Tom Bukovac (aka Uncle Larry) is a Nashville legend; the guitarist you call when you want the best and the man who always brings something special. His resume includes playing on over 700 albums since the early '90s with artists including Taylor Swift, Stevie Nicks, Billy Gibbons, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, Lionel Richie, Ann Wilson, Joe Walsh, Vince Gill, Keith Urban, Dan Auerbach, Reba McEntire, and Blake Shelton. He's also got a great YouTube channel.
He recently sat down with our friends at Guitar Player for an interview about his story so far and here's four lessons we learned about his approach that all guitarists can apply to their playing lives.
1. His versatility isn't just a skill but something he loves
Maybe it’s because I don’t have just one card to play,” Bukovac tells Guitar Player as a possible reason for his success.
“The sessions I get called for are so wide-ranging. In a two-day period, I could go from playing heavy rock to ’70s L.A. studio jazz," he explains. "I love the variety of music that’s coming out of this town. One minute I’m playing some nasty gut-bucket blues, and then I’m doing something crazy and spacey. For a guy like me who loves to play lots of different genres of music, it’s a never-ending source of inspiration.”
“I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert on anything,” Bukovac later adds. “But I can fake it. Most of the session players around here are like that. You have to be that versatile to get lots of gigs. I’m not a hardcore jazzer, but I can make you think that I am. I’m not a legit country-and-western swing guy, but I can give you feeling and evoke the right emotion.
"If you’re a schooled player, you can connect spiritually to what’s in front of you and get the message across.” He pauses, then adds, “As long as you have your muse.”
2. He makes us want to buy a Gibson Firebird
"The Firebird is a great Nashville guitar, because it’s got the midrange that can cut through a big band, Bukovac explains. "It’s like a big giant Tele. It really works great for the kind of music that we’re doing here.
"Actually, I would prefer that over the Tele. I was playing my Firebird today on a session. I’ve got one with P-90s, and I’ve got one with the regular mini-humbuckers. I use them both equally."
3. Session playing doesn't always require a one-take wonder
"Left to my own devices, I could spend a whole day working on one song so I can make it sound amazing," Bukovac admits.
"Sure, I can do one take and it’ll be fine. But it takes a little time to find those magic moments. Sometimes you’re against the clock, but a lot of times you can find some wiggle room and perfect things a bit more."
4. Don't get too precious when you're playing for others
"If I did a session and everybody loves each note I play, it’s like I don’t have to try," says the guitarist. "That’s when you know the record isn’t going to be good, because nobody’s really trying. I think great records come from a little bit of tension."
And with that in mind, if someone isn't feeling what he's offering with a part in the studio, his approach is simple.
"That’s when you dig. You try things – new ways of playing, different pedals. Personally, as long as I know the person’s a genius, I like to be challenged.
"You’ve got to be a cool guy and be able to hang and work with people," he advises later in the interview. "Studios are like any workplace: If you’re a jerk, you’re not going to last. And you can’t take anything personally. If somebody doesn’t like your idea, accept it and move on. Think of a new idea."