by Tracy Moore
GUITAR HERO-IN-TRAINING: TYLER BRYANT
An 18-year-old dude fanatical about playing guitar is certainly nothing groundbreaking, but how many have already played 600 shows, can boast winning the Robert Johnson guitar award for best blues guitarist in the country (at 16), have opened for the likes of Erykah Badu, Paul Simon and Styx, namecheck Lightnin' Hopkins as an influence, and are currently nursing a crush on Heart's Nancy Wilson? Meet Tyler Bryant, a guitar wunderkind from Honey Grove, Texas, who's spent the last year in Nashville training for an industry takeover the old-fashioned way — with a slow burn.
By 11, Bryant had convinced aging Texas blues legend Roosevelt Twitty to teach him how to play the blues. Turns out Bryant didn't need much teaching. Soon the two guitarists had their first gig at a Paris, Texas, nightclub, where they played for $100 and two steaks. "The Paris news was there and did a story, and called us the Blues Buddies," Bryant says with a laugh. By 13, Bryant was on the industry's radar for his preternatural ability to morph from mimicking Eddie Van Halen one second to Stevie Ray Vaughan the next. But rather than ship their future Jonny Lang off to L.A. or New York at the first sign of commercial viability, his parents, manager and interested parties agreed that Bryant should simmer a little, grow up a lot and actually evolve as an artist first. Twitty's health began to suffer, so Bryant formed a band on his own with the only players who could keep up with him — musicians his dad's age or older.
While his friends were getting into punk and grunge, Bryant gravitated to Hendrix and The Black Crowes. "I thought I could probably put my own twist on this and make something kids my age would like. ... I mean, it's cool having a crowd of people my parents' age, but it's not as fulfilling as having a crowd of 13- to 19-year-old girls."
Nashville and its abundance of players was an easy fit. "There are a handful of people in the country who can touch what he has," says manager Tim Kaiser. "We wanted to round that out with better songs and a better band. Move him to Nashville, adjust him as a young man, and let him get his feet on the ground."
In Nashville, a Belmont backing band (one finally composed of people his own age) was a phone call away, while a slower pace and numerous co-writers — among them famed Kings of Leon scribe Angelo — awaited. Bryant now has his first cut, co-written with Angelo and American Bang singer Jaren Johnston, which will appear on the band's Warner Bros. debut. He also has a song on Guitar Hero. In the meantime, he fields major-label offers but hasn't settled on anything yet. His current obsession remains figuring out his position in a long line of ax wielders.
"I don't feel like there's any young guys doing this," Bryant says. "I mean, there's a lot, but no one's really out in the public eye saying, 'Check it out, this is guitar.' In a lot of modern music there's not a lot of guitar solos like back in the day with Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton, when they were wearing that proud. There's not a lot of young rock 'n' roll guys. I wanna be one of those guys who brings back guitar."