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From Texas to Tennessee to Tokyo

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Though it was nearly 20 years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday. I was 15yrs old onstage in front of a packed house at the Beckham Hotel in Mineola Texas. As the stage lights bore down on me blacking out the faces in the audience, I picked up my Takamine acoustic guitar. I was freaking nervous man(terrified!). This was really the first time I’d been onstage to be honest. Mustering as much faith and courage as I could, I played my song and then looked up. At first; silence. Shit. Did I screw up? Was my guitar even coming through the sound system? Is my life over? But then…..the crowd went crazy. I felt a rush like I had never felt before. “Yup” I thought to myself. “I’m doing this for the rest of my life.”

Let me back up: I was born and raised in a tiny town in East Texas called Quitman. You see, when I tell people I’m a guitar player from Texas they automatically assume that I grew up playing blues, country or Western swing in Dallas, Ft Worth or Austin but………that wasn’t the case.

My hometown had a population of just a little over 1000 and the nearest big city(Dallas) was 2 hrs away. Being conservative evangelical Christians, my parents were not at all down with letting their teenage son drive to the big city every weekend to hangout with bar musicians(but believe me I tried to convince em)

So it was just me, my guitar, as many CDs as I could get my hands on, stacks of Guitar Player magazines and LOTS of practice.

Fortunately there was someone who taught guitar in the neighboring town of Mineola named John DeFoore. He taught guitar in an old hotel he owned called the Beckham Hotel. I started taking lessons when I was 10.

Every week I would walk in and just be intoxicated with the smell of that musty old hotel and the myriad of acoustic guitars John owned. The smell of mahogany, rosewood and spruce would fill the air from the innumerable Martin, Gibson and Taylor guitars.

Around 13, I started to get hooked on guitar. I got so hooked that others started noticing my progress on the instrument including my guitar teacher, John. I had written 2 kinda bluesy instrumental fingerpicking tunes on acoustic and John invited me to be the opening act for a concert he was hosting at the Beckham.

The headliner was this kind of progressive bluegrass band from the Czech Republic called “Druha Trava”( imagine an Eastern European New Grass Revival) and they were monster fucking musicians man. Not only that but the place would be absolutely packed.

To say that I was nervous and intimidated would be an understatement. I was terrified. To add fuel to the fire, John told me “You have to practice both those songs 10 times per day if you wanna knock it out of the park.” I had 6 weeks until the show. Gulp.

I did what he said to do. 10 times per day every day for 6 weeks. I hated those songs by the time the show came around haha!

But the practice paid off when I got onstage. Hands shaking, palms sweating, too nervous to look up. This is what I had prepared for. The rush of the applause was unlike anything I had ever felt before and what ensued was a new level of obsession with the instrument.

After high school I moved up to East Tennessee to be a part of the Bluegrass and Country music program at East Tennessee State University. Before long I found myself gigging with various bluegrass bands all over the region and eventually the world.

From bluegrass festivals in North Carolina, to NATO Headquarters in Brussels Belguim, pubs in Glasgow, two tours of Japan and even CBGB in New York City(yes: I played at that legendary punk rock club with a Bluegrass Band!)

Through it all though: something was missing. I didn’t feel I was living up to my potential. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I found that thing one afternoon in an American Folk Music class in college. Our professor was showing DA Pennebaker’s documentary of Bob Dylan’s 1965 tour of London called “Don’t Look Back.” Now I’d always known who Dylan was but I was too busy trying to be the worlds best guitarist to be bothered with songwriting.

Until that day.

I heard songs like “It’s All Over Now Baby Blues” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “It’s All Right Ma: I’m Only Bleeding” for the very first time. I just hadn’t heard songs with that kind of poetry in them and I was floored.

The jig was up. I had to start writing songs. So I did.

Not knowing if any of the tunes I was writing were worth a damn, I brought one of my new tunes to a band I was playing in. The song was called “The Next New Heart Break” and they kinda liked it. It was about some relationship struggles I was dealing with at the time. (I was a slightly socially awkward 21 yr old musician so yes……it was dealing with this a lot)

We started playing it at shows and it went over well. People began coming up to me saying how much the song touched them and how much they could relate to the lyrics.

One guy came up to me and started telling me about a recent painful breakup he was having. Another man came up to me with tears in his eyes and started telling me about a divorce he was going through.

And bam just like that: a paradigm shift ensued.

You see before that, my musical strategy was basically “look at me and watch how well I can play” but being a songwriter was a different game.

It forced me to be observant of the characters around me and see bits of myself in them. It taught me to put my feelings, experiences, hurts and struggles into songs and share it with others.

Hey: we’re all human beings y’all.

And that’s been the coolest part of journey. Is connecting with people like you. From Texas, to Tennessee to Tokyo. From New York to Alabama. Paris, France to Atlanta, Georgia. And this past year well….. it’s mostly been online. But meeting amazing people like yourself had been a true joy.

If you’d like to hear the latest milestone in my musical journey, my band and I have just finished our  first full length album called “Saints Communion” Check it out here.

It’s a collections of stories, poems, observations and confessions wrapped in song and flavored with Americana, rock, blues, country and even a little bluegrass.

And yes, there’s a plenty of guitar solos on it too!

It would mean the world if you’d give it a listen.

Seriously, I can’t thank you enough for coming on this journey with me.

Talk soon,

Aaron

P.S. if you’d like to reach out, please leave a comment below or shoot me an email just to say hay. I’d be tickled to hear from ya

4 Comments

  • MaryAnn says:

    Even your blog is touching!! Hard to find the words but thanks for always being so open. Big things are just around the corner for you!!

  • Jeff Smith says:

    Love the story of how you got to here & everywhere else & how you grew to the man I know now as my friend. Love what I’ve heard so far & already made my purchase. Thanks for sharing

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