Musical prodigies seem to be as common as the YouTube searches with which they can be turned up. Parlaying that precociousness into a career is a task in itself, and doing so within a genre as storied as the blues takes more than just talent. Twenty-two-year-old guitarist Tyler Bryant -- of Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown -- has transformed from a preteen shredder on the Internet into the frontman of a full-blown rock outfit.
While diving into his new rock roots, Bryant's rightfully shedding the "prodigy" label. "As soon as I heard music, I sought that environment out. I dove into it, and that's what I wanted to do," Bryant says. "I sweep the 'prodigy' thing under the rug, because if you go on YouTube and type in 'guitar prodigy,' you can see a 7-year-old outplaying all of us."
Don't be fooled, though: The Texas-raised, Nashville-based frontman knows his way around a fretboard.
Apart from receiving the Robert Johnson Gibson New Generation Award, bestowed upon the best of young guitarists, and being handpicked by Eric Clapton to play the annual Crossroads Guitar Festival, Bryant cut his teeth by touring around his native state. His sound is decidedly Texan, following in the sizable footsteps of acts like ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Gary Clark Jr.
At first listen, however, you can immediately tell that this was a kid who was raised on rock. "We don't want to mimic the blues," he says. "We're taking all of the rock 'n' roll influences, and the fact that we're all 21, 22-years-old, and putting all of that energy behind it and trying to do something fresh with it."
Bryant and the Shakedown's youthful approach has turned heads, making Bryant something of a household name in the guitar community. But few 20-somethings in the music industry are as well acquainted with its pitfalls and soaring highs as Bryant is. When you've been taking the stage for over half of your childhood, you're bound to pick up a thing or two. "There have been times where I have been so bummed out on the music industry, but it's just like being in a relationship with a girl, and you're like 'Oh, my God, she hates me, this is never going to work,'" Bryant laughs.
"The truth of the matter of the music industry is that everyone is trying to make money and there's not a lot of money to be made."
That's a pretty blunt realization from a someone who's just now able to drink in the bars he's long been playing. Signed to Carved Records, a Texas label that's just inked a distribution deal with EMI, Bryant and the band are now in safe hands. But label security aside, Bryant's had to deal with hardships on the road, including the theft of his beloved Fender Stratocaster earlier this year.
For a guitarist of his caliber, losing your number-one guitar is akin to losing your voice. "We've gone through a lot of changes lately," Bryant says. "You're out there going, 'We're working so hard, why does all this bad stuff keep happening?' [But] that's the stuff that makes you a man."
And as Bryant knows, the blues makes the man -- it's a genre that's unforgiving in its requirement to undergo hardship in exchange for credibility, something that Bryant learned under the guidance of his mentor, the late Roosevelt Twitty, a Strat-slinging Texas bluesman.
Though he's only in the dawn of his 20s, he knows he's going to have to stand tough to succeed. One can't help but to think it's a lesson the blues must have taught him. "People used to say to me, 'You don't have the right to sing the blues,'" he says. "And I didn't have anything to actually sing about, and then you get out here in the real world, and you're going 'This person kicked me down, but I'm going to stand up anyway.' Try to kick me down now."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown are scheduled to perform Friday, June 28, at Pub Rock in Scottsdale.