What competitions have you been involved in?
I was the winner of Guitar Player''s Guitar Hero 2007.
How long have you been playing?
21 years, since age four.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
Vince Gill, Grady Martin, Albert Lee, Brent Mason, and Reggie Young.
Describe your favorite rig.
For the fast country, Hellecasters type stuff I like the Custom G&L ASAT Classic with Stets-Bar, maple neck and Seymour Duncan Alnico/Vintage Hybrid bridge pickup, Robert Keeley Compressor, Brian Wampler/Brent Mason Overdrive, ToadWorks Meat Jr., Line 6 Digital Delay (Sweeping Pan Slapback). I prefer Mesa Boogie 4x10 Lonestar Special Custom (Using the 6L6s at 50 watts with two Jenson Alnicos and two Mesa Stamped Magnets) and my old standby Fender Dual Professional 2x12.
What sets you apart from other players?
I listen. I cater to the song and listen to what the song wants to say. I try to feel what everyone else is doing and think about what I can do to compliment and support things frequency and expression wise. I''m a very production-oriented team player and I always want to play what''s best to communicate the feelings in the song. I try to reach out with the notes and chords to capture someone’s attention, make them feel the energy, to touch someone''s heart or inspire them. This is the ultimate success, regardless of who gets the big win in a competition.
Any interesting stories from guitar competitions?
Nicolette Fontaine, my fiancée and personal manager/publicist/attorney, talked me into sending my entry for Guitar Hero 2007 when it was on Sonicbids.com. I wasn''t sure what the point was in entering this thing because it looked like a full-on shredder competition and that''s just not what I''m all about. However, Nicolette assured me that she had a good feeling about it, so we did it and we wrote a letter explaining that the song I sent them "Outrun the Train" I wrote at age 15 and performed when I was 16, on my album Sixteen. I had no new recordings, so they had to trust that I had grown as a guitarist since then and that I could do an instrumental version of the song.
A few months passed, when I received a phone call from Michael Molenda, from Guitar Player magazine; by this time I had completely forgotten about our entry and I assumed that Michael was trying to sell me a subscription. So I asked him to take me off of his list, but he explained the editors chose me as one of ten guitarists from around the world to be flown into San Francisco for the Guitar Hero 2007 competition.
The other contestants were amazing and any hope I had for winning was pretty much shot after rehearsals. I was blown away at how incredible everyone else was. So after the performances, it was a surprise and thrill when they announced my name as the grand champion. I wasn''t anticipating winning anything at all, but I was just proud to be there representing country music. Nicolette and I met all sorts of wonderful people there and we made so many great friends. It was as if the world stood still when it happened and it''s a moment that I will treasure for years to come.
Give PG readers three tips for playing in guitar competitions.
1) Focus on writing - in the end, it''s all about the song.
2) Connect with your audience - most of your audience will be listening with their eyes.
3) Be gracious and thankful to everyone you encounter, they deserve it.
What’s a big no-no at a guitar competition that you would advise against?
Having an ego. Nobody wants to deal with an ego-maniac who''s overly confident or cocky. It''s okay to be confident in what you do, but don''t compare yourself to others, only worry about doing your best and to know in your heart that you gave it your best shot. Everyone knows something that you don''t know, even if it''s what they ate for breakfast, so appreciate everyone else’s hard work, skills and talents.
What’s next on your horizon?
We''re in the studio all this winter working on a brand new record and we''re also going to be doing the morning talk show and late show circuit with a supporting tour in ''08. Also, fans can vote for me and view my video from the GH07 competition at http://hero.guitarplayer.com and the full video with judges’ comments and my acceptance speech is available at www.crossfader.com.
Where can PG readers find out more about you?
Both of my albums, Sixteen and Town & Country are available on iTunes, Rhapsody and eMusic.
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