Scott Holt

Scott Holt

The American South has contributed much to musical history — and Scott Holt’s new album Kudzu establishes the lanky, tattooed Tennessean’s turf within the region’s strong songwriting tradition.  Until now, Holt has been best known for his blazing guitar, but he’s more than a six-string powerhouse. Kudzu trumpets his arrival as a penetrating and soulful storyteller whose songs touch the heart of modern life, yet possess a timeless appeal driven by a blend of honesty and pure musical expression.

Holt calls it “tapping a frequency – getting to a place where the sounds that my band and I make are warm, human and undisguised by technology.”  Joined by Dan Eubanks (bass) and Marshal Weaver (drums), they are creating songs that are real, about real people with real lives who are experiencing things worth writing about.  He shares, “So much of today’s music is just a commodity, something to use to sell jeans or coffee.  But music should be more than that. There have been times, like in the ’60s, when music had the power to change the world, so I believe that as an artist I should try to touch people’s lives and say something meaningful.”

For Holt, Kudzu is a breakthrough.  He has been refining his craft and the cumulative sense of what he aims to express has found its purest voice.  You can hear a fresh and thrilling level of artistry in the subtle balance of his evocative guitar licks, nakedly sincere voice and romantic lyrics in “Girl From ’84,” which has all the melody and magic that hits are made of.  Or the title track, which uses the broad-leafed plant that covers much of the southern landscape as a metaphor for unity during our divisive times. “Look on the TV/Whatever you see/It’s just a reflection of you and me,” Holt sings in Kudzu’s anthemic choruses.

“We spend so much time, as a culture, pointing fingers and isolating ourselves – singling out our differences,” he explains, “when the reality is that we all have the same dreams of health and happiness, we all want the best for the people we love, we all want to feel secure. Those things are essential qualities of being human and they connect us more than any religious or political differences separate us. That’s the truth, and that’s what I wrote about in ‘Kudzu’.”  “Living in Fear,” another core track, is a more observational take on that notion, its tale of media- and politics-driven mania ironically sweetened by Holt’s keening, purring bursts of fret board conjuring.

The true accent and power throughout Kudzu is firmly in his songs, alongside the epic playing. “In the past, making a new album was pretty much about dialing up a great guitar tone and the songs were excuses for soloing,” Holt allows. “For years, however, I hungered to reach this ‘frequency,’ this balance of music and message.  With Kudzu, I feel like I have found the pocket.

Holt caught rock ‘n’ roll fever when he was boy and his parents took him to his first concert: Elvis Presley. Today Presley’s trademark “TCB” with lightning bolt logo is tattooed on his right arm – a symbol of Holt’s fandom and work ethic. He also wears a tattoo of Jimi Hendrix.  “When I was a teenager and discovered Hendrix, I’d never heard anybody play like that and I instantly knew what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I begged my parents for a white Stratocaster and guitar lessons.”  His first instrument was a cheaper electric, but with the help of a Hendrix savvy instructor Holt was on his way, developing the rudiments of his style.  With Kudzu, you can hear echoes of Hendrix’s stinging vibrato and wah-soaked stringing booming through “Wicked Grip,” a dark-edged unadulterated rocker, and within the shimming chordal architecture of the album’s “The Fool.”

Holt made his first step toward musical apprenticeship when his father took him to Chicago to hear bluesman Buddy Guy. “I had never been in a club before or heard a really great guitar player like Buddy live,” Holt recounts. After a backstage meeting, the young student and venerable master stayed in touch. Over the next year or so Holt was invited on stage to jam with Guy, and then one day Guy called to invite Holt into his band.  “I’d never even been in a band before,” Holt says. “I tried to get bands together in my parents’ basement in Tennessee, but it never worked out. So all of a sudden at 18 I was leaving home for Chicago with my guitar, my amp, a suitcase and my passport.”

Holt played at Guy’s side for a decade. “Buddy taught me everything, from how to order at a restaurant to how to run a band and win over a crowd. He is my hero and one of my best friends. To this day, what he can do never ceases to amaze me.”      And Guy remains an enthusiastic supporter of Holt. “He heard Kudzu and told me, ‘Man, I’m really proud of you. You gotta move it around!’ ”

There is no question Holt has diversified his pure talent within the album Kudzu.  While blues remains a significant part of the core of his being, he is evolving as an artist.  His music is a reflection of his own character as both a man and an artist, growing every day.  He reflects, “I am a bluesman through and through, and it is always a part of who I am when recording or performing.  It has been an affirmation over the past year as I play these songs for audiences who love them.  I believe in them with all my heart, and I have never been more confident or honest lyrically.  It really has been a special experience to be sharing them with audiences for the first time and getting the strong response from audiences night in and night out.”

Holt credits his Kudzu co-producers Tim O’Brien and Doug ‘Truth’ Smith with helping him achieve the fearless quality that makes for great performances. “It was obvious they believed in my songs and the direction I was heading in every inch of the way. It’s the first time I’ve really experienced that in the studio,” he explains.  “If you listen,” Holt continues, “you can always hear the blues in the foundation of my playing, but the greatest bluesmen, like Buddy and Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, were always changing, experimenting and evolving. Now that I’ve been able to do the same, I feel that with Kudzu I’ve found the key to not only my own musical future, but something bigger than myself.”

 


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