Pedal steel guitar player James Clayton (Jimmy) Day was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on January 9, 1934. He grew up in Lousiana, moved to Texas and then Nashville, Tennessee, and eventually returned to Texas permanently. As a teenager, after graduating from high school in 1951, he played non-pedal steel guitar on the Louisiana Hayride.
It was on the Hayride that he performed as a sideman for many future stars, such as Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and Faron Young. His first recording was Beff Pierce's 1952 hit "That Heart Belongs to Me." Day later became a member of Reeves's band and took up the pedal steel guitar. He was influenced by steel guitar innovators such as Shot Jackson and Buddy Emmons. Together, Day, Jackson, and Emmons manufactured the Sho-Bud brand of pedal steel in 1957. Day named his own steel guitar "Blue Darlin'."
Ray Price invited Day to join the Cherokee Cowboys, and Day quickly demonstrated his now legendary style on such songs as "Crazy Arms" and "Heartaches by the Number." Day later teamed up with Willie Nelson on such songs as "Shotgun Willie." He became a member of the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 1982. He is also a member of the Texas Steel Guitar Hall of Fame and the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame.
Like most sidemen, Jimmy Day never received the fame he deserved for his contribution to shaping Texas country music. However, he helped make many others famous. They realized the value of his contribution and sought him out. Day played with Webb Pierce, Ernest Tubb, Skeeter Davis, and Patsy Cline, as well as many others stars. He also played with lesser-known stars such as Alvin Crow, Clay Blaker, and Don Walser. It did not seem to matter to Day who they were or where they were from, as long as he liked their music and could make a contribution.
In 1978, as Nashville studios increasingly eliminated the steel guitar from most recordings, Day returned to Central Texas, where he believed he could find audiences that still appreciated him. He went back to Nashville for a short time in 1991, but returned to Texas for the remainder of his life. He lived in Buda, near Austin. Day and his wife, Marilyn, had two daughters and three sons. He died of cancer on January 22, 1999, and is buried in Barton Cemetery in Buda, Texas. He was inducted into the Country Music Association Hall of Fame on February 25, 1999.