STEPHAN LAPLANTE TAKES HIS PRIDE AND JOY TO NASHVILLE
Many a musician has arrived in “Crazy Town” just the way Jason Aldean describes it: “Roll into town/ Step off the bus/ Shake off that where you came from dust/ Grab your guitar/ Walk down the street/ Sign says Nashville, Tennessee.” Stephan Laplante didn’t arrive by bus, he came looking to get on one. Born and raised in French-speaking Quebec City, Canada, he was a left-handed guitar player who spoke little English. Considering the odds of finding a well-paying gig under the best of circumstances, this sounds like Double Trouble. He’d visited before so it wasn’t an entirely foreign city to him, and he had a place to stay with a friend. What he brought with him was a suitcase, a musician’s heart, a passion for Stevie Ray Vaughan, and his “Pride And Joy,” a 1974 left-handed Gibson Les Paul Gold Top guitar. Not to say that Nashville isn’t a welcoming town, but I’d bet you could count the number of French-speaking, left-handed guitar players they’ve seen on Broadway on one hand. Had Stephan not been able to slay “Voodoo Child” on that ’74 Gold Top, his uniqueness may have gotten him labeled one. Fortunately, music is an equalizer, and once his fingers hit the strings, the language his guitar was speaking was the only one that mattered. Bienvenue `a Nashville!
When you think of Quebec City, Music City doesn’t sound like its sister city counterpart. Stephan said there wasn’t much of a country music scene in his hometown at that time, but his grandfather was a huge country music fan. Ricky Skaggs, Merle Haggard, and Johnny Cash were among his favorites. About the age of two or three, Stephan picked up a toy guitar and started playing with it. He hasn’t really put one down since. Seemingly born with a passion for music, had his mother sang “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to him as a toddler, he likely would have joined her on guitar playing the Stevie Ray Vaughan version. By the time he was nine, he was ready for formal lessons. For the next seven years, he continued those lessons and the guitar became his life. Playing a variety of jazz, blues, and country tunes, he practiced six to eight hours every day. As his passion for playing grew, it was one player in particular that changed his life.
Stephan developed a love for the road early on in his life. He traveled frequently with an aunt and uncle who used to take him to different places both in and outside of Canada. He said he loved to take pictures during his travels and document his journeys. At 15, one of these trips took him to Nashville and Texas. Absorbing the music in both those places, he discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan (SRV). Despite the location being a “Long Way From Home,” Stephan was intoxicated with Texas blues. When he heard SRV play “Little Wing,” he knew the way that guitar talked was the language he wanted to speak. Not well versed in the blues at that age, he said, “Whatever THAT is, I want to do THAT!” Returning home, he was singularly focused on SRV and the blues. He found an SRV left-handed guitar (no easy task), and was part of a tribute band from 15-17 years old. He says now that his intense focus on that style of play will always make it a part of the player he is. To further advance his guitar skills, he took some Berklee College of Music lessons that were available for purchase. It wasn’t Boston, but it was helpful in the development of his playing.
Stephan Laplante is the very definition of being driven by your passion and putting yourself in the driver’s seat. From the time he could identify a guitar as an instrument, he took his education into his own hands. Between formal lessons, his own studies, and practicing as if it was life dependent, he was on a fast track to being a professional musician before he even reached college age. Considering the program that Notre-Dame-de-Foy in Quebec offered, it was a five year course of studies of classical and jazz guitar. He liked the program, just not the amount of time they allotted for it. Instead, he directed his own course study and worked that five year volume into three years. During the week, he attended classes and studied like mad. On the weekends, his uncle drove him all over the place so he could play fairs in the area and gain valuable performance experience. He said while his uncle drove, sometimes as far as eight hours away for him to play, he studied in the car. Among his classmates, he was the only one who left town to play elsewhere on the weekends. For Stephan, it was a necessary part of his education to be on a stage as well as in a classroom to get him to the performance level he was dreaming of. That experience would pay off for him when he was asked to tour with Canadian country artist, Jason Blaine, on The Brooks and Dunn Last Rodeo Tour. He was finally out of the car and onto a tour bus when traveling to shows, an important first step in where he was headed.
After college, and the end of that particular tour, Stephan was 21 years old living in a city that couldn’t support his musical dreams. He played in some of the jazz clubs in the area but the opportunities he was looking for simply didn’t exist in that part of Canada. Danick Dupelle, guitarist for Emerson Drive, was from Montreal and a friend of Stephan’s. He was living in Nashville and offered Stephan a place to stay if he wanted to give Music City a try. So with just his guitar and a suitcase, Stephan came to check out the music scene in the late fall of 2010. His plan was to immerse himself in the playing scene on Broadway, meet people, learn some new songs, and play A LOT. For the next several months, he did just that. During a trip home for Christmas that year, he received a voicemail from country artist, Clay Walker. Clay had gotten his name from his old guitar player and he wanted to invite Stephan to audition for an open spot in his band. To accommodate the request, he was asked to meet with Clay’s band leader who filmed his audition and sent it to Clay. Two weeks later, he was offered the gig.
In January of 2011, Stephan began touring with Clay Walker. The fifth show into that tour was at the Houston Rodeo in front of 70,000 people. This is the situation where skill must equal performance ability on a grand stage. The last thing you want to have happen as a musician is to be caught in the “Crossfire” and exposed for your lack of preparedness. The only protection you’ve got in that instance is how well you’ve done your homework. Fortunately for Stephan, he was well prepared and played great. However, that’s not the only thing you’re tested on as the new guy on a gig. Musicians are analyzed from all angles when they join a band, and that includes how well you get along with your boss and your new bandmates. If you’re not a good bus hang, you probably won’t be on that bus for long. After a month of observation, Stephan was offered the position more firmly. He ended up playing with Clay Walker for three years and says there was no better gig in town for gaining experience and stage presence. He learned a lot about how to connect on stage and how to project energy to the crowd. Creatively, he was in his element because Clay put “Little Wing” into the set list at times and left his two guitar players go after it. We’ll just assume Stephan killed that each and every time.
Though Clay Walker was considered a full-time gig, on his days off, Stephan filled the hours with other opportunities. He played with Emerson Drive when he could in both Canada and the U.S., and played other gigs and showcases in town whenever possible. In January of 2014, he was offered a chance to go in a different direction with fellow Canadian and country artist, Lindsay Ell. Lindsay was set to open for The Band Perry on a tour that also included Easton Corbin. It’s always a risk to go from a firm foothold onto some potentially tenuous ground, but Stephan decided to take a chance and go out with Lindsay. As it turned out, he got to spend the days with Easton’s band and play with Lindsay at night. It was the right move to strengthen his resume and his guitar playing.
A few weeks before the tour with Lindsay was due to end, Stephan got a call from Craig Campbell‘s manager about a position they had open. A year earlier, they’d pitched him the same opening, but Stephan wasn’t ready to make that move then. This time, Craig had a new single that was climbing to the top of the charts, “Keep Them Kisses Comin’.” It was an attractive offer and he was in a position to take the gig. Things have worked out well with Craig and Stephan has been with him now for over a year. The schedule allows some flexibility so he can still take other gigs while playing mostly full-time with Craig. One of those opportunities was offered to him by Ken Tondre, manager and drummer for up and coming country duo, Waterloo Revival. Stephan was asked to play with them on a showcase they were doing and at Joe’s Bar in Chicago. Just recently, he played with them during ACM week at the convention center in Dallas during artist radio interviews. It was a high profile event and they were the only band playing. In May of this year, Stephan had the privilege of sharing the stage and playing guitar with country music legend, Tracy Lawrence. Another great experience for the resume.
As Stephan marks his five year anniversary as a Nashville resident, he’s logged a lot of miles and gained valuable experience. As a player, his stock has gone up tremendously over the years due to his work ethic and exceptional guitar skills. His reputation has grown along with his exposure and he gets offers to play with other artists often. How he got to this point was by doing what he loves as much as possible. He says you should take every opportunity and open door that’s offered to you. He’s diversifying some by doing session work when it’s offered and may try his hand at songwriting if so inspired. For the time being, he’s enjoying the road and traveling with his bandmates. Building those friendships on the road crosses over to the way you play as a band. When everyone is relaxed on stage, the performance is better overall. Being on a tour bus is what Stephan dreamed of as a young player in Canada, and mile by mile, he’s living that dream.
Stephan Laplante is one of those rare individuals who knows what they want from life at an early age. To get it, he had to custom build his path from a city with a limited music scene to one that identifies itself as Music City. He started learning and never stopped. He practiced as much as he drew breath. His uncle witnessed the countless hours of practice and knew how much his nephew wanted his dream. The huge support his uncle gave him has not been lost on Stephan. The path they traveled together, in and out of Canada, made his vision more clear and the dream possible. Stephan never dreaded the miles between gigs; he used them to learn, experience, and strengthen his resolve to one day be a great player boarding a tour bus to a world of opportunities to play. At the center of his dream is a vintage, left-handed guitar, that connects his heart to the music and the audience he’s playing for. He believes that you should play with your heart and try to have a moment with the audience. Putting your heart into the music will move someone more than a thousand notes ever could. Less is more, he believes. For Stephan, it isn’t about Solos, Sessions & Encores. It’s about being able to pack your dreams in a guitar case, teach yourself a new language, and then show everyone you ever play for the language that you speak. His left hand on the strings of an SRV guitar, he will “Testify” to the blues honest truth, and play until the “House Is Rockin’.”
Stephan Laplante and Landon Taylor playing “Little Wing” on tour with Clay Walker.
Follow Stephan on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/stephan.laplante
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