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© Rune Hellestad/Corbis
There are YouTube clips of you playing in dozens of different styles in different band settings. Plus you’ve made an album, These Days, with separate discs devoted to bluegrass, straight-ahead country, rock and blues-pop ballads. I get the sense that you feel the sophistication of country guitar playing is on par with that of all these other genres of music. Am I right about that?
“Yeah. I think people perceive it as though it’s simple and it’s easy. And to some degree it is simple, but that doesn’t make it easy to play. It’s hard to take something that simple and make it interesting, and make it dance and all that stuff. As I look through my history, I think it bears that out. I’ve been a musician first.
“That was the whole impetus behind this [album]. I said, ‘I want to make a duet record with Paul, because he’s a musician.’ That makes the most sense to me, rather than [dueting with] another popular singer. I’ve done hundreds of those. I never made a guitar record, that is, an instrumental record, to prove I could play. I play what I do on all these records, a little bit here, a little bit there.”
With sensibilities so broad, can you put your finger on what you find satisfying to play?
“I think what satisfies me most is authenticity. If I’m playing on a bluegrass record, I want it to be authentic. It doesn’t need to ring of me. It needs to ring of what really honors that music. That’s all I’m ever trying to do, is play what fits and what I feel the sensibilities are of that music. There’s nothing worse than when you hear somebody playing blues licks over changes that aren’t really bluesy
“I like to search for brevity, in that I like space. That’s a hard thing to get to. You always start out playing too much. Years ago, I was doing one of my very first sessions, and I played and the talkback came on and the producer said, ‘OK, that was great. This time play me half of what you played.’ It was just a great lesson, to think that you say the most with the least oftentimes.”
You’ve said you still feel driven to push yourself as a singer and guitarist and make the most of the music-making years you have left. How is that translating into your decision making, what you’re pursuing and saying yes to, what you’re doing to stay sharp, what you’re striving for as a player?
“Really, I don’t know that I have a master plan. [Laughs] I kinda scratch whatever itch is irritated the most. I’m still just driven to get better. It’s really that simple. Just want to see myself improve and be better at what it is that I’m doing. I know there will come a point when it starts to tilt the other way, and that will probably be health-driven, and arthritis-driven. Whatever it’s gonna be, something’s gonna take us all down.” [Laughs]