned that her husband wanted to play on stage with the man who gave him his first steel guitar lesson. And then she received word that Ron was accepted.

"It was a dream," Ron Kyne said. "He's one of the best, and there's no telling how much longer he'll be around."

Personal connections like that are important to Kyne. He said he likes to introduce his steel guitar to other people. He goes to schools and plays for classes. He performs at local festivals and talks to visitors about his instrument.

And he spends time with his family. Mary, who is expecting their second child in March, listens to Kyne when he practices in the living room. And he has bought regular guitars for Brittany, though Mary says her daughter is more interested in makeup and friends than in playing music.

Still, Kyne makes it a priority to do things with Brittany. They go shopping together, they play video games together, and he listens when she needs to talk about something in her life. He likes being a father.

But his passion is the steel guitar. He said he's continually trying to improve his skill and expand his repertoire.

"You gotta practice," Kyne said. "When I practice, I'll try stuff I've never played before. I'm always trying to learn new music."

Kyne has a goal. He has many things that make life good -- strong family ties, a good job, a happy marriage. But he wants to follow the example of his steel guitar mentor and become a nationally known performer.

"My goal," Kyne said quietly, "is to be in the top 10."

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