TO P 10 NASHVILLE GUITAR ISTS Learn their styles
Steve Laney takes us on a tour of the styles of Music Row’s session greats. Pick it like a Nashville Cat and become a better player!
Nashville proudly boasts the title ‘Home of Country Music’, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that the place is all Stetsons and cowboy boots, but leave the honkytonk bars of Lower Broadway, drive a couple of miles west and you will arrive at the recording studios of Music Row; it’s here that you will hear the true sounds of modern day Nashville.
Country is evolving – in fact it always has been – much to the disgust of the purists and their cries of “keep it country”. However, Music Row realises there’s no room for nostalgia in the competitive world of the music business; if Nashville is to retain its other title of ‘Music City USA’, it has to constantly push the boundaries and embrace new genres. As a result, many labels now have divisions specialising in jazz, blues, rock and even Christian music: big business in a city that’s said to have more churches than trees.
But how did Nashville come to be the modern day epicentre of the American music industry? Well, a lot of the credit has to be given to The Grand Ole Opry radio station. Before TV, radio was king. The Opry was the largest of all country stations and employed some of the biggest acts. However, when these acts wanted to record they had to travel to Los Angeles or New York. This made no sense at all financially or logistically, so labels began to open studios and offices in Nashville, and the city’s winning formula was set.
Those disgruntled purists have also played their part in ensuring Nashville remains at the top. Fans of country music have an almost religious dedication and are very protective of their art form; this has helped ensure continued nourishment and preservation of Nashville, at a time when LA and New York have fragmented somewhat, musically.
The plethora of genres in Nashville today means a guitarist must be versed in many styles; a producer is just as likely to ask for some Edge style delayed guitar, as he is for
You gotta be nice to everybody in Nashville ’cause the guys parking your car can play you under the table. Vince Gill
some chicken pickin’. So a Nashville guitarist must arrive prepared, with an arsenal of gear in order to replicate these sounds and styles.
A player often lands a session because a producer or artist has requested them. On arriving at the studio the musicians will hear the song, often for the first time, as a demo. One of the team will be nominated leader and will chart out the song using The Nashville Number System. Musicians will then, if necessary, tweak the arrangement to better suit the artist. Musicians are encouraged to contribute ideas and are often asked to come up with the hooks – the little details that can make the difference between a hit or a flop.
Over the following pages I have written out some licks and phrases in the style of some of Nashville’s top session players. By no means is this list exhaustive, but I hope it helps set you on a path of discovery of the many talented and indeed stunning musicians who call Nashville home.
The Nashville Number System
This is a way of transcribing music whereby the letter names of a chord chart are replaced with numbers; the numbers refer to the scale degrees from on the chords are built. So in C major, C is the tonic chord and is assigned the number ‘1’, Dm is the second chord and so is assigned the number ‘2m’. In The Number System the C major scale chords are as follows: C Dm Em F G Am B° 1 2m 3m 4 5 6m 7° Using numbers means a chart can be quickly transposed to any key. Say a singer brings in their demo to record a final cut; it’s in C and the leader charts it out. However, two takes in it’s clear that C is wrong for the singer and so it’s dropped down a tone to Bb. Using the Number System, all the musician will need to know are the diatonic chords of the new key.
On our chart below, the circled ‘C’ tells us the key is C major; the 4/4 tell us it’s in 4/4 time.; and the numbers that the chords are C, Am, F, G, Em F and G. There are also start and end repeats, so in total this is a 16-bar progression. Barlines are not used as they can be mistaken for the number 1. Musicians will often jot down information that is only relevant to the part they are playing.