Russell Edward “Eldorado” Hicks, legendary steel guitarist and monument to his family and to music, passed away on December 11, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. He spent his final moments surrounded by his loving wife and daughters, who cherished him every last minute.
Russ was born on March 13, 1942 in Beckley, West Virginia to Goldie Mae and Lawton Hicks. He was the eldest of 4 brothers. His lifelong love of music began with a guitar gifted to him as a young boy, a gift he gave back to the world in superlative talent. He attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Beckley, until his senior year took him to Las Vegas, where his band, the King Teens played the Showboat Hotel Casino, as he finished high school there.
After a brief return to Beckley, Russ went to Chicago where he played in clubs for 3 years with jazz and country music greats. He was then hired to play in the band on the televised Slim Mim’s Show in South Carolina. His road to Nashville began with his audition to be the steel guitar player for Connie Smith, who hired him on the spot. A pivotal career highlight was the CMA nominated country music variety show, Hee Haw, where he played in the staff band for 13 years. He became a multi-talented instrumentalist, specializing in and mastering the pedal steel guitar. He became a renowned studio recording musician, touring and recording with top country artists locally and globally in England, France, Ireland, Australia, and Japan. He participated on movie soundtracks and was an integral bandmate of the top studio musician-formed bands Barefoot Jerry, the Nashville Super Pickers, and the Country Showdown Band.
He is a member of the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame and the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame. He has his own line of steel guitars and products called the “Russler”, with many endorsements given to him throughout the years. He contributed to numerous records and made many albums of his own, showcasing his accomplished, creative artistry, featuring his family and friends. He will be remembered as a master pedal steel guitarist and musician, a treasured pillar in the music community, and an adored husband, father, grandfather, and friend.
He is preceded in death by his father, Lawton Hicks, his mother, Goldie Mae Smith Hicks-Compton, and his brothers, Denver Ray Hicks and Roger Hicks.
He is survived by the love of his life and favorite singer, his wife, Laney Smallwood Hicks, who he made beautiful music and children with. He is survived by his brother, David Hicks. He is survived by his 4 daughters, Angela Hicks Shapiro, Jennifer Hicks Orbison, Holly Beth Singleton, and Lindsay Hope Gipe, and his 7 grandchildren, Rachael, Madilyn, Kellen, Emma, Henry, Penny, and Willow, and 2 great grandchildren, Lily, and her baby brother due in February.
In his 81 years, Russ’s 2 strong hands built a beloved, growing family, 2 extraordinary “Hicks Holler” log homes, and a legacy in music that will echo on through each masterful string he played.
As his dear friend and fellow world class musician, Charlie McCoy said, “When Russ was in a band, the band was better.” We rejoice in the hope of heaven, in awe of the thought of the glorious sounds he will make for eternity with his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.