Holler Country Music

The Guitarists That Changed My Life: John Osborne

September 11, 2023 11:43 am GMT

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John Osborne is basking in perfect Nashville weather when he joins Holler to talk about guitarists that blow his mind and have changed his life. One half of the Brothers Osborne – along with his vocalist sibling TJ – the duo are about to unleash their latest, self-titled album, complete with new producer Mike Elizondo.

Notable are John’s fab guitar hooks on ‘Nobody’s Nobody’ and ‘New Bad Habit’, plus splashes of ZZ Top’s influence in ‘Might As Well Be Me’. There’s also TJ’s duet with Miranda Lambert on ‘We Ain’t Good At Breaking Up’, a fresh, disco feel on ‘Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That’ and a nod to piano man Billy Joel on the final track, ‘Rollercoaster’.

The brothers have spoken of being able to be more themselves on this album “creatively and publicly”, against the background of John’s mental health struggles and TJ’s personal life after coming out.

“Art reflects life,” says John. “And if it doesn’t, you’re probably not doing it right. In my opinion, it reflects where you are and who you are at the time. Your tastes change, and that’s inherent to what we do.”

As far as his own playing goes, John says if he had to choose one guitar for the rest of his life, it would absolutely be the Fender Telecaster. He got his first Tele’ in high school, found it comfortable, versatile and, crucially, rugged. “I mean, I’ve dropped my Tele’ off the stage before and picked it back up and it’s still in tune. It’s a great workhorse guitar”, he says.

He’s got some vintage guitars too, including a 64 Gibson Firebird, and believes that each has its own character. “You could have 10 guitars in a row and for one reason or another they’ll force you to play different things. It’s not even a conscious decision. You let the guitar lead the way sometimes.”

In a slight change from the usual format of singers choosing singers, John Osborne has thought long and hard to pin down his all-time favourite guitarists – along with the hooks and songs where they really made their mark on him. These are the six guitarists that genuinely changed his life.

Bonnie Raitt

I wish there were more women who played. I mean, there are more now than ever, I follow people on Instagram who are amazing, but throughout history there aren’t enough. Sister Rosetta Tharpe started it all, of course, but it’s been such a masculine job.

I’d have to say my favourite female player would be Bonnie Raitt. Her slide solo on ‘Something To Talk About’ is absolutely perfect. It’s like a song within a song, you could sing all the notes. It’s very memorable and so greasy. There’s so much attitude in it. It’s just a perfect guitar solo.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix redefined what the electric guitar was. He took blues music and made it psychedelic.

I remember one of the first songs I learned when I started playing electric guitar was ‘Red House’, Hendrix’s version. Then I remember hearing the intro of ‘Hey Joe’ and being just transported. Not to mention ‘Fire’ and ‘All Along The Watchtower’, ‘The Wind Cries Mary’ and ‘Voodoo Child’. I mean, that guy! He wasn’t the first to ever use a wah pedal, but he was certainly the most notable to have used it.

My favourite thing about Hendrix, though, is just his overall philosophy on life; the way he sees the world.

If I could go back in time, it would be to the late-60s or early-70s - I feel like that’s where people were really starting to take the guitar to a new, experimental level. There was a huge awakening in that era.

I get asked all the time: if you could have a coffee with anyone living or dead from history, who would it be? Always Hendrix. I’d love to have met him and talk with him and pick his mind not only about music, but his approach to the world.

Mike Campbell

It was a little later in life when I got here, but I’d go for Mike Campbell from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

The reason he’s in my top picks is because I’m not only a guitar player, but I’m a songwriter, and I love songs. In my opinion, the most important thing when it comes to music is simply the songs; everything should pay service to the song. And Mike Campbell is the best guitar player for his songs.

I went through my life wanting to play more notes, and he shows every guitar player how to play with the perfect melody and solo with as few notes as possible. I love his slide guitar playing, and if you listen to ‘Into the Great Wide Open’ the whole band kicks off with the slide note. It’s really greasy, laidback, behind the beat and relaxed, it’s just amazing. I saw Tom Petty five times before he passed, and I’m pretty sure I cried every time. They were the best combo.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Another one who is everyone’s favourite is Stevie Ray Vaughan. The more you learn about him and his songs, the more you realise that you’ll just never get there. It’s like a carrot being dangled in front of your face.

When I was a teenager I was very much into grunge music. I loved Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and the Stone Temple Pilots. My dad had a VHS of Stevie Ray Vaughan Live at the EL Mocambo (1983). I’d never heard of this guy and he put his VHS in the in the player, and it changed my life. I was forever changed after hearing that. I didn’t realise that you could do those things on a guitar.

Off that recording in particular is the incredible version of ‘Voodoo Child’. He plays and sings his ass off, and it’s phenomenal. I mean, obviously, he’s an amalgam of Hendrix and Albert King and Freddie and BB, but he just takes it to a whole new level. When he does covers, he does them in his own way, and they're just as good as the original. It’s hard to say which I prefer, but it’s either ‘Voodoo Child’ or ‘Little Wing’, both Hendrix songs that he just really digs in and makes his own.

Brent Mason

Number five would be a country guitar player named Brent Mason. When I went through my blues phase, I remember hearing a song by Alan Jackson on the radio called ‘I Don’t Even Know Your Name’. And the first guitar solo in that song is similar to what it would be like watching Tony Hawk skateboard. What he is doing is so technically incredible, and it’s so fast, it just blows my mind even to this day. I had to figure out who this was.

If it wasn’t for Brent Mason, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten so much into country music as a guitar player. I don’t know if I would ever have even made it to Nashville. I was obsessed with his playing, which got me obsessed with studio musicians. He’s played on thousands of classic records and he’s still doing the same to this day.

I’ve met Brent quite a few times and he’s a really nice guy. It’s hard not to be nervous because he’s one of my heroes, but he’s actually a very down-to-earth person and just as normal as anyone else. He just has an extraordinary talent.

Vince Gill

Vince Gill is my bonus one; another country guitar player. Vince plays the perfect solos and licks in his songs. I mean, the guy can play amazing country Telecaster guitar, he can play great blues Stratocaster, but he can also play a five note solo that is absolutely perfect – and adding one more note would have ruined the whole thing.

He knows how to do so much with so little. That’s one of the hardest things to do on guitar: play less, but at the same time, do more. He has taught me and still teaches me that.

The song ‘One More Last Chance’ has an incredible guitar intro and solo. It’s the cleanest Telecaster you’ll ever hear in your life – and it’s perfect front to back. He’s an incredibly versatile musician and singer.

Brothers Osborne's self-titled 2023 album is out on Friday 15th September via EMI Nashville / UMG. For more, see below:

Written by Helen Jerome
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