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The Emmons Trademark: The Rest of the Story...

Updated: Jul 3

My, how time flies…


This ageless saying has taken on new meaning as of late, as my friend and partner, Darin, recently published an excellent editorial detailing the inspiration and conception of the ReSound’65 trademark. As he recounted the tale of our personal history and how it ultimately culminated in a partnership around the Emmons brand, it took me back to the genesis of my own personal odyssey with that famed logo, which began not in 2020 with an Emmons(more on that later), but on April 30, 2018... with a Fender. 





If FaceBook has ever been instrumental in facilitating anything wholesome, it came through the means of its marketplace tab, and an apparently unruly search algorithm bent on drumming up interest in itself. Living in Wingate, NC at the time, some 250 miles from Sevierville, TN, I was nonetheless confronted with a “local” listing from that area depicting something resembling a pedal steel, except for the glaring omission of pedals… and legs… and an undercarriage. Despite this, the presence of the beloved Fender script in the middle of the guitar caught my attention, and I suddenly decided a road trip was in order, especially since it was my wife and I’s anniversary and we needed to celebrate(Thanks Babe!).


 I soon found myself immersed in an attempt to resuscitate the beast, but being completely new to the steel community, my resources were few. After several pleading appeals on various forums and FB pages, I was rescued by one Jim Sliff, who being a SoCal native, turned out to be a fitting guru for all things Fender. In due fashion, he promptly began my education in steel, familiarizing me with the likes of JayDee Maness, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, and of course Buddy Emmons. Jim continued to cheerlead from afar, and convinced me to not turn the poor, derelict Fender into stove wood, contrary to what seemed to be my better judgment. After many lengthy phone calls and even longer emails, Jim’s perseverance finally paid off in helping me to wrangle that cabled contraption into subjection, and a mostly healthy 1961 Fender 1000 emerged. Thus armed, I began searching for a local resource to teach me to actually play this thing, rather than just tinker with its innards. 


As it would happen, there was a professional steel guitarist in my area that offered lessons, and he quickly invited me to tour his studio and talk about said lessons; this soon took a different turn when he saw the steel I had brought with me, and suggested I use one of his guitars(an Emmons) for our lesson. He was kind enough to commend me for resurrecting the old Fender, but assured me that learning would be easier on a more modern rig. I have never found out if there is any truth to that – because I still don’t know how to play – and we soon had the guitar upside down… tinkering with its innards. As it turns out, Don Hargette had worked for Emmons as a dealer since the 70’s, and as such had done assembly of new guitars(particularly push pulls), as well as service and repair work. Don insisted that I had a knack for such things, and proceeded to share his wealth of knowledge with me, much of it learned from Ron Lashley Sr. himself; soon, he would begin to send work my way. 


(Special mention is due here, for my friend Basil Henricks in the U.K., who equipped me with his own personal Emmons in August of 2019. He purchased it new in October of 1970, and it was his main rig for over 40 years. After purchasing it from him, I learned many things from observing his handiwork, and it remains one of my prized possessions.)


This little side hustle would continue to grow as I continued my day job as a machinist, and my line of work helped me obtain parts not otherwise easily available since Emmons had gone out of business around 2014; because of this, clients would regularly wonder aloud what had happened to their beloved brand, and what it might take to revive it. One such soul was Brett Crisp, going so far as to suggest what the world really needed was not just a source for parts to refurbish old guitars, but a NEW push pull, one better than ever. In the midst of all this, my ol’ buddy Mike Bourque had been extolling the virtues of the elusive Wraparound models, Buddy's Original design, and insisted that if such a thing were to ever happen the Wrap would be the way to go. I was quick to poo-poo the notion of any such nonsense, exhorting that even if I were capable of somehow making all the necessary parts, operating a business of that scale is a very different matter; furthermore, such a venture would be futile without the use of the Emmons trademark, because well… Kelcey steel guitars just doesn’t have that much of a ring to it. 


Perhaps out of spite more than anything else, I got on the Google and soon found myself at the online premises of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and having overcome the arcane workings of anything with .gov attached to the end of it, I was eventually scrolling through all entities having claimed an Emmons of some sort. After weeding out a landscaping firm, a workout program, and various other concerns both current and deceased, I hit pay dirt: not only was there a record of the latest Emmons trademark pertaining to musical instruments, it had expired in May of 2018. 


If you’ve ever wondered what the simultaneous loss of jaw muscles and bowel control looks like, then you would have loved to have been a fly on the wall that day, because at least the former had to be picked up off the floor and tied up to the rest of my head. The recent stunning revelation notwithstanding, I soon composed myself and set about finding a lawyer to review all of the associated technical jargon that accompanies such matters, as I was still not 100% sure that this wasn’t too good to be true, or what to do if there was a way forward.  


This is where I must pause for a moment, and give praise to God because His ways are good, and because up to this point all of this had seemed like some sort of silly fantasy. Other than by the grace of God, I don’t know why I had bothered to continue up to this point, but I couldn’t have dreamed of what would happen next…


The next several days were spent using my lunch break to call various law offices, until I found one that had a partner specializing in trademark law, and I did the usual routine of leaving a message and just praying they call back. The rest of the day came and went, and I wound up heading to my boss’s house to help him replace a deck; while there, I get a call from the lawyer. Seeing as how someone in the legal profession returning a non-client call after hours is akin to a minor miracle, I dropped whatever tools I had at hand and quickly answered the call of what would turn out to be a very excited lawyer. “Is this about Emmons steel guitars?” he asked. I didn’t recall even mentioning steel guitars in my message, so I answered yes and waited for him to continue with why in the world he would even know that. “I’ve been watching the Ken Burns PBS special about country music and I’m a newly minted fan! I think they talked about Buddy Emmons and his guitar, is this the same thing?”. After having to yet again affix my lower mandible back to its proper position, I answered in the affirmative and somehow managed to continue the conversation. Being a skilled specialist in his field, he dug into the process but soon arrived at a startling conclusion: “This never happens, but this is wide open.” he said, “We can apply for this right now”. 


Without so much as a nickel to serve as a retainer, he stayed on the phone for about an hour and dutifully gathered all the necessary info to make the application, and submitted it right then and there. Just as a reminder that I hadn’t dreamed this whole thing, my email notification sounded off, letting me know that the USPTO had received the application (Hats off to my Dad at this point. Because of circumstances I will soon explain, when the bill for the legal work did come, he picked it up because I really didn’t have it). To top it all off, we were informed some time later that someone else had tried to apply for it the next day. Had our wonderful lawyer not called when he did, the rebirth of the Emmons brand would have looked very different, and may not have happened at all. 


That day was June 25, 2020. Though it seems just like yesterday, much in the way of great things have occurred as a result of just that one turn of events. If the Almighty can use a basket case steel guitar and a PBS special to do something good, it would seem He could do just about anything He wanted to. 


To bring this story full circle and dovetail it nicely with Darin's chronicle, I must share what happened immediately after these cathartic events. You see, the problem with having a premier brand fall into your lap like so much manna from heaven, is that now you have to do something with it. All of my logical objections to my friends about why this would be an undertaking of epic proportions came rushing back, and I began to contemplate if I hadn’t just inherited a baby elephant to care for. Running in the background of this entire narrative, was the fact that I had not been feeling physically well for several months, and it seemed to be getting worse; I would ultimately find out that I was suffering from heavy metal poisoning from the material I handled at work, but in the meantime I was placed on FMLA for several months, starting in September.


So, having poor health and perhaps an even bleaker financial outlook, it seemed my best bet was to simply sell the brand to someone who could hopefully steward it well.  With all of these “logical” factors swirling in my mind, Providence would yet again defy my current levels of understanding. 


While my “options” were busy rolling around my brain like a BB on a six lane highway, I still had my familial duties to tend to, so here I went driving my son to and from the baseball field. On the return trip(which incidentally passed right by my boss’s house), it was as if Jesus had been hiding out in the back seat and suddenly uttered these three words: “Call Stacey Shiflett.”. After a couple of visual inspections to confirm that we had not inadvertently picked up some errant hitchhiker, I proceeded to do what most anyone would do after just hearing the voice of God, and tried to ignore it completely. Try as I might though, those three words quickly superseded all of the other thoughts that had occupied my cerebrum, and I finally conceded to just go with it. 


The irony of the situation was that I didn’t even have this gentleman's phone number, and I probably hadn’t seen him more than a handful of times in the last 15 years; but one sliver of rationale finally emerged: I recalled an instance in his home when I was 14 years old, where he told me that he loved the steel guitar on some of the albums he had recorded, and that his brother played on those tracks with a Sho-Bud pedal steel. Well… I thought, maybe he knows at least something useful that may help, and proceeded to track down his number.


When I at last bit the bullet and just dialed his phone, the proceeding conservation went just like you might expect it would when you cold call someone that doesn’t know why you’re calling, and you really don’t either. After about 10 minutes of graciously listening to me prattle on about how every church in America would be better with some steel in it, he finally interjected with “What do you want? Why are you really calling me?”. Having obviously been caught red-handed, I fessed up to having the Emmons trademark, and being in dire straits about what to actually do with it. I don’t think the word Emmons had fully departed my lips before he interjected again with “You need to call my brother”. Before I could tell him that I really wasn’t up for another cold call that evening, he proceeded to text me a number, and inform me that he was about to hang up and call said brother, and let him know to expect a call from me right away. 


And the rest, as they say, is history…


I must conclude by saying that I am thankful to my Heavenly Father for lovingly structuring this story into one worth telling, and giving me a host of friends along the path to make the way better. If you want to go fast, you go alone. If you want to go far, you go together…


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Great article! Thank you for sharing!

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Fantastically written Kelcey! I am so fascinated as to how it all came together for you and Darin. Thank you for providing your perspective. The Lord has certainly had a huge hand in guiding y'all along on this journey!

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