It’s hard to imagine Bryan Sutton – easily the hottest bluegrass guitar player in the game today – feeling the need to come into his own.
Sutton has toured with the likes of Bela Fleck and Chris Thile, been named the International Bluegrass Music Association’s guitar player of the year six times, produced a Grammy nominated record this year for Della Mae, has won three Grammys of his own – two during his time with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder and one for a rendition of “Whiskey Before Breakfast” (with the iconic guitar player who happens to be the answer to the trivia question below) – and is one of the most in-demand sessions players in Nashville.
What else did Sutton have to prove? Nothing really, except to make the record that only he could make. That record is Into My Own, which releases on Sugar Hill Records on April 29. Sutton has stepped up his game both as a songwriter and a vocalist, and his new record is his most well-rounded to date.
As always, Sutton is joined by some of the hottest pickers in bluegrass. Sam Bush, Noam Pikelny, Stuart Duncan, Ronnie McCoury, Luke Bulla, and many others all lend their talents to this tight collection of bluegrass tunes.
Trail Mix recently caught up with Bryan Sutton to chat guitars, bluegrass pickers, and that one guy he couldn’t believe he found himself on stage with.
BRO – What’s your guitar of choice these days?
BS – I’m fortunate to have some good options with guitars. I tend to let the gig or general need define what guitar I’ll use. I’ve been using a 1948 Martin D-28 for the last few years for most of the shows and sessions I’ve done. This guitar feels extremely natural to me. For Hot Rize shows, I enjoy playing Charles Sawtelle’s old 1937 D-28. For most recording sessions, I take a pile of guitars.
BRO – You are spending more and more time in front of a microphone these days. Can you describe the challenge in growing your confidence as a singer?
BS – The challenge for me as a singer has been trying to improve while doing. Lots of times, my best opportunities for real “practice” are in front of hundreds of people. Sort of trial by fire, I guess. I’m also surrounded by great singers who are supportive and have made me feel a little more competent and confident.
BRO – We are featuring “Log Jam” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
BS – I experienced a pretty cool and short period of time where I wrote most of the instrumentals for this new record. “Log Jam” came out of this time. I came up with this little pattern at the top that I liked and I could recognize a groove, but the sense of a down beat was vague. It built from there and revealed itself as a kind of blues jam turned on its head.
BRO – Who is your favorite bluegrass picker?
BS – Don’t make me answer that. Without being an over-generalizer, I really recognize and honor certain individual strengths and contributions my favorite players have made and continue to make. That being said, it’s hard to overlook Tony Rice for his personal influence on me as a player and the kind of mark he’s made in bluegrass guitar playing in general. I don’t have a favorite ice cream flavor, ether.
BRO – Have you ever met a bluegrass lick that’s gotten the best of you?
BS – There’s this Kenny Baker phrase that most notably comes from his interpretation of “Muleskinner Blues.” I can do it, but it seems to not flow the way I should when I try it in context.
BRO – Finish and elaborate, please: “Holy shit. I can’t believe I am on stage with . . .”
BS – Jack Black. I worked on this record with this jazz bassist, Charlie Haden. Jack is his son-in-law, and we did the Opry a few years ago. We played a fast tune with a bunch of solos and Jack would fly around the stage like a wild man, dancing and carrying on. It was a hoot.
Our North Carolina friends can catch Bryan Sutton on the road with David Holt and T. Michael Coleman at Merlefest on April 24th, at the Tryon Fine Arts Center in Tryon on May 9th, and at the High Point Theater in High Point on May 10th. Sutton returns to the stage with Hot Rize at Del Fest in Cumberland, Maryland, on May 23rd. For all of our Elevation Outdoors readers in Colorado, Bryan will be part of the Telluride House Band in June and will be in Lyons for both the Rockygrass Academy and a Hot Rize concert in July.
For more information on Bryan Sutton, when he might be heading to a stage near you, or how to get a copy of Into My Own, surf over to www.bryansutton.com.
In the meantime, Trail Mix would like to give you a shot at getting your hands on Bryan’s new record a few days early! Take a shot at the trivia question below. Email your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. A winner will be chosen from all of the correct answers received by noon on Thursday, April 17.
Question . . . . Bryan won a Grammy award in 2007 for his performance with what legendary acoustic bluegrass/mountain blues guitar player and patriarch of Merlefest?