Alvino Rey, the swing band leader who popularized the pedal steel guitar, died Tuesday (Feb. 24) of unknown causes in Salt Lake City. He was 95.
Born Alvin McBurney in Oakland, Calif., Rey studied Hawaiian-style slide guitar with Roy Smeck, and broke in as a player in the dance orchestras of Phil Spitalney, Freddy Martin and Horace Heidt during the ’30s. An early exponent of amplified steel guitar, he led his own band in the ’40s, featuring charts by such top jazz arrangers as Billy May, Johnny Mandel and Neal Hefti.
Following World War II, Rey was a key figure in the invention of the pedal steel guitar, a more complex version of the then-common lap steel. He recorded under his own name for Capitol during the ’50s, and his swooping, otherworldly sound was featured on the instrumental albums of “space age bachelor pad” bandleader Esquivel and heard on sessions by Dean Martin, Spike Jones, Ella May Morse, Merle Travis and Elvis Presley.
Rey, who was married to the late Luise King of the King Sisters, was featured on the Kings’ popular ABC TV show during the ’60s. He made his last public appearance in 1994.
He is survived by two sons, a daughter, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.