Jack Pearson, with special guest Johnny Neel, appears on the Unum Stage tonight at 8 p.m. His history includes being a member of the Allman Brothers Band, Greg Allman & Friends, and so many more. You have to be pretty doggone good when the Allman Brothers ask you to sub for Dickie Betts. His special guest, Johnny Neel, has a similar pedigree, also having played for the Allman Brothers Band. From Jack’s website, here is some of his bio:
Guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer, session musician…this only begins to describe Jack Pearson. Although he may be best known as an A-list blues/rock lead and slide guitarist, Jack is also a soulful, creative songwriter and artist in his own right.
As a songwriter and solo artist, his songs are moving and honest while his grooves make it hard to sit still for very long. Jack’s lyrics often reflect hope and redemption, reminding the listener never to give up no matter how heavy their burdens. His lyrical and musical hooks have also led to cuts by other artists.
Adept at many musical genres and instruments, he possesses the ability to take each to a higher level. His playing is sophisticated while full of intensity and passion, leaving audiences cheering and musicians smiling - shaking their heads in disbelief at his seemingly effortless skill and talent. Blues Revue calls him a “world-class guitarist” and Rolling Stone brags on his “light touch and fluid, jazzy style…dynamic slide playing”.
He has worked either live or in the studio with a diverse group of artists and musicians including The Allman Brothers Band (member from 1997-1999), Vince Gill, Gregg Allman, Jimmy Buffett, Tommy Emmanuel, Keb Mo’, Earl Scruggs, Chris LeDoux, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Mac McAnally, Amy Grant, Groove Holmes, Rodney Atkins, Mike Snider, Faith Hill, Ronnie Milsap, Jimmy Hall, Gov’t Mule, Buddy DeFranco, T. Graham Brown, Shelby Lynne, Jimmy Raney, Lee Ann Womack, Vassar Clements, Bonnie Bramlett, Mundell Lowe, The Jordanaires, Billy Montana, Jim Horn, Lee Roy Parnell, Delbert McClinton, Kirk Whalum, Jimmy Nalls, Chuck Leavell and the list goes on and on.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Jack learned his first guitar chords from his oldest brother, Stanley, around the age of 12. After learning a few songs, Stanley gave him a chart of the fretboard and told him to memorize it. It helped Jack to see and understand how the notes went together. One day Stanley handed Jack a slide and said, “Here boy, put this on your finger and play.” Stanley couldn’t play slide but he knew it was important for Jack to learn.
Jack has said Stanley was a good teacher with a lot of patience. He would pull out his records, which included players like Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins, Scotty Moore, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Lightin’ Hopkins and The Ventures and have Jack learn certain songs. When Jack would hear something he liked, he would sit for hours playing it over and over trying to learn each note and which strings the notes were played on so he could duplicate the tone and feeling.
Others from Jack’s eclectic list of early influences include Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, B.B. King, Wes Montgomery, Toy Caldwell, Billy Gibbons, and Roy Clark; he appreciated any player with an inspiring craft. One Christmas he was given a record that changed everything, The Allman Brothers Band’s “Live At Fillmore East”, and told to learn every note. Although he had heard the record before, he now had his own copy so he learned every guitar lick and every bass line, which came in handy when he was called to play guitar in the band years later.
In 1989 Jack began working with Delbert McClinton and in 1990 he started performing with Jimmy Hall, from Wet Willie fame. In addition to his guitar licks, Jack contributed several co-written songs to Jimmy’s 1996 recording “Rendezvous With The Blues”, a must have for your collection.
In 1993 Jack received a phone call from friend Warren Haynes, a member of The Allman Brothers Band (ABB), who asked Jack to sub for Dickey Betts during a tour. ABB was Jack’s favorite band when he was young and now it would pay off that he had learned both Duane’s and Dickey’s parts from all of their recordings because there was no time to rehearse. Jack flew to Dallas, Texas where he and Warren met in a hotel room to work out the harmonies and the next night he hit the stage with The Allman Brothers Band before a crowd of 20,000.
After his stint on the tour, Gregg Allman asked Jack to join his solo band so he became part of the Gregg Allman & Friends tours. When his time filling in for Dickey came to an end, Jack thought, “I wish I could play with Dickey someday.” and that came true - sitting in and jamming at various times with ABB. Then in 1997 after Warren Haynes left the band, Jack received a call from Gregg asking if he wanted to become a member of The Allman Brothers Band. He said “yes”. Jack traveled to Dickey’s home to do a little pickin’ and get to know each other better. After playing a few songs Dickey got up and left the room. When he returned, he presented Jack with one of Duane’s slides; a special honor. Jack was asked to later play Duane’s dobro (used by Duane on “Little Martha”) and the performance prompted Dickey to play a little hambone. In an interview for Guitar World Gregg Allman said, “After he played with [Jack], Dickey said, ‘Either we hire him or I ask him for lessons.’”
Jack remained a member of ABB from 1997-1999 at which time he made the difficult decision to leave the band because of severe tinnitus (ringing in the ears). He had tried many custom ear plugs but nothing helped at that stage volume. Derek Trucks joined the band replacing Jack and later Dickey departed but eventually Warren Haynes rejoined the group. However, Jack has still received the call to sub when needed including filling in for both Warren and Derek on multiple tours; giving Jack the unique status of playing in the band with Warren, Dickey and Derek. He still visits his friends and sits in when ABB play in a nearby city.
Jack feels truly blessed by the many special experiences that have come through music including - sitting in Chet Atkins’ kitchen, picking and being shown a chord voicing by the legendary CGP (certified guitar player); becoming a member of his favorite band from his youth; meeting many other influences such as Joe Pass, B.B. King and Albert King; playing with many great musicians, many of whom will never receive the recognition they deserve; performing on The Grand Ole Opry; at Farm Aid and legendary venues such as The Ryman Auditorium, Red Rocks, Madison Square Garden and The Beacon Theatre; and recording and touring with a host of talented artists.
Mixed in with these highlights are also lowlights that every musician experiences and Jack has had plenty of those including - earning $1.73 per person from the bar’s cover charge; sleeping seven people in one hotel room; sitting on the side of the road with your equipment because the band’s transportation failed…again; playing to empty rooms or almost empty about which Jack would jokingly comment, “Boy, we really had him going tonight!”
Whether playing nearly empty rooms or sold out arenas, Jack puts the same intensity and passion into his performances. He doesn’t hold back. He plays his heart out every time, causing drummers to sweat and leaving his own legs weak after solos. Jack has said, “When it comes to low points, it’s important to keep things in perspective. They call hard times paying dues. Going through hard times is tough, but my faith leads me on. I have so much to be thankful for. It’s such a blessing to be able to play music to begin with.”
When writing songs he weaves that thread of hope and faith into the message, even into instrumentals. Often writing of meeting life’s challenges, not giving up and coming out strong on the other end; it’s a testament of his own life, in which his faith strengthens him. He desires to help lift a burden and leave the listener encouraged. As a songwriter Jack has collaborated with a number of accomplished and talented writers including, Gregg Allman, William Howse, Leslie Satcher, Bernie Nelson, Dan Penn, Donny Lowery, Lee Roy Parnell, Warren Haynes, Allen Woody, A.J. McMahon, Johnny Few, and Pete McClaran.
While Jack’s guitar skills cover a wide spectrum of musical styles, his talent goes beyond the guitar. He taught himself to play other instruments including Hammond organ, mandolin, bass, drums and old time banjo. He has played these on his own recordings and in sessions for others and has become quite proficient at each.
He began playing mandolin in December 2001, again, spending hours every day practicing; studying the styles of Jethro Burns, Mike Compton, Yank Rachell, and Bill Monroe. Having played mandolin on many recording sessions, Jack was honored to be included on a project by the legendary Earl Scruggs. He incorporates mandolin into many of his live shows on both traditional and original compositions. He has said, “This instrument has given me another voice and added something that had been missing from my music.”
Whatever the instrument, Jack’s playing style is unselfish; he feeds off of what is going on at that moment. He listens very closely to what everyone else is playing and contributes based on what he hears, “whatever a song needs, I’m going to play – or not play”. In Hittin’ The Note Magazine Gregg Allman said, “He’s one of the finest I’ve ever seen. He really listens, he plays great, tasteful solos, he comps great and he knows how to play with you instead of behind you.”
Jack’s insightful understanding of various musical styles and the ability to properly perform each makes him a first class instructor. He has taught at countless guitar clinics and workshops over the years and is expanding as host of his own clinics. He sees the need for others to learn techniques and touches that appear to be dying; either they are no longer passed down or, in some cases, are not correctly understood so are passed down incorrectly. His future plans for online instruction will allow him to reach players around the world who can study at their own pace.
Over the years Jack has also honed his skills behind the board and has earned ample credits for producing, engineering, mixing and mastering projects for others in addition to his own. It’s no surprise that Jack is an extraordinary producer and the proof can be heard on any of his solo recordings, possessing the ability to take a good song and record it in very different styles – not a common skill these days. Jack has said, “I’ve always believed that you can play a good song in any groove or tempo. A truly good song has a life of its own and then it’s just a matter of interpretation and production.” He wants to expand this role and produce more for other artists; drawing from his deep well of talented friends would make for a first rate production for anyone.
Jack Pearson has released four CDs all of which have received praise from critics, colleagues and fans and he’s always working on new music - writing and recording. He plans to release part of his stockpile of recordings as downloads through his own website.
Friday, June 14 on the Unum Stage – Jack Pearson & Johnny Neel at 8 p.m. Riverbend Time
Bob Payne can be reached at his email firstname.lastname@example.org.