GUEST POST: Tom Bukovac interview by Nick Brown

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Open a CD recorded in Nashville from the last few years and it’s a pretty good bet that Tom Bukovac has played guitar on it – Keith Urban, Kenny Rogers, Sheryl Crow, Leann Rimes, Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, Dolly Parton and the list goes on…

There’s a reason he appears on so many albums…the guy can play! Great tone, feel and a bang up guy to boot – Quite literally he is one of the top of ‘go to’ players if you need some guitar and a hook for your track!

I’ve read about you playing in bars as a kid and doing the old ‘learn to play on the gig’ type deal. Did you have formal lessons also growing up?

No formal lessons, my older brother plays and he showed me some stuff to get me started. I just kinda took it from there, spent a lot of time learning parts off records by ear…. lots of old Beatles and Yes stuff.

How important is a knowledge of theory and sight reading in your job?

In Nashville where I live it’s not very important at all…I can’t read a single note of music and it hasn’t slowed me down one bit. If I lived in LA or NYC it would be much more important to read, because of all the jingle and soundtrack session work there.

Obviously as a studio player you have to be able to cover a lot of ground tone wise. I’ve seen pics of various rigs with you using pedals, rack gear, multiple heads (bogner, matchless, marshall etc). Does that change regularly? Do you take everything to a session and work from there or?

I am constantly changing things around…it’s an illness really! I get bored with sounds easily…I never want to do the same thing too long. For a long time I was doing the big 100 watt amp and 4×12″ cab thing…. but in the last year or so I’ve really made a shift to smaller amps. I’ve got a bunch of old tweed deluxes and princeton reverbs now and I’m getting back to the more snarly, mid rangey, honest guitar tones of the early 70’s. Stuff like you hear on the early ZZ Top or Badfinger records, I’m very excited by raw, less effected sounds these days. Those sounds never go out of style, a good old Gibson straight into a tweed deluxe – that’s about as good as it gets in my book.

You’re a fan of vintage guitars?

Absolutely. I’ve been buying, selling and playing old guitars since I was about 19. I’ve managed to hold on to some really fantastic guitars over the years that I’m very lucky to own. The top of the heap no doubt being a blonde 1960 ES-335 – one of only 209 blonde dot necks ever made! It’s a truly magic instrument on all levels.

In regards to session playing –

What’s the breakdown of reading sessions or notated/set parts as opposed to being asked to just play something that suits the track? And do you always know in advance what will be required?

In Nashville you rarely ever get to hear anything in advance. Like I said before there is no sight reading to deal with we just use “number charts”. These spell out the chord changes by relative intervals, it’s very handy because you can change keys without having to rewrite your chart.
No one ever writes out specific parts for you to play – your job as a session guitar player in Nashville is to come up with hooky guitar parts on the fly, in an attempt to make something interesting out of songs that usually have very little harmonic content or unique chord progressions written into them and it can be very difficult at times.

Is there any full band live tracking or just overdubs?

We usually track with a full band and then I usually go in later and spend a couple days on each record doing guitar overdubs after the fact. I really enjoy that part (ESPECIALLY when I have a great engineer to work with), most of the producers that hire me give me a lot creative freedom in the overdubbing process. The engineer, in my opinion is without a doubt THE most important guy on the whole session – he can make or break any musical situation. There simply is no group of top notch musicians in the world that can overcome a terrible engineer and I’ve been on so many sessions that have been destroyed by incompetent engineers, it’s truly heartbreaking. Adversely, when you get a great engineer everything is just SO easy – it’s like going to a nice resort spa or something.

Do you have a home studio? Ever work from home and ftp sessions?

I do have a studio but I’m usually too busy working in other places to ever use it and I’ve never done an ftp session.

You obviously do your majority of work in Nashville. Do you ever work in other areas – LA, New York etc? Any differences between the recording scenes?

I have been working a bit in LA this past year with a fabulous producer named Matt Serletic. He used me on the new Rob Thomas record that will be coming out shortly and it was a real blast working with him – wall to wall guitars on that record!! Also I got to work with a bunch of sessions side by side with Tim Pierce – it was really great to see how he did things, he’s a very cool guy.

Having worked with a huge list of great artists, a lot of guitar players get drawn to you work with Keith Urban and Dann Huff. With them being great players in their own right it must be interesting to work in those situations and hear what they’ve played and then lay down your own stuff?

For some reason other guitar players seem comfortable around me. They know I’m not a competitive type of person and I clearly understand my role as a supporting musician when I’m working with guys like Keith or Vince Gill or whoever. I’m there to come up with some cool hooks and textures that work well along with what THEY are playing – always leaving plenty of room and listening carefully to what they’ve got going on. Be the yin to the yang at all times!

Lastly, when will your Myspace blog ‘Session Man’ be transformed into a big budget Hollywood style Blockbuster with fast cars, sassy girls and the general frivolity and hijinks that the session world is no doubt associated with?

Ha!! I’m gonna get back on the session man bit soon…..I’ve had a terrible accident recently and I’m gonna be out of work for at least two months. I nearly cut my middle finger of my left hand off in a stupid attempt to carry a very heavy piece of gear. I broke the fingertip bone and had to get 10 stiches, it was just horrendous.

I’m praying that all will heal and I’ll be able to get back to my normal sloppy self eventually.

About Nick Brown

I’m a guitarist currently residing in Melbourne, Australia although I grew up in the small but awesome town of Yinnar (go on Google it!!!). I do a number of different gigs as well as teaching and writing for magazines such as Mixdown and Australian Guitar. I’m a huge music fan (rock/pop/jazz/fusion/latin/country/blues etc) and love (trying) to keep up to date with new gear (pedals/amps/guitars/players). Feel free to email me or checkout my MySpace!

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4 Replies to “GUEST POST: Tom Bukovac interview by Nick Brown”

  1. Tom, It is great to see that you make a fine life for yourself. I guess my buying your baseball cards and you using the money for a guitar worked out well for you. Take care, Gary

  2. FINALLY! an interview with one of the best guitarists out there!!! i've been looking and emailing guitar magazines to do a peice on Tom for quite some time. thanks for getting the interview and thanks Tom for being such a great musical inspiration!

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