Top Nashville Session Guitarist, Guthrie Trapp, Shares...
How to Stick to Your Roots & Grow in to Success
Guthrie Trapp is one of Nashville’s busiest and most versatile performing and session musicians. In this exclusive interview with ThatsMyGig.com, he shares how staying true to your roots is the best path to success whether that's as an artist or as a side musician finding a gig in music (Click here to search all paying gigs on ThatsMyGig.com now). Guthrie has worked with artists such as Garth Brooks, Alison Krauss, Dolly Parton, Lyle Lovett, Randy Travis, Vince Gill, John Oates, Trisha Yearwood, Delbert McClinton, Tim O'Brien, Travis Tritt, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Jerry Douglas (the list goes on) as well his own band "18 South" and the Guthrie Trapp Trio.
By: Derek Williams
TMG: Guthrie, thank you for doing this interview with us.
GUTHRIE: Thank you Derek, it’s my pleasure. I am looking forward to it.
TMG: We understand you didn’t have formal training growing up as a musician. You cut your teeth playing in clubs around the Florida/Alabama line. How did your 'on the job' training begin to form you into the musician you are today, versus what formal training may have provided?
GUTHRIE: Well, I think people who learn a lot of theory versus 'hands on' street level playing, tend to overthink it. The way I look at it comes from a pretty uneducated way of looking at music. But music should be a feeling. It’s a color, it’s a sound, it’s emotion. Some people think of colors when they play, if it’s dark or light. To me, that’s what has always moved me. It moves me in a way that is very organic. I’m not the type of person who listens to lyrics first. To me, if I feel something from the rhythm or the sound of the song, then that’s good music. I grew up in a small town and a lot of guys around me were playing music. My parents listened to a lot of bluegrass and folk music. My uncles were huge music fans who would play me jazz, southern rock, and blues records. My dad’s youngest brother, Jerry, was a self-taught musician who had many instruments lying around. I was an only child, so I would hang out with him a lot. I looked up to him like an older brother. He’s a really cool guy. There were always parties that revolved around music. I got a good ear full of the music when I was young. That’s a big part of it. The music you hear as a kid is ingrained in you.
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TMG: Absolutely. You can certainly hear the influence of jazz, bluegrass, country, and rock in your playing. It’s quite an eclectic style. When you moved to Nashville from that area, what was your first big tour and how did you land that audition?
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GUTHRIE: The first tour bus I stepped foot on was with Patty Loveless in the early 2000’s. I moved to Nashville and got a place on Music Row. I knew some people in town, but you still have to carve your own way. Even if you know people, it’s hard for them to vouch for you, especially if you’re in your early twenties. I hadn’t had a ton of studio experience at that point. The only thing I knew to go check out was Johnny Hiland at Robert’s, playing with the Don Kelley Band. When I was on the Gulf coast, I went to a store in Pensacola. Those guys had bought a Johnny Hiland CD at NAMM. I heard it and I thought he was doing some really cool steel bends. They told me I had to go check him out at Robert’s. When I got to Nashville, I would go down to Robert’s every night, or at least Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. I would sit in the door way and have a beer, and listen to those guys play. I finally met Don and told him I had been in a band in the Gulf Coast doing a similar style. I told him I’d love to sub if they ever needed someone. All of the guys were super nice, but he never let me sit in. One night there was a guy who I knew form the Gulf Coast who knew Don. He told him to let me sit in. Finally, after months, Don said, “Bring your guitar next Sunday and you can come sit in.” I remember the roads were covered in ice, and it was snowing. I drove down there and played a couple blues songs with Don. I brought a hollow-body guitar, not a telecaster. Don really liked that because he’s such a Blues fan. So once Kenny Vaughan heard me play, and John Randall heard me play... we were in the band 18th South, together.... they knew Patty was looking for somebody. I got called for the audition (Click here to view all paying gigs on ThatsMyGig.com). It was me and a couple other guys, and I ended up getting the gig. I played on a couple of her records. Sam Bush had also heard me. Then I got a call from Jerry Douglas after that. Sam had recommended me. Nashville is just such a word-of-mouth town. People want to hear you for themselves and know you can really play. Or you get recommended by someone they really trust. In Nashville, the 'proof is in the pudding'. You have to be heard in order to get an opportunity here.
TMG: Totally. That’s a really exciting story. You mentioned some people and places that are really integral to Nashville. Robert’s Western World is a staple to the Broadway scene in Nashville. Kenny Vaughan is just a magical guitar player who tours with Marty Stuart. It sounds like you got your start on Broadway. That opportunity came about from a combination of persistence, but also someone sticking their neck out and recommending you. Then you got your chance. The hard work you put in as a player was seen.
GUTHRIE: Another thing I would like to add is the fact that I’ve never been a "Top 40 player", or a great pop musician. I’ve found myself on some sessions that lean toward pop, and I can do it. But I really come from a more 'roots' style background, where I don’t even use much modern gear. If you come here and stick to what you’re good at, you’ll end up in the right spot. When I went downtown, I didn’t try to play with the most popular bands. I went to hear Don because I liked the music. And I wouldn’t have ended up playing for Patty or Jerry had I not done that.
TMG: We are often asked by musicians who are moving to Nashville, if there is value to starting their career by playing on Broadway. In your opinion, if you moved to Nashville today, would you take the Broadway route or would you try to play with artists who are writing original music and playing in peripheral clubs, at places like Division Street or East Nashville?
GUTHRIE: Knowing what I know now, I would probably go play on Broadway. But I would be very cautious of getting stuck down there. You don’t want to develop the reputation of being just a 'Broadway musician'. The hours can be long and really wear on you. In a way... it is Nashville, but in a way it’s also like playing in a club that’s playing country music in St. Louis or something like that. You have to be careful of how you’re perceived if you play down there too much. When I played down there, it was a different deal. Now there are clubs from 5th Ave. down to 1st Ave. and even branching out onto the side streets. When I moved to Nashville there were clubs from 5th to 4th. Everything past that were hat shops and ice cream stands. Now there are so many places and so many bands, it’s crazy. Today you might get lost in the shuffle. There are so many people now, a lot of the locals tend to avoid downtown. A lot of people who are moving here now, tend to hang out somewhere else, like East Nashville. Or they get involved with some songwriters and start working with them instead of going down and playing on Broadway.
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TMG: I think we’ve covered the coolest place on Broadway, Robert’s. Guthrie, you are one of Nashville’s busiest session players. How did you break into the Nashville session scene, and what has been your favorite project so far?
GUTHRIE: The more people who hear you, the more relationships you have with guys who are working on sessions. When I played with Patty, she was one of the artists who would actually use her road musicians on records. Then I was lucky enough to find myself on some sessions. One of my first sessions in Nashville was with Albert Lee. I was shitting myself because there I was, early twenties, thrown into a studio next to Albert Lee. Working with Patty’s husband, who produced all of her albums. You can’t go in to sessions like that and not learn something, while being humbled. You have to add something to it and cover your part. So I had some great opportunities early on. That is how Nashville works. The opportunities are here. When people hear you and they like what they hear, they will call you. Working with Garth Brooks, I’ve known him for a long time. He started using me for stuff. Those were some great records. I started working with Frank Liddell with the Pistol Annies record. It was a small, cool band. Just guitar, bass, and drums. He liked that I did something a little different when I soloed, and he ended up calling me to be on the project. So I think a lot of it is guys like that hear you while you are playing out. They like what you’re doing and they end up calling you to work. It took me a while to figure out that I didn’t want to chase doing heavy pop-country sessions. That’s mainly just because I don’t know how to play that music that well. I’m not a pop-rock guitar player. When you move here and learn about names like Brent Mason and Jerry McPherson, you wonder what gear they are using, and you start to chase that. Then people go out and buy the same guitars, amps, and pedals because they think it’s going to get them more work. It took me a couple years to get over that and realize they do what they do, and they’re great at it. We might not be able to do what they do as well as they do. And they might not be able to do what we do as well as we do. So at that point, I quit chasing that kind of stuff. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders because I wasn’t competing to do that anymore. Then people would call and I would know exactly what I was being called to do.
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TMG: Absolutely. I would be willing to imagine that there are young guitarists now who are analyzing your pedal boards and your gear. I would recommend throwing them off with as much misinformation as you can (laughs).
GUTHRIE: I have a pretty simple set up. People want to know if I use a compressor, etc... Man, I always answer them. I give them any information they want. At the end of the day, if I went and played Eric Clapton’s rig, I wouldn’t sound like Eric Clapton. TMG: Let’s talk about rigs real quick. We don’t talk about gear a whole lot on That’s My Gig. But while we’re on the subject, what’s one piece of gear that you have a special relationship with... something you feel is your sound?
GUTHRIE: Well, I would probably say the vintage Nobles overdrive. I use that pedal all the time. It doesn’t really change the tone of my amp and guitar. It just adds a little overdrive and fatness. It gives me a nice attack without getting too distorted. Then my Tele that I have. That’s like a third arm. Then my 1969 Gibson 335 that I really love. With those two guitars, I can usually do what I need. I have never really been a Strat guy. Although I will take one to sessions for vibrato stuff, or front pickup sounds. For live, it’s the 335 and the Tele, and then any kind of blackface Fender amp. Lately I’ve been using the Bogner Goldfinger with the 2x12 Pine Cabinet. It’s a very vintage voiced amp they came out with. It has reverb and EQ, but it’s still simple enough so that I can use it. It has two 6L6s and two 6V6s. You can use both at the same time or mute either side. So you can have between 9 and 66 watts. I’ve been using that and I really like it. It has a little more bass and a thicker sound.
TMG: Something else you have in common with a guitar great, like Brent Mason, is that you also have a solo project. You are a solo artist and you have been working on some solo stuff for a few years. I saw you at Acme Feed & Seed, which was fantastic. What are your plans for 2017 with your solo project?
GUTHRIE: The first plan it to finish the record. It’s taking longer to finish this one than the first one because I have called a lot of vocal guests. A lot of my favorite vocalists in town are on the record. I’ve also used a lot more people. I used different drummers and bassists. The scheduling was pretty crazy and it took a lot longer to make. I am proud of it. I think it’s going to be a great record. I want to do a little bit more touring with either the trio I have with Michael Roads and Pete Abbot, or the band from Acme. I’d like to get on the road and share this music with some other cities to see their reaction to it. I’d like to get a little more traction. I’m going to hire a publicist for this record. Kind of like what most other people are doing in my position, and shamelessly self promote. I need to keep everything going as well, like the online lessons. And the college program that we launched as well. That’ll all launch in January. There’s a ton of projects going on here to keep me busy. The sessions and a little bit of live stuff. This past weekend I went out and did a couple dates with John Oates. That’s always a blast. So it’s just keeping three or four irons in the fire and hoping a couple of them are hot.
TMG: Guthrie, name three "Do's" and three "Don’ts" for aspiring musicians trying to break in to the music industry?
GUTHRIE: I would say: Do network, Do practice, and Do be yourself. Don’t invite anybody to a session unless you get permission beforehand. Don’t talk when you need to be listening. Don’t forget that it’s all about the song.
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TMG: If you could change anything about your personal journey in the music industry, what would you have done differently?
GUTHRIE: This has never bothered me my whole life, and I’ve always kind of brushed it under the rug. But lately, I’ve wished that I would have started singing and writing songs earlier. By writing songs, I mean writing lyrics. That’s something that’s never come naturally to me. It also would have been good to read music. But I enjoy the freedom of being able to play by ear and feel, while not being forced to look at the fret board in a mathematical way. Honestly. I’m lucky to be here and be able to make a comfortable living. I’m lucky to be able to hang with the people I do and be able to make music with some of the best musicians in the world. I’m in a town where there are Godzillas on every instrument. In Nashville, the bar is so high that you can’t be lazy. I like it that way. I love living here where the motivation is on a high level, and so is the musicianship and artistry.
TMG: Guthrie, thank you so much for joining us here at ThatsMyGig.com. You can catch Guthrie’s radio show every Wednesday night from 6:00-7:00 pm central time on AcmeRadio.com, followed by his live performance 8:00-10:00pm at Acme Feed & Seed in Downtown Nashville. Guthrie Trapp, thank you very much!
GUTHRIE: Derek, it was my pleasure. I’m proud to be on here. Thanks again.
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