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!