Harold Lee Chalker (October 22, 1931–April 30, 1998), better known as Curly Chalker, was an American country and jazz musician and pioneering pedal steel guitarist. Over the course of his career, he became a sought-after session musician and is considered one of the most influential pedal steel guitarists of all time.
In the 1950s, Chalker was touring Texas with Lefty Frizzell, replacing C.B. White, and played on the Frizell cuts, "Always Late (With Your Kisses)" and "Mom and Dad's Waltz" (both in 1951). Chalker played dobro on these recordings. Chalker then joined Hank Thompson's Brazos Valley Boys, and was featured on the 1952 cuts, "Cryin' in the Deep Blue Sea" and "The Wild Side of Life".
After two years in the US armed forces, Chalker joined the Springfield, Missouri-based Ozark Jubilee ABC Radio and TV series for several years, backing Red Foley and Porter Wagoner. During this time Chalker switched from the lap steel to the pedal steel guitar.
In 1959, he moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where he played behind fiddler Wade Ray, and later joined the band of the long-time Golden Nugget fixture Hank Penny. Roy Clark (of Hee Haw fame) also played with Penny and the two became friends. Chalker relocated to Nashville in 1965, and became successful as a session musician.
In 1966, he made an instrumental album for Columbia Records entitled Big Hits on Big Steel. This record was produced by fellow steel guitarist Pete Drake. The follow-up release was More Ways to Play released in 1975. In 1976 he released an album consisting exclusively of Gordon Lightfoot covers, entitled Nashville Sundown.
A prolific studio musician and sideman, Chalker performed on records and on stage with artists such as Willie Nelson, the Gap Band, Ray Price, Leon Russell, and Bill Haley and the Comets. One of his most notable collaborations was S'Wonderful (Four Giants of Swing) (1976), on which he collaborated with jazz violinist Joe Venuti, guitarist Eldon Shamblin and mandolinist Jethro Burns. On this album, the quartet played classic swing tunes by composers such as George Gershwin and Duke Ellington.
Chalker also appeared on work that was outside the country and Western and swing genres, including appearances on Simon and Garfunkel's 1969 hit "The Boxer" and Marie Osmond's "Paper Roses". Proving that he had a mind for the unconventional, Chalker also appeared on Chinga Chavin's 1976 album, Country Porn.
In 1973, to meet the demands for low-maintenance and lighter amplifiers, Hartley Peavey sought Chalker's guidance, along with that of Buddy Emmons and other steel guitarists in developing the Session 400 amplifier, which went into production in 1974.
In 1985 he was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame.
Chalker died on April 30, 1998 from a cancer-related brain tumor.