Chet Atkins

Nashville Cats

Back in the mid-60s The Lovin’ Spoonful had a hit with a song about Nashville guitar players. The television appearance shown above is a little different though, isn’t it? They all look happy. (haha) I’m not sure what guitar part old Zal is playing there. Also, who the heck plays an Autoharp anywhow? Well, John Sebastian, I guess. He’s got a bit of a rock and roll pedigree. And this guy. That’s actually pretty rockin’. And…Dolly Parton plays one too. But Dolly could probably play anything and people would show up to watch her. But anyhow, what the above song illustrates is that even back in the days of the Lovin’ Spoonful, Nashville, Tennessee had a reputation as a city with lots of great guitar pickers. Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Fred Carter Jr. and Johnny Cash sideman Luther Perkins all made Nashville their home town and that’s just scratchin’ the surface of the people who lived there at one point. Pretty impressive, no? The city has a rich history of great music and great guitar playing and there are still a whole lot of great guitar players in Nashville. They can still play clean as country water and wild as mountain dew too! Even though modern country is not my favorite musical style, I can sure appreciate someone who plays the heck out of a guitar. Many of these guys are flat out amazing, and play a crossover blend of country, hillbilly, swing, blues, jazz, rockabilly, and rock and roll that pretty much anybody should be able to appreciate. I like the sound of this stuff and wish I could play it better. Let’s take a look-see at a few of modern Nashville’s hottest heroes.

Here’s one guy who is legendary — Brent Mason. He proves with this Fender Tele/Fender Twin – driven version of Cherokee that he can burn with the best of ’em. Thumbpicked bebop! Whoever heard of such a thing? And with some steel guitar soloing too! Ain’t that pretty? I think it is. Brent was discovered by none other than Chet Atkins after moving to Nashville from Ohio. Since those days he has appeared on thousands of records, produced a few, written some tunes and even won a Grammy Award in 2008. From a guitar standpoint though, Brent can do anything and play it well. He has many tutorial videos available and looking here and here will get you started on making his style work for you…or just provide some entertaining viewing for those slow days at work.

Here’s a video of Brent Mason playing with another Nashville killer, Johnny Hiland. Johnny is known as The Chicken Pickin’ King of Nashville these days, but it’s obvious from his videos that he’s another guy who can play just about anything. He has been on the scene for almost 20 years and has played with a huge roster of diverse artists, released his own records and has a whole bunch of instruction videos out there for aspiring guitar players. And boy is it good! Like many of us guitarists he is also a total gearhead and is always trying out new stuff so that is fun to watch too. Look for it here!

Speaking of gear and country superstars, here is Brad Paisley showing off a very pretty G-Bender Telecaster at Guitar Center. Though Brad is a country superstar, thought more of as a singer/songwriter who has sold like a billion records, he is actually a great guitar player as well. Here is a list of nice lessons on his awesome licks and technique.

Finally here is a video of another Nashville Cat, Guthrie Trapp on the Learn and Master series. Guthrie is also a great player and has played with many a country superstar over his career and the past 15 years in Nashville. I just watched this video last week and what impressed me about him the most was his touch on the guitar. If you check out the feel and fluidity when he starts playing (around the 8 minute mark) you can see why he was and is an in-demand player and session musician. Watch the whole thing! And check out some of his other stuff!

One thing I’ve learned from listening to these guys play and talk is that two guys especially cast a long shadow over the sound and approach of modern country guitar and those two guys would be 1) Merle Haggard and 2) The guitar player in Merle Haggard’s band, The Strangers Roy Nichols. Here is an interesting thread on Roy Nichols: Western Swing fan, early chicken picker, clean Telecaster tone, hybrid pick and fingers style, snappin’ and poppin’ bluesy bends, swing and jazzy lines — all of the elements of a great sound and style. Here’s a thread of Roy Nichols guitar with a whole lot of great performances by Roy and others.

Now this list isn’t supposed to be comprehensive because, as I said at the beginning, this style isn’t really my thing, but the players are great, the style is popular and the guitars sound sweet enough to make you want to practice or cry in your beer. Give ’em a listen!

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Guitar Teevee in the 1970s

Back in the day it was an everyday occurrence to see people with real talent playing a guitar on television. Sadly, that’s not true anymore, but through the magic of YouTube we can return to the days when variety shows, live concert shows, and even situation comedies had great music.

Roy Clark was all over television in the 1970s. He was a bonafide recording star, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and a proven marketable guy as Hee Haw, the show he co-hosted with Buck Owens, was on for over 20 years. He guest-hosted for Johnny Carson and also made appearances like the one above where he is plays a country medley with the always funny Flip Wilson on The Flip Wilson Show. It was awesome how these skits and musical numbers could show up anywhere and how live, well-played music was an integral part of many entertainment shows. Below Roy stars in an episode of the Odd Couple that includes his pop hit Yesterday (When I Was Young).

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Another country-type who was all over 70s television was the incomparable master of the 6 string, Chet Atkins. His performance of the popular song usually associated with Anne Murray, Snowbird, is a study in fingerstyle guitar wonderama. Check out the sweep picking he works into this performance! Unfortunately I don’t know what show this is from.

Speaking of Snowbird, like Stewie from Family Guy, I
💘 Anne Murray and this performance. Pretty lady, beautiful voice and a very poignant song. Always loved the harmony vocals too!

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This vid of John Hartford playing his song Good Old Fashioned Washing Machine is probably one of the oddest things on YouTube. It’s actually from 1969 and is one of Hartford’s “novelty” numbers. He gets a lot of help from The very bubbly and photogenic Lennon Sisters, Perry Como(?) and Jimmy Durante, who fell over after the song ended. Weird. In the old days television was geared toward a mostly rural and less er, sophisticated audience. In 1971 there was a “Rural Purge” of a lot of these kind of shows from the networks and the programming changed to more “urban” material (All in the Family and all of it’s spin-offs), shows dedicated to more controversial subject matter (MASH) and shows that appealed to a younger audience. This was the beginning of a new direction in television programming and was certainly reflective of all of the change that had occurred during the 1960s, and a new generation of viewers.

One neat-o thing that came out of this change was that shows that featured rock band performers started appearing and sometimes the bands really played and didn’t just mime their way through the performance like this great clip from The Doobie Brothers from a 1975 Midnight Special performance. As far back as the 50s when Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan put Elvis Presley on television, rock and roll was a big seller and it continued to be a popular way for bands to reach an audience in the days before video and MTV. Great performance of the always awesome Doobies in their prime!

Another show from this period was Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. Sometimes the performances were dubbed like this one with Bad Company. The vocals and harmonica (who’s idea was that?) are live but I don’t think anything else is. There were a lot of DKRC that were live and pretty killin’ though and a search on YouTube will turn up some good ones including Focus, The Ike and Tina Turner Revue, and a great 1975 set from Black Sabbath including Snowblind. Like how I’m working the snow angle today? Another great performance was the almighty George Benson playing his signature hit Breezin’ in 1977. George was playing his butt off!! during this period and still is all these many years later.

In England there was a show named the Old Grey Whistle Test that presented all kinds of great music from the era. I have a couple comps videos of all kinds of assorted performances and they were all pretty BOSS! Here is a very un-Priestly looking Judas Priest playing Dreamer Deceiver on the OGWT in 1975. They almost look like Lyrnyrd Skynryd. This song was later used as the title for the documentary Dream Deceivers: The Story Behind James Vance Vs. Judas Priest, which was the famous court trial where Priest were accused of putting subliminal “kill yourself” messages in their music that resulted in two “fans” shooting themselves. The band prevailed and the charges were dismissed once Rob Halford took the witness stand. Quite a long way from Roy Clark playing Mountain Dew, but hey…nobody ever said life was easy.

Fingerpicking Good!

Here is a collection of great guitar players doing their thing without the standard flat-pick that many people use. Most of these players should be familiar to any guitarist and all of these players have had an impact on guitar playing. Personally, I love playing without a pick sometimes and one the best things a player can develop is the ability to play either with or without. There are many reasons for playing this way including:

• The ability to play complicated patterns and contrapunctal lines
• Greater control for attack
• A wide variety of tones from using different parts of the hand
• Greater control for damping (especially slide players)

Of course some players reach a level of mastery or that makes the pick completely unnecessary. Other players would have a really hard time even approaching what they do if they had to worry about holding on to anything. What’s great about the following videos is many of them have close-up views so you can really get a good look at what’s going on. YouTube really is a GREAT learning device. Plus all this music is pretty brill don’t you think?

Chet Atkins*

Michael Hedges

Bonnie Raitt*

Wes Montgomery

Jeff Beck

Kaki King

The Allman Brothers (Derek Trucks / Warren Hayes*)

* Chet Atkins and Bonnie Raitt are both using thumbpicks, but they are also using their fingers and Warren Hayes is switching back and forth between using a standard pick and just using his fingers.

The crab picture I shot myself in Mexico a few years ago. I’m not sure what kind it is and it looked pretty ferocious in person but was really shy. It came out from under the porch of the bungalow one night while I was playing guitar.