|When you are talking about modern country music and signature Telecaster tone, you are talking about Brent Mason. Brent actually plays on just about any country album that comes from Nashville – he is the first call for guitarists in the Tennessee city and has played with almost every artist you can imagine.
Brent has owned country music for over a decade, playing on at least seven of the songs in the top ten at any given time – in any given year – since the early ‘90s. For many years he has won the annual Music City Allstars Award, given to the musician who has played on the most top ten radio hits in a given year. Brent was so dominant in the CMA and Academy of Country Music Awards from 1993-2002 that he was “retired” from his category, due to a clause that said that no one could win over ten years in a row.
Brent’s inventive style and masterful playing have made him one of the most in-demand session guitarists in the world.
When did you start playing?
I started playing music around the age of seven or eight, listening to a Ray Charles album of my mother and father’s. I had no knowledge of chords, so I used a table knife to play slide on an old Mexican guitar along with the songs.
What have been your most important musical influences?
My dad had a few albums of Merle Haggard and the Strangers and he was also a fan of Ernest Tubb. He also had albums of Merle Travis and Chet Atkins. Then he brought home a Jerry Reed album, called Nashville Underground. It blew my mind! I was only about eleven, but I took that album and tried to copy every lick on it. I purchased every Reed album after that, learning every song I could.
Around the age of 17, I broadened out from playing the “gut string” guitar and got an electric guitar. I then started to listen to George Benson, Pat Martino, Buddy Emmons, Jeff Beck and more … kind of a study of all things music. I left country for a while to explore jazz, R&B, and rock. I came back to country when I came to Nashville.
What is working with Alan Jackson like?
Alan Jackson is great to work for, because he is very focused on what he does and his sound. He loves the Telecaster and loves the vintage sound – like the old “Bakersfield” sound if you will. He lets the musicians play a lot on his recordings because he thinks that’s what a band should do – long instrumental breaks, lots of fills. He says that is the way you would do it if you were out in a club or honky tonk, so the people can dance, and that is what country music is about.
Are you friends with other studio musicians you’ve played with?
All the players I play with are very close friends. We constantly stay in contact when we are not in the studio, that’s the great thing about the Nashville scene – it’s a very close-knit society. I know how superficial and pretentious this business can be, but I don’t get that sense at all here in Nashville. A lot of my musician friends have moved here from L.A. because they have families and they felt that the work here was plentiful and it was a great environment to live in. Is there a recording or session you will always remember?
I remember doing one of my first master recordings with the late, great Johnny Paycheck. He flew into Nashville to start the session and forgot his false teeth. They had to FedEx his false teeth to the studio. A man can’t sing his best without his teeth, now can he?
What was your setup for your famous tone on Alan Jackson’s recordings, like “Chattahoochee,” “Summertime Blues” or “Mercury Blues?”
That setup was pretty simple. It was my ‘68 Tele with a blue Boss compressor running into my ‘67 Fender Deluxe, maybe with a little slap delay on it. The simpler the better for Alan’s stuff.