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Music City USA

I finally got a chance to head to Nashville to meet some of the session players I've been working with for years.

Over the past few years I've built up what I believe is an impressive stable of session players, many of whom are top cats in Nashville. When an artist comes to me to produce an album, I will play what instruments I can to serve the song. There are many instruments or styles that I cannot play and that's where the others come in. Most of these players I have never shook hands with, instead our introductions and business was done over the internet. Folks like my go-to steel and fiddle player Bruce Hoffman, who was Mel Tillis' fiddle player in Branson right up until Mel died. Bruce has since moved up here to Alberta and is still my busiest steel and fiddle player.

Another long-time member of this club is Sam Levine, on sax, clarinet, pennywhistle - all things wind. I play wind too but it's a different noise. Sam has toured with the likes of Mel Torme, and is found on many top-40 songs for artists like Johnny Reid for instance, and older generations like Amy Grant. Sam introduced me to Jeff Taylor, who plays piano and accordion for, among many others, The Time Jumpers, fronted by Vince Gill. Jeff is also working with Alison Krause and Robert Plant on their current upcoming project. And my old friend Roger Carroll, pictured here with me standing in The Circle at the Opry House. Roger played bass for Hank Snow for 20-some years, and has a bass made out of the original floorboards from the new Opry House and shaped by Leo Fender himself.

Early 2019 I made a trip down to Nashville for the sole purpose to meet some of these gentlemen.

Jeff Taylor comped me two tickets to see the Time Jumpers on the Monday night that I was there, and visited between sets. I enjoyed a long visit with Kent Wells, Dolly Parton's producer and band manager. Turns out he's got the exact same gear as I run here in the studio, and we connected instantly. He's played nylon Spanish-style guitar and banjo on several of my clients' albums. While I was there I also spent an afternoon and evening with High Valley's Brad and Curtis Rempel, their families and Mom and Dad Rempel at Curtis and Myranda's house, drawing for the kids, eating incredible tacos and weathering out a tornado which passed directly overhead while it was still forming.

The wall in the coffee room is literally covered with notes and signatures of past stars - Elvis, Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Barbara Mandrell.

New friends

Turns out Roger Carroll of course knows everybody in town, and has lost count of the times he's played on the Opry stage. We spent a day and a half together where he took me on an insider's tour of the town. We stopped in to see Manuel, the famed suit maker, visited Ernest Tubb's Record Store, ate lunch at Margaritaville, visited Gruhne's Guitars and got a rare invitation to the high-end floor where the 5+-digit-priced instruments are located and enjoyed a nice long visit with The Red-Headed Strangest, Chris Scruggs' rhythm player.

Sunday night Roger and I went to take in Chris's weekly show, met the man himself, visited with Cousin Kenny Vaughn and talked a bit of guitar. That night happened to be the 40th anniversary of the first night Roger played with Hank, and both Chris and Kenny acknowledged Roger from stage, which was pretty cool to witness my friend being honoured that way. Waylon's steel player was in the audience, as was steel player Lloyd Green, and Riders In The Sky guitarist and vocalist Ranger Doug. And there was no hoyty-toyty amongst anybody, we were all live music appreciators and that's all we were. Nice to see.

While I was there for the week I stayed with close friends Dan and Grace Jenkins at Burns, a small town just outside the city. That little town also boasts a hidden gem that I was privileged to explore. Burns Station Sound was recently bought by a young feller Jeremy Deardorff, who plans to keep the old place running completely analog. He bought the entire studio, complete with grand piano, all the vintage mics, vintage board and analog gear. The office wall is covered with old black & white photos of studio clients who included Elvis, Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Barbara Mandrell, and a whole slew of others. The wall in the coffee room is literally covered with notes and signatures of past stars. I felt the need to remove my hat just reading it.

What an experience; probably a once in a lifetime thing, but I felt like I made a connection not only to the men who help create the sounds coming out of my studio, but even deeper, a connection to the roots of the music that's deep inside me. Thank you Dan and Roger, and everybody else who helped tune this old boy in.

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