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Kayton Roberts, Longtime Steel Guitarist for Hank Snow, Dead at 83

Musician Also Recorded With Marty Stuart, Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss and Many Others

Steel guitarist Kayton Roberts, a member of Hank Snow’s Rainbow Ranch Boys band from 1968 until the Country Music Hall of Fame member’s death in 1999, died Thursday (July 13) in Nashville following a stroke. He was 83.

Roberts also recorded with Marty Stuart, Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, Alison Krauss, the Cox Family, Aaron Tippin, Riders in the Sky and Billy Joe Shaver, among others.

Kayton Author Roberts was born Nov. 25, 1933, in Ona, Florida. He told an interviewer he got his first guitar when he was “10, 11 or 12” and immediately began playing in his father’s country band. During the early 1950s, after he had departed the family combo, he performed with bands on radio and TV stations in Gainesville and Jacksonville, Florida.

Roberts made his first big mark in music when legendary steel guitarist Jerry Byrd recorded one of his songs — “Chime In” — on his 1964 album, Admirable Byrd.

It was Roberts’ fellow Floridian, Chubby Wise, then playing fiddle in Snow’s band, who introduced him to “the Singing Ranger.” Snow hired him as a rhythm guitarist, a role he fulfilled only for the first year.

In a 1992 interview for Steel Guitar World, Roberts explained how he was first drawn into Snow’s orbit.

“When I was young, I was fascinated by ‘Big’ Joe Talbot. He was the [steel guitar] sound that made Hank Snow,” he said. “Little did I know that those early fascinations would someday be my bread and butter. Joe Talbot has been one of my all-time heroes. Really and truly, the job I hold today is because of his style, and the fact that I could play his style.”

Roberts toured the world with Snow and performed regularly with him on the Grand Ole Opry. He often noted in interviews that he was better known abroad than at home. He said Skeeter Davis once told him that her fans in Singapore asked if she knew Kayton Roberts.

Although not a prolific composer, Roberts also wrote “Blue Steel Guitar,” “Kayton’s Rag,” “Opryland Swing” and “Kayton’s Waltz.”

His albums included Steelin’, Kayton and Iva Lee Roberts, Twin Steel Guitars of Kayton Roberts & Little Roy Wiggins, The Bells of St. Mary’s and Valley of the Roses.

Inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2012, Roberts’ citation read, in part, “Smooth bar slants, singing, harmonics and Hawaiian bird calls created Kayton’s signature sounds.”

Funeral services will be held Sunday in White House, Tennessee.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.