Played with Hank Williams, Patsy Cline

Don Helms, a renowned steel guitarist who played in Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys band and on country classics by Patsy Cline and Lefty Frizzell, has died of an apparent heart attack. He was 81.

Helms died Monday in Nashville at Skyline Medical Center, said Michael Thomas, a director at Forest Lawn Funeral Home.

Helms, of New Brockton, Ala., was an original member of Williams’ Drifting Cowboys and provided the signature steel guitar parts on tunes like “Cold, Cold Heart” and “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

After Williams’ death in 1953, Helms played on Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” and many other songs.

“The sound of Helms’ precise yet bluesy steel guitar (on Williams’ recordings) helped usher in a honky-tonk sound that would define country music for years to come,” the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum said in announcing a program honoring Helms in 2006.

Helms had played with Williams in local Alabama venues in the early 1940s, the museum’s profile said. His career was interrupted by Army service, and he eventually rejoined Williams’ Drifting Cowboys in 1949, when Williams had become a star on the Grand Ole Opry.

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