As with many seemingly ordinary things in life, the craze a few years ago over the video game Guitar Hero made my mind’s wheels start to turn. Musicians are really a lot like “gamers” in the sense that we have a controller (guitar, mandolin, whatever), learn to use it, and strive to always move forward with and perfect our craft. The interesting thing is that I’ve never heard of a crowd of committed fans gathering to watch someone play Guitar Hero. I did, however hear about a kid who quit high school to play it professionally. You can read this humorous story by clicking HERE. Even this article admits that while he may make some money “groupies should be harder to come by.” Hopefully the career move worked out all right for him. Today I thought I would share with you some information about some “Real Guitar Heroes.” This is not really a “top” list and I wouldn’t presume to put these amazing musicians into any particular ranked order. They are just a few guitar players who I have a lot of respect for as a musician myself. There are too many greats to mention them all at once in one forum but these are certainly some noteworthy giants of the Bluegrass guitar world.
Those who are even vaguely familiar with Bluegrass flatpick guitar will know this name. Kenny Smith carved out his place among the guitar greats when he joined Sammy Shelor, Don Rigsby, and Ronnie Bowman as a member of The Lonesome River Band in the mid-90s. While with this band, he recorded his first solo album Studebaker which further solidified his position as a guitar icon. He and his wife Amanda Smith recorded an album together in 2001 titled Slowly but Surely that surged up the Bluegrass charts prompting the formation of The Kenny and Amanda Smith Band which has released five very fine albums so far and is still active today. Kenny is also a two time IBMA guitar player of the year. Smoothness, clarity, and confidence characterize his guitar style. He currently resides in the Nashville, Tennessee area and is in high demand as a session musician.
Trailer for Kenny Smith’s Return released in 2011
Dan Tyminski is certainly a name we hear a lot in music circles today and for good reason. Few would deny that his distinctive, powerful lead and rhythm guitar styles have had a major influence upon the current sound of Bluegrass. Another veteran of the Lonesome River Band (in which he played mandolin), Tyminski’s career has been characterized by his 21 year stint with Alison Krauss and Union station. He has recorded two solo albums Carry Me Across the Mountain (2000) and Wheels (2008) and has received numerous honors including 14 grammy awards. He is perhaps best known for his lead vocal on the popular re-arrangement of the traditional song “Man of Constant Sorrow.” His guitar playing is strong, tight, and clear and he cites the sound of Bluegrass pioneer Jimmy Martin’s rhythm guitar style as a strong influence upon his own.
Official music video for Wheels
Originally from Switzerland, Uwe Kruger, his brother Jens, and bass player Joel Landsberg have had a remarkable career performing their virtuosic classically influenced acoustic music. Both of the brothers were introduced to American folk music via records their father would bring home from business trips in America. Uwe has an incredibly strong blues influenced picking style and possesses the control to blend perfectly with the banjo style of his brother Jens. While influenced by guitarists ranging from Doc Watson to Stevie Ray Vaughan, he has also incorporated classical sensibilities into his music drawing on greats like Bach and Brahms for inspiration. Uwe’s guitar playing has an elegant strength that both draws attention to itself and shines light upon whoever he is playing with.
The Kruger Brothers performing “Jack of the Wood”
Innovation, note definition, and ability to interpret songs differently while maintaining melodic connection are what make Dan Crary one of the guitar greats. Originally from Kansas, Dan began playing at a young age and has had an impressive and influential career as a musician. After an early career playing solo and in a variety of bands, he began playing with Byron Berline in a band called Sundance. Eventually, they formed the outstanding trio Berline, Crary, and Hickman with influential banjo player John Hickman. The trio eventually added Steve Spurgin on bass. The band was re-named California when John Moore joined playing mandolin. Recordings released by BCH and California are some of Crary’s finest work. His guitar playing raised the bar of quality picking and helped to change the way the guitar is viewed in a band setting.
Dan Crary performing a medley of traditional fiddle tunes
These are a few of my “guitar heroes.” I’d love for you to share who some of yours are. It’s always great to discover new music and musicians!