Nashville’s Tyler Bryant on being a ‘virtuoso’ and jamming with his heroes

Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown, Tyler Bryant

Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown. COURTESY.

Before he was 22, guitar prodigy Tyler Bryant shared the stage with Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton. But it was a 63-year-old bluesman from Honey Grove, Texas, who inspired the musician when he was just a boy.

Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown
9 p.m. Tuesday
Brick and Mortar Music Hall
Tickets: $13-$15.

Roosevelt Twitty happened to be jamming inside a small-town music store when the 11-year-old Bryant walked in and followed the sound to the source.

That’s the day Bryant said his life changed, when Twitty began teaching him to play the blues.

“I started going to his house almost every day, and he would play me all these old records and cassettes, and turned me on to a lot of music that I wouldn’t have heard as a little white kid growing up in the South,” says Bryant, who appears with his band the Shakedown in The City on Tuesday.

Twitty and Bryant then began playing in public together, in backyards, bars or cafes — the location didn’t matter.

Bryant’s parents, who drove him to the shows, wanted him back in the car by 11 p.m. But he would close his eyes, solo and pretend not to notice them motioning to their watches.

“‘Cause how lame is that? You’re in the middle of the set, and you have to pack your amp up because your parents think it’s getting too rowdy?” he says.


What was it, as a 13-year-old, to perform with someone in his 60s in Twitty?
I would get so offended when someone would come up to me and go, “You’re so good for your age,” and I’m going, “Ah, man, I guess I’m just good for my age; I’m not good.” You know?

Many youths like to play fast and show off, but playing the blues takes restraint as well. What was your approach?
As a young kid, I didn’t really appreciate the simplicity of blues and rock ‘n’ roll yet. I wanted to learn to play fast and be flashy. And so I did, and I got really good at doing that sort of thing. As you get older you almost want to forget some of that and just be simple. And that’s kind of what we tried to do on the last record (this year’s “Wild Child”) – put some of the flash aside and some of that super-shreddy guitar stuff in the back pocket and just let the music speak for itself. Because it gets kind of nerdy, you know, shredding on the guitar so much.

You’ve shared the stage with a lot of notable musicians, and I know Jeff Beck is No. 1 for you. Who’s your No. 2?
Ann and Nancy Wilson; the Heart sisters. I love them. We played a lot of shows with them, like the Monterey Pop Festival. They’re great people, and it’s unbelievable to watch them live. Aerosmith is unbelievable as well.

Bryant was given his first guitar at age 6. He wanted to be like Elvis, so his mother dyed his hair black and bought him a gold jacket and leather pants he proudly wore to first grade. “The teacher told my mom I had an identity crisis,” he laughs.

He started his own band at 16, getting his first dose of touring beyond Texas. He also began listening to more rock ‘n’ roll, like Tom Petty and the Black Crowes, and those influences seeped into his songwriting.

At 16, Bryant was honored by the Robert Johnson Foundation, run by the family of the famed 20th-century bluesman. Soon after, one of Bryant’s original songs was featured on “Guitar Hero 5.”

Two years later, he moved to Nashville, where he started the Shakedown with drummer Caleb Crosby, bassist Noah Denney and guitarist Graham Whitford, son of Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford. The band’s debut album, “Wild Child,” was released in January.

Through the years, Bryant remained close to Twitty, who died in May at 74. At the memorial, Bryant found out his teacher left him his guitar.

“He was my best friend,” Bryant says. “He’s one of the most special people I’ve met in my life.”


Roman Gokhman: Do you consider yourselves a part of the “Nashville scene” or free of that?
Tyler Bryant: I consider myself part of the Nashville music scene. I do a lot of songwriting in Nashville for myself and for other people. It’s just such a cool scene out there. Everyone helps each other out. I love it out there. I consider myself part of the Nashville music scene and part of the Texas music scene.

Have you watched the TV show “Nashville?”
Our friends Cadillac Black were on that show. I haven’t seen their performance, but that’s a really killer band out of Nashville. You should check them out. I think it’s probably a really good thing for Nashville, to get some attention there. Downtown is a sight to see. That’s always something – when we’re on the road for a long time, there’s nothing like driving into Nashville and seeing it all lit up. It’s like, “Yes, I’m home.”

What would you like to see this band accomplish? What are your goals?
I want to make records and tour until I die, basically. I started as a solo artist but it wasn’t the same after I started playing with these guys. They were bringing so much to it that it had to be a band thing. That’s not to say that one day I might not just make a solo record, but if I do that, it’ll probably be when I am older and I become a fisherman, sitting out on my front porch, smoking a big, fat cigar; with a resonator, stomping my foot. (Bryant laughs). I want to do different things. I want to make lots of records with this band, and take our music in different directions as we grow. I eventually want to make an acoustic album with this band, with lots of slow ballads, or a heartbreak album. We’re not just one band. Right now we are young and have so much energy. We haven’t been jaded by the music industry. We wanted to make an album that was fun and represented that.

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