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At this point in your recording and performing career, do you feel like you’ve developed just as recognizable a voice on your guitar as you have as a singer?
“Well, to some. To fans of [guitar], I think so. To other Telecaster players, any guitar players that are familiar with me, I think so. I think they would know me without a [vocal] on it. I think even fans of country music in general might go, ‘That sounds like him.’ That’s always been important, in my mind, that I have a style.
“A lot of people just set out to play as well as they can, but I really set out from day one, when I got that record deal and everything, to have a style. And I think, at some point, I wound up with one. There are great chameleon guitar players out there that can play anything and specialize in maybe not having a style. That’s actually an art form, too. But I didn’t have any interest in that, especially once I got a record deal.
“I’m ripping off John Jorgenson and James Burton and, in some ways, Steve Wariner and Vince Gill. My style is just essentially, I’m a thief. [Laughs] But that’s all anybody ever is – even The Beatles. I mean, even as inventive as they were, they are a product of Chuck Berry and Buck Owens and people that they liked.”
I saw John Jorgenson play the Station Inn in Nashville last year, and I seem to recall that your wife was at that show.
“Yeah, she went! I wasn’t in town… I was jealous she got to go to that. A couple of weeks later we were playing in California and I called [John]. I said, ‘I will swing down and pick you up if you’ll just be in the band tonight.’ And he came and played in the band that whole night with us. That was fantasy camp for me. And I’ve done that with guitar players that are heroes of mine, where they come and I just stick them in the band. I’m like, ‘I’m gonna play a solo on something and I’m gonna point, and you’re gonna take it, and I’m gonna watch you.’”
Ever since Who Needs Pictures, you’ve always been holding a guitar in album cover photos – or in the case of Wheelhouse, leaping over guitars. Did you decide early on that that should be a part of your visual representation?
“I think it’s an essential part of sonically who I am, as well as should be visually. I think when you present yourself, you should think about what you’re saying with what you’re holding and wearing and all that. I think that my face is not as essential as two elements to recognizing me quickly image-wise: it’s this stance with a hat and a Telecaster. You know what I’m saying? You could stick somebody in that outfit, that’s holding a Tele a certain way, with a white hat, and people are just gonna think that’s me.
"And I think that’s probably good, in the sense that it’s sort of who I am: I sing country music, and I play the leads. It never feels right to me to see just a photo of me standing there. I look like a goober without a guitar. If I’m just standing there, I don’t stand cool. I don’t walk cool. But you put a guitar in my hand, and I own it.”