Stars of the Guitars

Most of what we bring you on Roots (and popular music in general) is built around songs and singers. And cheers to them. Most people relate more naturally to a fellow human singing a song than pure instrumental music. But it wasn’t always this way. For most of musical historical time, instrumentalists were at the center of music, and my tastes and passions in music were shaped by music without words long before I became a lover of songs myself. And since we’re trying to reflect the best hand-made music in and passing through Nashville, I decided some time ago that we needed to spotlight the instrument that’s shaped Music City more than any other. Thus the birth of Guitar Night.

The first was last August, with a crazy cool range of styles and players, from the bluegrass of Bryan Sutton and David Grier to Ben Hall’s Travis-style fingerpicking to the moody jazz of Viktor Krauss’s band. We concluded that show with a band assembled by Nashville super-picker Guthrie Trapp, and it smoked. So this year we let Guthrie take the lead in conceiving our second annual Guitar Night, and he’s come up with a gathering of his friends and associates that tells the story of a particular side of town, specifically my side of town.

I live in the bustling and growing 12 South neighborhood, and of all its lovely landmarks and watering holes, my favorite for years has been the 12 South Tap Room. It’s not a music venue per se, so they only occasionally host bands on their tiny stage. But when they do, it tends to be Nashville’s (aka the world’s) finest guitarists playing purely for their own joy. I knew about the hotshot new guitarist Guthrie Trapp from Jerry Douglas’s band and our beloved 18 South. But it was at the Tap Room that I got to see just how versatile and free-ranging he is. The group, which played periodically in the warm, intimate space, included bass master Dave Pomeroy, drummer Bryan Owings and another guitarist whom every fan of the instrument should know, the jazz-oriented Pat Bergeson.

“When I first moved to the neighborhood, we got hired to go to the NAMM show (a music gear expo) to do a demo for Gretsch guitar,” Guthrie recalls. “Well we needed a place to rehearse so we went to the Tap Room and set up and ran our set.” That evolved into semi-regular jams there, where the two very different guitarists would play off each other, to the delight and amazement of we lesser pickers, who crowded around drinking good beer and ogling guys who were both our heroes and our friends. Says Trapp: “It was just what we all love to do when we’re out of a studio and just doing our own thing.”

Pat Bergeson then moved into his own residency, playing in a soul jazz outfit on Tuesday nights last winter featuring Nashville organist Charles Treadway. And that’s who he’s bringing to Roots on Wednesday, along with drummer Chris Brown. Bergeson came to Nashville from New York at the invitation of Chet Atkins, the Zeus of country/jazz Guitar. They recorded and toured together before Pat became a go-to sideman for Lyle Lovett, Shelby Lynne and others. He’s done studio work for all kinds of fascinating artists, and he also plays harmonica as well as anyone I’ve ever heard. His instrumental partner this evening, Charles Treadway, is a real innovator on the great Hammond B3 organ. There’s no sound like it, and jazz fans speak reverently of Treadway’s 20 year tenure in Nashville.

More recently on the Tap Room stage, we’ve been able to enjoy Kenny Vaughn’s rangy blues trio. We know Kenny from Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives and his own solo release on Sugar Hill Records. He’s a guitar lifer who now enjoys off-the-charts respect wherever he goes, because he’s not only able to dance all over the fretboard with his long spidery fingers, he’s deeply musical, playing well below the volume threshold of his instruments so he can coax out all kinds of shading and dynamics. We’re not yet sure who he’s bringing along as backup, but it’s going to be imperially cool for sure.

We needed an acoustic practitioner to balance out the night, and it’s with great pleasure that we heard Guthrie had approached fingerstylist Pete Huttlinger. National champion in his style, widely recorded and admired as a player and a teacher, Pete exemplifies classy, progressive acoustic guitar. And we are REALLY glad he’s around because a series of health crises in the last couple of years nearly stole him away from us. Recently Peter Cooper documented his climb back to health and the stage in The Tennessean and it’s a fascinating read. It will be a delight to hear Huttlinger in comeback mode, whether he’s playing a Beatles arrangement or one of his original tunes.

As for Guthrie, he’ll round out our show with a trio he’s been playing around with lately, a distinguished group indeed comprised of bass legend Michael Rhodes and drummer Pete Abbott. They blast off a blues/rock launch pad and then can fly anywhere. And any time Guthrie is out front, he seems to never run out of ideas or over play. Trapp is humble about his place in Music City: “To do a guitar night in Nashville - you could do four different guitar players every week for a year, and it would be great every time. This is not by any means supposed to be the four best guitarists in Nashville. This just happens to be four friends who we thought would be a good hang and a good night of music.”

We’d want it no other way.

Craig H.