Name: Bryan Clark
Town: Nashville, TN
Hometown: Dallas, TX
At what age did you start playing guitar and why?
I started getting serious about music at 16. Before then, I was one of those "self taught" guys who foolishly took pride in the fact that I had a unique style without taking lessons. That would soon be dispelled. I went to Berklee for a summer session before my senior year in high school and saw the amazing players that were there. I knew that I really needed to take this seriously. I couldn't read music, didn't know theory, or the notes on the fretboard. It was the height of the neon,big-hair,Mashall stack,"shredder" guitar playing, and I couldn't tell you how many guys I saw playing Yngwie Malmsteen, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilbert note for note. That was eye opening! I was this songwriter kid from Texas who showed up with A '62 strat, instead of the requisite Jackson, Ibanez, ESP, Charvel. For 6 weeks, I practiced 8-10 hours a day in a small dorm room without air conditioning in an uncommonly hot Boston summer (104 in my room). I came back to Dallas with an award from Berklee, and during my senior year, started a band, made a record, and I was off.
A $40 Global 3/4 size acoustic guitar. After that, a Peavy T-30, a Yamaha 12 string, an Epiphone 335 copy. All of which I sold or gave to friends. My first REAL guitar, which I still have, I got in 1987. It's a '62 telecaster with a '61 Custom Esquire neck (that was the model Fender made before the Telecaster - It looked identical except there was no neck pickup). I got it used at Charley's guitar shop in Dallas. Rene Martinez (SRV's guitar tech) set it up for me with giant frets.
Guitar-wise, mostly hometown heroes - Billy Gibbons, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny and Edgar Winter. I also liked Eric Johnson, Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Danny Gatton. I was way into Tom Waits, Billy Bragg, XTC, U2, Joni Mitchell, The Damned, Police/Sting, and the list goes onÉ I really got into jazz my last year in high school. So I listened to a lot of Miles Davis, Coltrane,John Scofeild, Larry Carlton, Mike Stern, Scott Henderson, Allan Holdsworth, and John McLaughlin.
My high school band "Potemkin Villiage" played the Rhythm Room in Denton, TX. For tips. We weren't old enough to have a bar tab.
Acoustic Guitars you own:
2004 Bourgeois Custom Country Boy (Adirondak/Mahogany)
2000 Bourgeois Limited Edition Traditional Dreadnaught (Sitka/Indian Rosewood)
1998 Chris Forshage Archtop (great builder in Austin, we designed one together and called it the "Haiku" model)
1995 Ramirez Classical
1939 Squareneck Dobro
Bourgeois Custom Country Boy (Adirondak/Mahogany).
Your Style, and how you developed it:
The way I play is usually with a thumbpick. Especially on electric - I can't play with a regular pick unless I'm on my acoustic playing bluegrass. I still use the thumb pick whenever finger style is needed. I spent many frustrating hours trying to pick like Steve Morse, Al Di Meola, Paul Gilbert, and others who employed the whole speed/sweep picking ideology. I got really proficient at it, but it never felt natural to me. My body was saying "hey, you've got 5 fingers on the right hand, trying using them!". It didn't really crystallize until I went to Loyola University in New Orleans(for a couple of years before transferring to USC in LA) and studied with Steve Masakowski. He used a thumb pick that he made by taking a Dunlop Jazz III pick, gluing half of a paper clip to one side, and bending it over his thumb. I settled on making my own by getting full size thumb picks and filing them down to the dimensions I need. The benefit of the thumbpick, is that I can do wide intervallic leaps smoothly, play chords like a piano player can (instead of the typical downstrum for chords), and I can still pick as fast as I can with a regular pick.
I really listen to my intuition. If I feel like playing electric slide, or jazz with my archtop, I do that. I also make a point to just improvise and be in the moment - that is usually the most rewarding experience of the practice. I work on specific techniques: finger picking, improvisation concepts, chord voicing and voice leading, pushing the tempos and staying relaxed, etc..I try to learn at least one new song a week in addition to writing new ones and producing. IÕve also been really focusing on the square neck Dobro and that requires another set of techniques that IÕm really enjoying learning. With all that said, some days I just write. I really try to balance the composition with the ÒchopsÓ practice.
Too many to name without putting people to sleep. HereÕs a few of some of my favorite guitar players:
JAZZ: Larry Koonse (heÕs probably my all time favorite!), Joe Diorio, Ben Monder, Scott Henderson, Ralph Towner, Peter Bernstein, Pat Metheny, Baden Powell, Wes Montgomery.
BLUEGRASS: Tim Stafford, Bryan Sutton, Kenny Smith, David Grier, Tony Rice, Rob Ickes, Jerry Douglas, Pete Korhs, Charlie Monroe, Maybelle Carter.
ROCK: Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, Billy Gibbons, Sonny Landreth, Mark Knopfler
BLUES: Robben Ford, SRV, T-Bone Walker, Big Bill Broonzy, Johnny Winter, Mance Lipscomb, Muddy Waters.
CLASSICAL: David Russell, Steve Kostelnik, Dusan Bogdanovic, John Williams.
COUNTRY: Ray Flacke, Brent Mason, Albert Lee, Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins, Vince Gill
Is there anything else you want people to know about you, your playing style or your views on today's music in general?
IÕve got a new CD thatÕs about to be released that IÕm really excited about. ThereÕs more details on my website.
You are a pretty versatile guitar player. Since you live in Nashville, do you tend to lean toward the country style(s) of playing?
I love all kinds of music and try as much as possible to play everything I'm interested in. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time playing bluegrass and squareneck dobro. We still have one more record to do with CMH records and our last 3 releases have been bluegrass. I find bluegrass as fun and challenging to play as jazz. It also forces me to work more on just flatpicking rather than my usual thumbpick/hybrid style.
What are your immediate, short-term aspirations?
Immediate goals: get my new CD out and available for everyone to hear. I've got a couple of 'quest appearance' sessions that I'm excited about - Larry Atamanuik will play some drums on 3 tracks when he gets some time off from Allison Krause. The cd should be out soon - hopefully by mid March. Short term: get more airplay and broader exposure with the new CD. Keep playing out and do more sessions. I'm really focused on promoting this new CD - I'm very excited about how it turned out.
Nashville can be a brutal town to an aspiring musician. Have you had the opportunity to make any inroads there - in other words, are you getting any notice by anyone there who can do something for your career?
Oh Yes, although it seems to go slower than I'd like. I've only been in Nashville for 11 months. I've met with handful of Nashville "royalty", some managers, and I've got some major publishing companies that are interested in my writing. Nashville can be brutal, but coming from LA, it's really no different. The competition is stiff and great players are everywhere. I like that because it forces you to focus on your unique gifts. The best part about Nashville is that people still play because they love music. InLA, the attitude was "how much does it pay?" For example, in 8 years of living in LA, I NEVER played music with other musicians after dinner just for the sake of playing. It was always a paid rehearsal or at least a rehearsal for a paid gig. Here, people have BBQ's and invite people over to play. It is beautiful thing.
What do you do when you aren't playing guitar?
Compose and exercise! Yoga, wheights, running, biking, etc.. Work on my house (we have an old one from 1924 that has 'special needs'). I also read quite a bit of history. I'm a history geek. I really never read fiction unless its classic.
I know you teach at Artisan Guitars' shop (great place, with a fine family of owners). What feeds you and pays the bills?
Music does. Besides teaching at Artisan, which is one of the best guitar stores around, I also teach at Belmont University (composition, film scoring, ear training, music history). Right now, that pays most of the bills but selling records and sessions are slowly catching up!
And finally, what's the coolest (music-related) thing that has happened to you since moving to Nashville? An anecdote, chance meeting, etc.?
Hanging out with Vince Gill talking about guitars, our favorite players, and the state of the music industry over breakfast is one that easily comes to mind.
Visit Bryan's website at www.bryanclarkmusic.com to learn more about Bryan and his music.