There is no questioning Tyler Grant’s flatpicking prowess.
The Colorado-based singer and guitar player has racked up flatpicking championships across the country and toured with jam band heavyweights like the Drew Emmitt Band and the Emmitt-Nershi Band.
He is also the driving force behind his own project, Grant Farm.
Late last month, Grant released Kanawha County Flatpicking, a collaboration with renowned flatpicker Robin Kessinger. Recorded in Kessinger’s native West Virginia, the new record explores and reinvents old-time music while showcasing the fretboard acumen of two of the genre’s finest players.
I recently chatted with Tyler about returning to, and recording in, the wellspring of mountain music, pickin’ with Robin Kessinger, and the history of his 1953 Martin guitar.
BRO – You and Robin recorded the tracks for this record in West Virginia. I know folks play mountain music all over the world, but is there a particular inspiration that comes with playing songs like this in the mountains from from which they sprang?
TG – Absolutely. When I am in certain areas of West Virginia, I feel the old-time music just ringing from the hills. I believe there are places that have ancestral musical power. For instance, in Nashville, I fell the country music seeping from the Cumberland River. There are stories of native tribes that used to meet on the banks of the Cumberland for musical ceremonies in ancient times. I believe this is true of certain parts of West Virginia as well. Kanawha County is the home of the Kessingers, all the way back to Robin’s great-uncle, Clark, so it is the origin of Kessinger musical culture and it was special to record there.
BRO – Best part about playing music with Robin?
TG – He makes me laugh and is a total goofball. But, seriously, Robin is a conduit to another place and another time. Flatpickers have studied his style for years. He is a master of playing old-time melodies in the flatpicking style and is one of the last of his breed who really sticks to the melody and has an authentic sense of timing.
BRO – How much of the history of your 1953 Martin do you know? Does it have any good stories to tell?
TG – The ’53 has some bluegrass pedigree. It used to belong to Red Allen, so I call it Red. The story goes that Harley, Red’s son, sold it to buy a fancier guitar, a Martin D-42, I believe, from Kitty Wells. Red was then played for years by a professional guitarist in Cincinnati, who sold it to the fellow I bought it from in Paducah, Kentucky. There was news about this guitar spreading around for a while. The man in Paducah was trying to find a player who could use it and was offering a pretty good price. So I sold my Wayne Henderson guitar, which was awarded to me the day I met Robin, who was judging the flatpicking contest at Wayne’s festival in 2005, and I bought this Martin. It is my best bluegrass/old-time sound guitar. It has true Martin tone.
BRO – Got a favorite contemporary luthier out there making guitars the right way?
TG – I should mention that I also endorse Bob Thompson guitars. He is located in Ravenswood, West Virginia. Robin also endorses him and plays a Thompson Curly Koa Cutaway on Kanawah County Flatpicking. There is also a master luthier in Fort Collins, where I live, who does all my repair and set up work these days named Michael Bashkin. His guitars are outstanding and he also hosts an entertaining podcast.
BRO – In five words or less, tell me what’s going through your head just before you hit the first note in a flatpicking competition.
TG – God help me!
Tyler Grant is on the road this weekend in Oregon with Grant Farm. For more information on Grant Farm dates, along with when you might be able to catch Tyler Grant and Robin Kessinger in concert or how to grab a copy of the new record, please check out his website.
Be sure to check out “My Blue Ridge Mountain Home,” by Tyler Grant and Robin Kessinger, along with new tracks from Chad Elliot & The Redemptions, The Cody Sisters Band, and Brother Reverend on this month’s Trail Mix.