In Nashville, arguably the greatest guitar town in the world, Guthrie Trapp is at the top of the mountain. He can range across every style, improvise with endless invention and subtlety. He can shred or twang or drift elegantly. And most of the time, he’s seen or heard as a sideman and studio player. Through the 2000s, he's been in demand for being able to serve and enhance a song and do no more than what’s called for. But he’s also a mind-bending solo artist. And his second LP as a leader and composer came out this spring. It’s called Life After Dark. Those albums and his remarkable career are the subject of an in-depth conversation on the latest edition of The String.
Trapp has worked with Patty Loveless, Dolly Parton, Jerry Douglas, Garth Brooks, Rosanne Cash and many other greats. Currently he tours with John Oates. He's also been an anchoring instrumentalist in the pan-roots band 18 South with Jon Randall and Jesse Alexander. But Guthrie’s work as a leader ranks up there with the best guitar music being made today. For years he’s led his own small group at a variety of Nashville venues, where he can really stretch out, refine his originals, indulge in some favorite old songs. He put out his first solo album in 2012, called Pick Peace, and it’s an entirely instrumental project. This new one mingles instrumentals with guest aritists taking star turns on vocals - Jimmy Hall sings the blues. Charlie Worsham and Vince Gill sing country classics. Bekka Bramblett offers a stunning take on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” It shows how much reverence he has among his peers in music city. As acoustic Americana star Tim O’Brien says about Guthrie, “He’ll blow you away but he’ll never wear you out.”
On the origins of his career as a live player.
“I quit school two weeks into the tenth grade and never went back. Because I was already playing then. When I was 12 I started playing in my first band on the Gulf Coast with these older guys so I was playing festivals and doing local gigs and already making a living playing. So I didn’t jibe with school. I really started taking music seriously around 12 or 13 and those next year was when I really dug in and learned the most.”
On getting hired by the Don Kelley Band for his nightly sets at Robert’s Western World on Lower Broadway:
“That was the defining moment of me not having to drive back and forth to the Gulf Coast to play a bunch of gigs, pocket the money, come back and hang out in Nashville (until) the money ran out. When he gave me that gig, I was like okay I”m here. I’m staying. The funny part is it was four hours a night, four days a week and I did the gig for four years. My chops were really good, having to go down and play that much msuic that frequently. And at those tempos. Man he would do some burning train beat country stuff.”
On the evolution of the Lower Broadway scene he inhabited for so long.
“Nashville has grown tremendously. Even in the past couple weeks I see things I haven’t see. Downtown - I could go to Robert’s and hear great country music. Back then the bro country thing hadn’t really hit yet. But now there are so many bars between First and Fifth, fifty more than when I was down there. It’s gotten more diluted, especially in terms of going from more traditional country music to, you know, dance clubs. It’s like Vegas down there now. But a rising tide lifts all boats. Business is good for everybody.”