Steel guitarist let music do talking for 60 years
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Sunday, December 02, 2012
12/02/12 at 2:53 AM
Content to let his steel guitar do his talking for him, Rocky Caple didn't go in much for high jinks on stage.
But that didn't mean his bandmates were always of like mind.
"Sometimes, in the middle of a song, I'd walk over and for fun I'd give Rocky a kiss on the cheek - and it would always just really embarrass him," said former bandmate and veteran KVOO radio personality Billy Parker, laughing at the memory.
"He'd be like 'Go on, get out of here. Let me play.' "
For a man of few words, Caple certainly inspired plenty of verbal superlatives from fellow musicians, added Parker, who once sang with Caple's Tulsa-based band, Rocky Caple and the Shotguns.
A supremely talented steel guitarist, "Rocky was admired and envied by most of the steel-guitar players in the business," Parker said.
Ira Burton "Rocky" Caple, a longtime Tulsa resident whose music career spanned 60 years and included performing with many of his era's country stars, died Nov. 24. He was 79.
A service was held Wednesday at Moore's Southlawn Funeral Home with burial at Fort Gibson National Cemetery.
Among his many musical achievements, Caple wrote a number of songs. Most notable was the classic steel-guitar instrumental "Sawed Off Shotgun."
Recorded by various steel-guitar greats through the years and included in a 2012 Sun Records compilation album "The Instrumentals," it was that tune that inspired the name of his band.
With Parker on vocals, Rocky Caple and the Shotguns played throughout the area and region in the 1960s, before Parker joined Ernest Tubb's band.
Among Caple's most prominent local gigs was a regular spot on KTUL, channel 8's "Longhorn Roundup," a Saturday evening music program.
A native of Benton, Ark., Caple began his professional career in the early 1950s with Memphis-based rockabilly great Slim Rhodes.
Caple, who at 17 was playing on local radio before school in the morning, answered Rhodes' classified ad for a steel guitarist and got the job.
Still going by his given name "Ira" at the time, Caple consented to a name change. Rhodes polled fans for ideas, and a winner emerged: "Little Rocky" - a take-off on Little Rock, Ark., which was near Caple's native Benton.
After leaving for Army service in the Korean War, Caple returned to Rhodes' group in 1955.
He made a lot of memories during that time, among them sharing the same bill once with Elvis Presley on the "Louisiana Hayride" television program.
Not keen on life on the road, Caple later settled in Tulsa. He took a day job with Coca-Cola and worked 35 years for the company, playing music on nights and weekends.
In addition to Rhodes and Parker, Caple through the years played with such country artists as Marvin McCullough, Sonny James, Johnny Lee Wills, Roy Clark, Mel Street and Hank Thompson.
As for gigs, charity events were some of his favorites, Parker said.
"All you had to do was say 'Rocky, this is what we're doing. It's volunteer and doesn't pay any money,' and he would be there - especially if it was for kids," he said.
Caple's son, Roger Caple, a Tulsa bass player and vocalist, played with his father for a decade before moving on to Stonehorse and other bands.
What he learned most as a performer from his dad, Roger Caple said, was patience and professionalism.
"At shows there's always something you could complain about, like a bad PA system - but he would always say 'Let's just tune up and pick.' He was the calmest, nicest, politest musician. He never let any problems interfere with giving the audience a great show."
Caple was preceded in death by a daughter, Lynn.
His survivors include his wife of 60 years, Virgie Caple; three sons, Jerry, Bruce and Roger Caple; 11 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Rocky Caple, a Tulsa-based steel guitarist who played with many big country stars of his era, died Nov. 24. He was 79. Courtesy