Don’t you feel it growing, day by day

People, getting ready for the news

Some are happy, some are sad

Oh, we got to let the music play

     Gary Jannaman approaches music with a state of mind. If his guitar gently weeps, it’s because he pulled the tears from the strings on purpose. Born with a natural ear for music, he listens intently to a song before attempting to understand it, interpret it, and play it. Teaching himself to play, he never read music. He felt it. Music, in its purest form, isn’t notated or rigidly scripted. It takes form in the soul of the player, and wells up as emotion that bleeds through the instrument. If you don’t invest a part of yourself in interpretive play, the song lacks meaning and impact. Without impact, music has no purpose other than background noise. Gary understands that, and invests himself fully in how and why each song takes the form it does. He has a selection of guitars to choose from on any given song, and their place in his collection was not a random thought. As precise as the aim of a sharpshooter, Gary arms himself with the guitar best suited to interpret the sound he’s feeling, and in the moment, let the music play….

     Gary’s musical state of mind developed early on in his home state of Delaware. He picked up a pair of drumsticks and played on an old set of his dad’s before settling on the guitar at age ten. He discovered that he liked the melodies over the beat, and enjoyed the freedom of movement while standing up and playing. Citing his guitar influences, he broke them out into three separate categories – rock, blues, and country players. The music he listened to growing up was rock, and with players like James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica, and Slash of GNR to inspire him, the guitar spoke the language his mind was reading and his ear was listening to. He got a beginner guitar from a local music store and taught himself to play, for the most part. YouTube wasn’t an option back then for do-it-yourself learning; it was pop in a cassette tape and listen up. Over time, he trained his ear to pick up every nuance, every detail in the guitar part of the song. It was a lot of work, over a long period of time, but as he pointed out, “Between the ages of 11-16, what else do you have to do before you can drive?”

     Expanding on that theory, if you’re not old enough to park a car in the garage, you may as well put a band in it. By the age of 13, Gary had joined a garage band. Surrounding himself with 17 and 18 year olds, he said he learned a lot about what not to do. At 15, he was playing the local bar circuit in Delaware, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. He said people always assumed he was older than he was. Moving from the garage to an actual music scene served as an incubator for Gary’s talent, allowing him to learn through immersion. He focused his attention on the better, more experienced players, and challenged himself to move up to their level. Every night he got to play was another chance to learn something. Being exposed to such an organic musical environment, at a time in his life when he was maturing as a person and a player, was kaleidoscopic in nature. Bits of the music, the players, and the audience were all thrown together in a random turning of the kaleidoscopic lens. Pulling in both the best and the worst of the elements in the room, he was able to filter what he wished to commit to memory and discard the refuse. The picture he was left with was a rough, but colorful sketch of what life in the music business might entail. Outside of his night life, he was still in high school. His schedule included a guitar class that he said his teacher enlisted him to help teach. That student teaching gig earned him his grade. We’ll just assume it was an ‘A.’

What the people need

Is a way to make ’em smile

It ain’t hard to do if you know how

Gotta get a message

Get it on through

Oh now mama, don’t you ask me why


Photo by Bill McClintic, 90 East Photography.

     Left to his own devices after high school, Gary’s life was a musical a la carte menu. He taught guitar lessons in a local music store where he got to pay forward what he’d learned, having an impact on younger and less experienced players. Being a voracious learner himself, he found this a rewarding experience. He continued playing with local rock bands and expanding on his own music education through hands-on experience. Sated with what the music scene had to offer in his home locality, he was anxious to explore a new vibe. He, alone, was in charge of the Gary Jannaman experience. He played amongst a lot of new faces and skill levels and discovered a genre he wasn’t familiar with, country music. He was fascinated with what had become mainstream, guitar-driven country music that was being played by Keith Urban and Brad Paisley. Seizing another opportunity to learn something new, he studied the guitar styles of Brent Mason and Johnny Hiland and tried his hand at a country standard style of play, chicken pickin’. Citing Keith Urban’s playing with The Ranch, his early band, he was drawn to the sound and the possibilities of a unique style. Intuitively, he knew what he wanted to do, it was more of a directional question that needed an answer. Pursuing a life in the ranks of professional musicians was a given, without question. He said, “If you have to think about it, it’s not for you.” That’s his advice to anyone thinking of getting into the music business. His inner reassurance about his intended path was absolute. He’d decided it was time to stop spending money on his passion and start making some. With the music constantly driving his breadth and ambition, it was time to listen to the music….all the time.

Well I know, you know better

Everything I say

Meet me in the country for a day

We’ll be happy

And we’ll dance

Oh, we’re gonna dance our blues away

     Growing up in Delaware, Gary was just 2.5 hours from New York City. The music scene there was a vibrant and eclectic one, with a lot of rock and pop opportunities. Being able to gig all over a wide landscape, with NYC as the epicenter, is an attractive option for a musician. Alternately, he’d been practicing and experimenting a lot with his new muse, country-style guitar playing, and found he was really enjoying it. There was no way to compare the two styles of country and rock, in terms of playing, because their elements are completely different. Soon, he was back in his room working hard on learning by ear this new, guitar-driven country music. Acting on his urge to make a move in a new direction, he went to Nashville and spent three weeks with the only guy he knew there. He found it to be comfortable and inspiring, and somehow right for the opportunities he was seeking. Logistically, and stylistically, Nashville and NYC were miles apart. From Delaware, Nashville is 800 miles away, and NYC is 150, but Gary decided that Nashville was closer to his musical desires and more in line with the path he saw for himself. He grabbed a U-Haul, got set up in an apartment with a roommate, and refocused his state of mind from the Billy Joel inspired, “New York State of Mind,” to Hank Williams Jr.’s preferred, “Country State of Mind.”

     When most people make a move to a new city, the job is there waiting. When you’re seeking employment as a professional musician, it’s rare to walk right into a gig. While you’re working to gain a reputation and a foothold in Music City, a steady income is a necessity. Playing is mostly a nighttime engagement, leaving room for the necessary evil of a day job. For the first two years Gary was in Nashville, he worked in residential construction. Reconciling the need, he said, “It paid the rent, the groceries, and kept the strings on the guitar.” To get those strings heard, he started a rock band with the only guy he’d known upon arrival and they played a slew of local venues. Nashville provided the petri dish where rock guys could hang with country guys in a setting where love of music trumped genre. In this environment, anything can happen in terms of opportunities that present themselves.

     Despite his being seen playing in a rock band, he was offered a gig playing country when a band JANNAMAN, GARY WITH CHICKENsuddenly needed a guitar player…..for the next morning. It was a cover band, with a 40-song set list, playing a two to three hour bar show. Gary told them to send the list, and he left work. Having to learn the material exclusively by ear, he said it was like cramming for a first, and final exam, at once. Fortunately, with a trained ear, you can quickly learn the music because you know where the song’s going to go. He passed the exam and became a regular guy on this gig. Once his foot was in the door, every connection became another potential opportunity. At one point, he was introduced to producer, Michael Knox, whose wealth of connections would factor into Gary’s future gigs with other country artists. Networking opens doors to those situations where a guy knows a guy, who knows a guy, that leads to sub gigs, playing showcases, and a cascade of opportunities to be seen and heard. Being a part of a go-to musician contact list puts you in a position to play with several different artists at one time, meet a lot of new people, and learn new music. This helps build your repertoire and further develop your ear mechanical playing skills. It’s also a huge benefit to learning the standards and secondary standards of Nashville songs.

And if I’m feeling good to you

And you’re feeling good to me

There ain’t nothing we can’t do or say

Feeling good, feeling fine

Oh baby, let the music play

     Whenever a musician comes to Nashville, their ultimate goal is to play music for a living. As the work comes in, the balance between necessary day job, and increasing demands from gigs, reaches a breaking point. Suddenly, you’re too busy to keep your day job, but the nighttime gigs aren’t lucrative enough to compensate. For Gary, he had a little help in making the leap of faith to pursue music full-time. The housing market imploded and he was laid off from his day job. It was the push he needed to embrace his dream, wholeheartedly. The way he saw it, “Why struggle to do something you hate, when you can do something you love?” In the beginning, getting those guitar strings heard means playing the brutal Broadway circuit. Four hour gigs with no breaks is the norm. Your life becomes playing, and meeting players, all day long, not knowing who you may meet and what you may learn to further your career. You say yes to every gig, try not to double-book yourself, and play every day, anywhere from four to twelve hours a day. Life suddenly requires that you listen to the music……all the time.

     While playing showcases locally, Gary met Josh Gracin’s tour manager, Chris Hurt. This wasn’t JANNAMAN, GARY WITH UMBRELLAjust a formal introduction, it became a genuine relationship. When a slot opened up on Josh’s tour in December, 2011, it didn’t even require an audition. Chris vouched for Gary, and he had but a quick rehearsal before doing a headlining set. This was his first shot at an artist gig in Nashville and he was determined to make the most of it. He crammed like crazy, got on the bus, and landed at the historic Billy Bob’s in Fort Worth, Texas, the biggest honky tonk in America. Not a bad stage for your first artist gig. For the first time in his career, he was touring on a bus consistently, playing relevant venues, and getting a taste of the perks of touring life. When they played the Detroit Hoedown at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers, Gary said it was the first time he couldn’t assess the crowd. Standing on the catwalk and getting to play guitar in a spotlight, for a mass of people, all there to see you, was a reality check. Playing like this, live, was getting to live some of the things he’d been dreaming about.

Like a lazy flowing river

Surrounding castles in the sky

And the crowd is growing bigger

Listening for the happy sounds

And I got to let them fly

     In July, 2012, Gary’s connection to Michael Knox led to another gig opportunity. Rachel Farley was a new artist in need of a guitar player and band leader. She was the opening act on Jason Aldean’s tour, which also featured Luke Bryan. The opportunity seemed to come at just the right time. Josh Gracin’s schedule had slowed down, and Gary wanted to be out playing every day. He was excited to stretch his professional legs, and humbled to be trusted to lead a band of professional musicians behind a new artist. He gave Josh three weeks notice and offered to find his own replacement. Going straight into rehearsals with Rachel, Gary was soon immersed in the day-to-day operations of being on a major tour. It was a positive experience all the way around, and one he used to build on when the next operational duty was offered to him.

     In need of a tour manager, Michael Knox asked Gary if he would consider adding that hat to the ones he already wore as lead guitarist and band leader for Rachel Farley. Taking this on was a game-changing experience. The job of a tour manager is all-consuming. Yes, it raises your paycheck, but it’s also likely to raise your blood pressure. As a band member, your job is to be aware of the schedule as it pertains to you. As a tour manager, everyone’s schedule is now yours as well. From the guys pushing cases in the early morning hours to the last person you hand a check to at the end of the night, it is the tour manager’s job to be aware of everyone else’s day. On the road, that means all of the pieces and the players who make that concert event happen are your responsibility. When you’re at home, you’re making arrangements for future shows. On tour, you’re making sure the puzzle pieces come together as they need to. In order to accommodate the demands of the job, you give up your personal life. Gary said he also didn’t feel like a guitar player anymore, and it started to wear on him.


Photo by Chad Mercurio.

     In October, 2013, a fresh opportunity presented itself that would take Gary out of the “Crossfire” he was caught in, between being a player and an organizer. He’d known Tracy Goode, bass player, when he played with Josh Gracin. Tracy was now with Tyler Farr, and when they decided to add another guitar player, he called Gary. There was no audition and one rehearsal. He would need to learn the songs, and be ready to leave that night, and there would be no tour bus for transportation. His decision to leave his title, the extra income, and the comfort of tour life on a bus to tour out of a van with Tyler Farr, wasn’t an easy one. As it turned out, he needed the change more than he knew. He was thrilled to get back to a manageable daily schedule that was basically eat, shower, and play guitar at various intervals. Tour life at its basic best. When he joined Tyler Farr’s tour, “Redneck Crazy” was at #14 on the charts. Shortly thereafter, it went to #1 while they were on stage one night. They celebrated the feat with Dom and cigars, so euphoric they accidentally left their merch guy behind when the bus pulled out that night. It happens, and they did go back and pick him up. When the album, Redneck Crazy, came out, it already had a #1 single on it. They performed on Fox & Friends in New York City in support of the album release, and Gary saw it as a defining moment. In retrospect, he remembers feeling grateful, excited, and accomplished at having moved up another step on the professional ladder.

     As 2014 rolled in, Gary again found himself on tour with Jason Aldean. Tyler Farr was the opening act on a tour that also included Florida Georgia Line. This was the year that Tyler kicked it into full gear, playing 200 shows. In between dates with Jason Aldean, they were headlining their own shows. With Jason, they played baseball stadiums throughout the country, while enjoying the success of having the #1 song on country radio at the time, “Whiskey In My Water.” They played CMA Fest, the Detroit Hoedown, and the FGL Cruise. It was a breakthrough year that catapulted Tyler and the band onto relevant stages. They were nationally recognizable, and their fan base grew. Gary summed it up as the best year of his life from a professional perspective, and one he doesn’t take for granted. What he says keeps him grounded is remembering the fact that many people are lucky just to find a job they hate. He feels very fortunate to have found reward, both personally and professionally, in doing what he loves.

     The year ended with an eye-opening experience that showed the universality that only music can create. Tyler Farr took his drummer, Mark Poiesz, and Gary with him on a ten-day tour that included stops in Bahrain, Djibouti, and aboard the USS Carl Vinson. In three such diverse places, what else could you bring that would resonate equally, but the gift of music. From the lavishness of Bahrain to the poverty of Djibouti, Gary said they experienced the diversity and reality of the world. It was a relatively short trip amongst the many days they’d spent on tour that year, but the impact will last a lifetime. They returned home just in time for Christmas, and spent the rest of the year jet lagged. After just eight days off, they were back at it again. This year their calendar was full, consisting of more dates with Jason Aldean, an episode of CMT Listen Up, the iHeart Music Festival, and a trip to Jamaica, just to name a few. Being with Tyler Farr and the other guys in the band, Gary says it’s the happiest he’s ever been on a gig. He’s been surrounded by great guys on this tour, and it’s very much a family atmosphere. If you’re going to spend this much time with the same bunch of guys, occupying the same space, and riding in the same vehicle, it’s kinda nice to be able to listen to the music……all the time, without fighting over the radio station.

     Finding a gig at all in Nashville can sometimes feel like an impossible dream. Finding a well matched artist and musician is even more challenging. Gary has managed to find both. With Tyler Farr, you get a fresh stage each night on which to make music. He’s pulled together a group of guys, who all bring different things to the table musically, and lets them all do what they do. There is nothing false about Tyler Farr, and his band reflects that genuine statement. In this environment, their melting pot style has flourished. Gary has eight guitars on tour, and they serve a specific, but flexible purpose. When absolute tuning is essential, the guitar that can best create that sound is chosen. If they’re looking to recreate a sound on a particular song, as recorded, there is a guitar on the rack for that purpose. More often, and most importantly, those eight guitars represent a latitude of sound, design, and state of mind. Depending on the mood, his ear may hear the sound coming from a beat up telecaster or a flying V. Pulling from the rack, he’ll choose accordingly.


Photo by Kiri Lin.

     Gary Jannaman is very particular about everything in his life. For every choice, there is careful consideration. He is passionate in his approach to music, and deliberate in his professional choices. There is a calmness in his demeanor that defies the passion in his guitar playing. To define the man and the musician, you must simply watch him play. He expresses himself best at the end of a catwalk, standing in a spotlight. What he has to say begins with the look of the guitar he’s holding. Muse in hand, he’ll close his eyes and listen to the song in his head. Absorbing the emotion of the moment, and the roar of the crowd at his feet, his guitar strings are electric at the touch of passion, meets creativity, and musical finesse. Concert moments aren’t created when learned notes and chords are simply filtered through an instrument. We throw our horns in the air when we’re moved to do so by a musician whose interpretive play demands a reaction. Gary lives to create those moments where what moves him, moves us as listeners. When he lets the sound fly from the strings of his guitar, it makes everyone in the audience want to listen to the music…..all the time.

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Bev Miskus

Blogger of all things music related in Nashville and beyond.

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