Years ago when I was younger and more impressionable, I read an interview where Chet Atkins was asked if he had any valuable advice for young guitarists. Chet replied, "Hold onto all of your neckties, they come back in style quicker than you'd think." At the time, hungry to glean anything that might help my career, Chet's musings on antiquated fashion left me disappointed. It seemed like Chet was either well on his way to dementia or selfishly withholding the keys to the kingdom like a miser who insists on being buried with his Picasso, Rolex, and ‘59 Les Paul. Today, however, I recognize the validity in the maestro's advise. I might sound like a bad college Lit professor who reads way too much into everything, but Chet's glib response does imply that aesthetic trends are circular, whether it's what you wear or what you play. Hence, the aspiring guitarist should acquire everything that's fashionable at the time and hold onto it.
JB (right) playing a post-show party with a very drunk Bret Michaels (left) and Eddie Montgomery of Montgomery Gentry
Here are examples of the circular nature of trends straight from the normal life of a Nashville sideman. I wasted hours of my youth in my parents' basement with my regrettably long-gone, '75 Les Paul Custom trying to learn eighties rock guitar. I sacrificed a good deal of my hearing by playing the dweedala dweedala dweedala solos night after beer-fueled night in sticky floored clubs. Then I tried my best to quit using all these licks in my playing when eighties cock-rock became uncool. I've been groan-fully changing the station on supa sounds of the eighties for over a decade.
Then two years ago, I unexpectedly did a few television spots with Bret Michaels of Poison. When I was relearning the solos to Poison's hits, my prodigal youth paid off. When I really had to re-study the songs, I began to appreciate DeVille's playing. Eighties rock and metal kind of dares you to make fun of it, but once you get past some aesthetic differences of someone groomed and coiffed in metal's fashion you can appreciate the inventiveness and precision of it. Besides, it is so much fun to put down the Tele and Bludgeon an Explorer with your foot on the monitor. It truly is "nothing but a good time."
The Poison stuff opened my mind and ears. I also began noticing how often current Nashville recordings allude to big hair guitar. One of our top producers, Dan Huff was literally a giant of eighties guitar and his current work melds that style perfectly with that classic fast double stop Tele stuff. Turn on country radio any day and you will hear guitar work that steals from Jerry Reed, Lynrd Skynrd, Allman Brothers, Albert Lee, Alvin Lee, Mark Knopfler, Segovia. As backward and southern as we may seem, Nashville is actually amazingly open minded about melding guitar genres. Half the time I get a Nashville chart I find copious notes in their margins with allusions such as: "Back in Black vibe," "Credence Lick," or "Think Doobie Brothers." Current Nashville guitar is an amalgam of just about everything.
My brain is cursed with a very limited storage capacity, and although I regret that I can't remember birthdays or where I parked my car, I am grateful for all the sonic garbage cluttering my memory banks and stealing away valuable gray space. Every once in awhile someone will say, "kind of a Dixie Chicken thaaaaang" and I'll know what they mean. Perhaps Chet was referring solely to clothing, (you have to admit, the Strokes look good in those skinny ties), but my guess is, if Premier Guitar could arrange an interview from beyond the grave, Chet would encourage all of us to hang on to our hopelessly outdated licks as well as skinny and/or fat ties.
This will be the last installment of Sideman Survival. Check out John's new column in Premier Guitar's print issue starting in the January issue. The column, Last Call, can be found on the back page of every issue from here on out, and like all of our magazine content, will be also be available to read for free on premierguitar.com.