I first met Herb Remington in the early 2000s. My husband Christopher (then my boyfriend) had taken me to a show in the Heights to see the steel guitarist play with his band. We two-stepped in the dark, and after the concert, I met a woman in the audience who was taking lessons from Remington.
“He won’t take just anyone on as a student,” she said, after learning Christopher was also studying with Herby.
My husband, a lifelong lover of Hawaiian music, had bought a second-hand steel guitar on the internet, hoping to learn how to play. He was new to Houston at the time, and someone told him about Remington, who’d toured with Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys as a young man before moving to Houston out of love for a woman, his second wife, Melba.
Herby had become a country legend thanks to his time with the Playboys, and his penning of “Remington Ride,” now considered a steel guitar standard. Later, after he stopped touring, he found a second career fashioning custom steel guitars out of his home in Gulfgate.
It was notoriously hard to get lessons with Herby—he wanted serious students only. As Andrew Dansby at the Chronicle wrote, the purchase of a custom steel would get you one free class.
But my husband took a chance and called Remington’s home.
“I figured he was busy, and I explained that I couldn’t find any guys who could teach Hawaiian lap steel," Christopher remembers. "That’s when he perked up and said, ‘That’s what you’re interested in? In that case, I can take you once a week and teach you the basics.’”
Hawaiian music had been Herby’s first love. As a kid in 1930s Indiana, it seemed so exotic, he told me last year. After moving to Houston, he and Melba formed a touring Polynesian revue, complete with hula dancers, which toured the U.S. and had a residency in Las Vegas.
Eventually, the luau craze waned, and Herby found steady work throughout Texas, at steel guitar conventions, and at places like Houston's own Mucky Duck, where he played with his band The Swingfield Playboys. Each time he saw Christopher and me in the crowd, he’d deviate from the country music for a song or two in the Hawaiian style, usually Arthur Lyman’s “Yellow Bird,” complete with steel guitar bird calls.
Being a journalist, I’d wanted to write about Herby for a long while, and as he got older, I knew time was running out. I finally got the opportunity a year ago, and Herby’s story ran in the November 2017 issue of Houstonia.
At the time, he was still full of stories, though most of them were of friends and family who had already passed away—his wife Melba, Bob Wills, Glen Campbell, as well as a lot of names few people remember. Herby was worried people would forget him, too. In writing his story, I tried my best to make sure that wouldn’t happen.
Herb Remington died this past Saturday. He was 92 years old.