Kayton Roberts, one of county music’s most celebrated steel guitarists, died on Thursday, July 13. He was 83.
Roberts was born Nov. 25, 1933, in Ona, Fla. He learned to play as a pre-teen, later joining his father’s country band.
Like many fans of early country music, young Roberts had an affinity for the Canadian-born “Singing Ranger,” Hank Snow. Roberts wasn’t necessarily drawn in by the smooth, baritone vocals that made Snow a household name in the 1950s. Instead, he fell in love with the masterful steel guitar playing of “Big” Joe Talbot.
Years of emulating Talbot’s playing style made Roberts a great fit for Snow’s legendary Rainbow Ranch Boys. After spending 1967 as Snow’s rhythm guitarist, Roberts finally switched to pedal-less steel the following year. He remained in that role until Snow’s death in 1999, touring the world and making regular appearances on the Grand Ole Opry stage.
As a result of his successful career, Roberts’ 1951 Fender custom started turning up at Nashville stars’ recording sessions. He made guest appearances live and in the studio over the years with Riders in the Sky, Aaron Tippin, Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, Billy Joe Shaver, Hank Williams III, Marty Stuart, Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and numerous others.
Decades of preserving an old school country sound culminated with Roberts’ 2012 induction into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame.