Hugh Jeffreys is an award-winning steel guitarist whose acquaintance with the instrument began at age 6. His older brother had a steel guitar and had been receiving lessons from the Oahu Publishing Company in Honolulu, Hawaii. Hugh watched his brother read and play the tablature music and apparently liked the Hawaiian music of the day. When his brother was away, a family member would place the guitar on the couch (Hugh being too small to lift the guitar), and Hugh would attempt to imitate what he had seen his brother do with the guitar.
As time passed, he learned to read the tablature music and built a sizable repertory of Hawaiian songs. On Saturday afternoons, he listened to the international radio broadcast, “Hawaii Calls”, which came live from Honolulu. From that experience, he gained familiarity with the styles of steel guitarists. At age 11, Hugh was asked to play on the local radio station – WELO, in Tupelo, Mississippi, on the Saturday Jamboree show. He played several of the Hawaiian songs that he had memorized. The station manager was impressed, and asked that Hugh and his brother, Jeff (who played rhythm guitar), perform weekly on the station. They played a 30-minute program each week and became known as “The Hawaiian Melody Boys.”
At age 12, Hugh participated in an amateur contest at the local Mississippi Fair and Dairy Show. It was on that occasion that he won his first trophy for performance on the steel guitar. At this point in time – 1945, the Jeffreys family moved to Vallejo, California. After getting settled, Hugh was enrolled at the Marsden Conservatory of Music in Vallejo, where he went for lessons each Saturday. It was then that reading tablature music was put on the back burner, and John Marsden taught him to read actual notation.
Hugh began arranging small band music at age 16, and wrote his first big band chart at age 17 for the Bob Morris Orchestra in Memphis, Tennessee with which he performed. He has written for and performed with groups of up to 50 pieces, and led his own 4-piece combo – The Atomics, in Memphis for some time.
In his later adult life, Hugh earned a university degree in music: a Master of Science in Jazz and Commercial Composition and Arranging. As time progressed, he became concerned with the static nature of steel guitar music and the method of playing it. He wondered if the playing technique could be further advanced and exploited. After much pondering, he decided that he should either give up playing or do something better with the steel guitar. Further thoughts led him to improving technique: the usual way of playing has been with the thumb and first two fingers, wearing picks on each. This method he thought to be inefficient since the other two fingers were not used at all. To make the ring and small fingers available, he devised special exercises, learning to coordinate all five. He later stopped using fingerpicks, finding that plucking the strings with the soft pad of the bare fingertips would produce a more soft and mellow tone.
As his method of playing matured, Hugh came to realize that 5-note chords could be executed with facility, and that speed was considerably increased so that 100 percent efficiency could be attained as opposed to the 3-finger style which was notably 60 percent efficient.
Hugh has composed music for radio and television, and has written music for complete floor shows. It goes without saying that all performers are influenced by those who have gone before them. Hugh is no different. His inspirations are twofold: as a soloist, he has been influenced by the stylings of Charlie Parker, George Shearing, Django Reinhardt, Linnie Tristano, and Stan Getz, among others.
As an arranger-composer, he has been inspired by the big bands of Boyd Rayburn, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, and of course, Alvino Rey, only to mention a few.
Hugh plays a doubleneck steel guitar which has 14 pedals and knee levers, each neck having 10 strings. He has customized it extensively.
In recent years, osteoarthritis has resulted in limited use of his right index finger. He continues, however, to play and record at his studio in Southaven, Mississippi.