Guthrie Trapp's True Grit

Nashville six-string secret weapon keeps country stars and rockers down to earth

Guthrie Trapp
Scarlati
Guthrie Trapp
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WHO: Guthrie Trapp may not be a household name yet, but he's worked with plenty. The Nashville sideman has brought his fleet-fingered guitar and mandolin skills to studios and stages with Pistol Annies, Garth Brooks, Travis Tritt, Allison Kraus, Lyle Lovett, Randy Travis and Trisha Yearwood, among others. And not just country royalty, either: You might as easily find him sitting in with Mike Mills of R.E.M. or Phish's Mike Gordon. In his own material – like on his recent solo album Pick Peace, as well as performances with the eclectic power trio TAR – Trapp's influences span jazz, progressive rock, bluegrass, blues, and fusion. "Growing up, my parents were huge fans of all kinds of music – folk, blues, Jackson Browne, Bela Fleck, Sonny McGhee – and my uncle was into stuff like Jean-Luc Ponty and Alan Holdsworth," Trapp remembers. "I never had a babysitter, so they just took me to all the music things they went to."

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MOVIN' ON UP: Born and raised on the Alabama/Florida border along the Gulf Coast, Trapp attributes much of his earthy, rhythmic style to his Southern roots. "Southern musicians," he figures, "have that little bit of dirt and grit that others don't." In 2001, barely into his twenties, he moved to Music City – inspired by a chance encounter seven years earlier at Pensacola's annual Frank Brown International Songwriter Festival. "One night about 4:00 a.m. in the pool room, I ran into this big producer Carl Jackson," Trapp recalls. "He said, 'Hey man, you really need to move to Nashville.' I was like, 'All my heroes, these godlike figures, come from there. How can I break into that world?' And Carl said, 'I did it when I was 35 with three kids – just do it.'" When Trapp finally got up the moxie to make the move, he tried to get a spot with local legend Don Kelly, whose band was considered a proving ground for local hotshot guitarists. "That gig really validates you in Nashville as a player," Trapp explains. "I'd been going down there for about a month or two, just hanging out in the doorway, but Don doesn't just let anybody sit in. Finally, I was standing outside one night, and a guy from the Gulf Coast came up to Don and said, 'You really need to let this guy play.' Don played the real shit – stuff like Merle Haggard and Johnny Cash, but amped up with a modern ass kick. I could mix in all the styles I loved – jump blues, swing, country."

RAISING THE BAR: "Where I grew up, there were no music schools – playing bars up and down the Gulf Coast was my education," Trapp says. "I did my learning at the only music place in my area – the Flora-Bama Lounge and Package: one half of the club was in Florida, the other half in Alabama, but there were multiple stages and music seven nights a week. I started playing there as a teenager. The unique thing is, I never learned cover songs; I didn't have to play Beatles and Led Zeppelin songs. Instead, I got to hang out with great songwriters like Mickey Newbury and Hank Cochran – drinking, enjoying life, and playing guitar until seven in the morning."

EACH ONE TEACH ONE: When Trapp has some spare time, you might find him giving guitar lessons – or just jamming – over at Carter Vintage Guitars in Nashville's burgeoning 8th Street district. "The owner and his wife will bring beer over from local brewers like Jackalope and Yazoo, and I'll find myself in there just playing for a couple hours," says Trapp, who now has his own signature overdrive pedal, the Rockett Guthrie Trapp OD. "When Ry Cooder's in town, he's going to be there; you might walk in on a random Wednesday and run into one of your heroes from The Black Keys or Mumford & Sons playing guitar. That's Nashville!"

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