jay@bopswingntwang.com

Bop Swing n Twang

The Home Of Old School Guitar

Jimmy Bryant – The Fastest Guitarist In Town

Image of jimmy Bryant & his custom Telecaster

Jimmy Bryant passed away in 1980 due to lung cancer, just as I was discovering his music and incredibly fast playing technique. There was no internet back then so information was very thin on the ground. But even today when I have discussions with fellow players, when I mention the name Jimmy Bryant I get a blank look.

To me this is outrageous, as he was possibly one of, if not the fastest guitarist ever! Even by today’s standards, there aren't many players that could match him.

Now I know this may sound like a very biased and bold statement just because I like him. Just read on and have a listen for yourself, you might be quite surprised at what you hear.

Frettin’ Fingers

The Night Rider

I've heard rumors that back in the days when Jimmy was just starting to make a name for himself, it was assumed that his recordings were speeded up. When people actually got to see him perform, they were astounded to see that he could repeat this speed live!

Famous jazz guitarist Barney Kessel is quoted to have said:

"Of all the guitar players I have known, Jimmy Bryant is the fastest and the cleanest, and has more technique than any other".

Which is quite some accolade.

Albert Lee, a famous guitarist from England was massively inspired by Bryant and copied his playing technique in many of his recordings. He said that he loved Bryant's playing style, speed and incredible technique.

Humble Beginnings

Bryant was born John Ivy Bryant Jnr, in Moultrie, Georgia on March 5th, 1925 and he was the oldest of 12. He actually started out as a fiddler, taught by his father. He was heavily influenced by jazz guitarists such a Django Reinhardt whom he listened to in hospital after a grenade injury to his hand in Germany.

The Day I Discovered Jimmy

I must have been in my late teens, a good friend bought me an Album (that’s what they were called back then) for Christmas called Country Cabin Jazz by Jimmy Bryant. I'd never heard of this guy, my friend simply told me to play it and I'll love it. So I did and the rest is history.

I foolishly loaned the album out and never saw it again and it is no longer available other than on import, but it comes at a very high price.

Although it was released in 1960 it covers a lot Jimmy's recordings from around the 50's where he worked with a pedal steel player called Speedy West. They compliment each other perfectly and once you hear some of the playing you begin to understand why he was nicknamed “The Fastest Guitarist In The Country”.

Although he is seen as a country player, the moment you hear him you realize there is a lot more going on. The early jazz influences stand out and from the moment you hear the first track called Frettin' Fingers and you just know this is something special.

Jimmy Bryant sat on Vox guitar car.

Jimmy's Influence On Rockabilly

In late 1956 legendary Rockabilly artist Sammy Masters cut 5 tracks, even to this day these tracks stand the test of time, one of the reasons for this is the inclusion of Jimmy Bryant on lead guitar. Usually when you listen to music of that era you have a fair idea of what you're going to expect when the guitar solo comes along. This is most certainly not the case in this instance. The tracks in question are:

  • Pink CadillacSammy Masters
  • Some Like it Hot
  • Flat Feet
  • 2 Rock-A-Four
  • Whop-T-Bop

I purchased a compilation album many years ago and it featured a track called Pink Cadillac by Johnny Todd, and I was always shocked at the guitar solo. I had no idea that it was Jimmy Bryant at the time and I recently read that Sammy Masters doesn't know where the name Johnny Todd came from.

Studying Jimmy Bryant, Where Do You Start?

Although Jimmy had a very unique playing style, a good place to start is to understand what’s going on within the music. The first thing that's going to stand out is the sheer speed, he is also very precise. I doubt that he would play using alternative picking, and as it is known that Jimmy was a fan of Django Reinhardt, so it's more likely he would have been using a technique which is sometimes referred to as “Economy Picking”.

I've worked on this technique myself the last couple of years and it does indeed help picking speeds vastly and is also very useful for country flat picking, which Jimmy also used a lot in tunes such as Old Joe Clark and Arkansas Traveler.

A lot of these country tunes tend to be based around major scales, that’s the easy part. Not only do you have to generate the immense speed that Jimmy was known for. He also renowned for going off on a tangent and using some really unexpected jazz scales and arpeggios, which is what initially made his playing stand out for me.

I've discovered that a good style to study to help you get in the ball park of what's going on is bebop, There are a few good books out there that cover this and I shall post some articles in the near future. Bebop players use a lot of arpeggios due to the frequent chord changes, then you can apply chromatic notes to connect them as the chord changes come.

The picking technique alone is a few months study, the scales and arpeggios are a whole other beast and depending on how far you want to take this, there is a lifetime of study in there. Of course, you don't need to know everything, my philosophy is to try and learn the parts that are relevant to me.

Of course, a knowledge of jazz chords and substitutions will become essential for the jazzier Bryant pieces. This is an area that I’m weak in myself, but I'm working through a few books and will share my progress in the near future.

Jimmy's Gear

I've tried to source what gear he actually used, but the information is a little thin on the ground. He is known for playing his trademark Fender Telecaster, his amp studio amp was a Fender Tweed Pro with two 10” speakers.

In some tracks it sounds like the recording is double tracked, but I've read that these tracks were in fact played on a 12 string guitar with an unusual tuning. Again, I shall be digging deeper on this one and shall update this article as soon as possible.

Rare recordings

Aside from some of his great albums include Country Cabin Jazz & Swinging On The Strings there are some even rarer recordings out there.

I've found a link to a Les Paul album featuring Jimmy, recorded in 1973 called Suntide Desert Jam, I've never heard it as it isn't available anywhere. If anyone has any more information on this I'd love to know more.Front Cover Of Suntide Desert Jam

Do you share my love for Jimmy Bryant, please leave a comment.

 

26 Comments

  1. Larry

    Hey, Jay.

    I’m not too familiar with bebop and how it’s played but to hear about Jimmy Bryant listening to the recordings makes me what to study more of his technic.

    I have to bookmark this post of yours so I can come back and study your writings.

    Thanks for sharing the history of this legend and hope someday I’m worthy of playing his music.

    Larry

    Reply
    1. admin

      He is one of the greatest and vastly underrated as far as I’m concerned. I certainly intend to link up to relevant lessons over time & I appreciate your dropping by 🙂

      Reply
  2. Nigel

    I must admit, I’d never heard of him either. I listened to the video’s and as you say, quite amazing speed. Compare that with today’s modern technology and he was probably ahead of his time. Great write up Jay. Don’t think I’ll forget his name in a hurry.

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thanks Nigel, it’s my mission to introduce people to these talented players, I think they deserve a mention. I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment & hope to hear from you again in the future 🙂

      Reply
  3. Bruce

    Hi Jay, You have a great site .The appearance works well with your niche. I hadn’t heard of Jimmy but thanks to you I do now.

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thanks a lot Bruce, a lot of people haven’t heard of him and that’s the reason for this article. He may have died a long time ago, but he still deserves recognition for his amazing talent 🙂

      Reply
  4. Eoinmc

    I’m 54 now and have played guitar all my life and I must confess that I’m one those outrageous people who’ve never heard of Jimmy Bryant.
    However after listening to Jimmy on your video I am impressed, so I thank you for educating me.
    The next time someone mentions Jimmy Bryant to me I won’t stare blankly. I’ll say …oh yeah … Jimmy … super player but a shame that so many people know so little about him.

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thanks for the humorous comment, I appreciate you stopping by. I wasn’t implying that people like yourself are outrageous, I think the music industry is. It is so controlled the true talent often gets overlooked.

      Reply
  5. Jade

    Lovely written article 🙂 Very informative and classy – Thank you

    Jade

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thank you Jade, I appreciate you taking the time to stop by 🙂

      Reply
  6. Hagop Margossian

    This is a very informational website! It really drew me in. Your layout, content, and framework is all very well made. You are on a very good track and your website is coming along very well. I enjoyed your content a lot and I’m looking forward to reading more articles in the future. Thank you and keep up the great work!
    Hagop

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thank you Hagop, I appreciate your kind words. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      Reply
  7. Melissa

    Hey, I play the guitar but not professionally and to hear this inspires me to pick up my guitar again. This guy is amazing i can barely change my fingers like that and he sounds like he does it with ease. I will be keeping this to learn more thanks for the inspiration 🙂

    Reply
    1. admin

      He Melissa, I’ve started teaching myself his technique, generating the speed really takes a lot of work. I’m hoping to put up lessons on here eventually once I’ve built the site out, so don’t give up learning. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, it’s much appreciated 🙂

      Reply
  8. Mark

    I love the Niche! this is great, I love the colors, the font goes very well for the time era as well. everything flows very nicely.

    -Mark

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thanks a lot Mark, appreciate you stopping by.

      Reply
  9. Marant

    Hi Jay,
    Man that’s some serious twangin going on! Like most i don’t know Jimmy Bryant but this music sounds real familiar to me. I must say I love that old rockabilly sound! It’s guys like Jimmy Bryant- Fastest Guitar In Town and Les Paul who paved the way for so many guitar greats. Always fun to see how music progresses and changes through the years. Great Article and I love your site theme. Very nice fit for your niche!

    Marant

    Reply
    1. admin

      Thanks a lot Marant, I am glad you appreciate Jimmies playing. I think it’s a crying shame that he has gone unnoticed for such a long time. but hopefully this article may change it, even if it’s only to a few people 🙂

      Reply
  10. Dan

    frettin fingers sure is a quick song, the amount of practice and time that went into this must be truly phenomenal. Good to hear your learning to play some of Jimmy’s material, are we going to get a demo form you?

    Reply
    1. Jay (Post author)

      Hi Dan, I intend to start putting lessons & videos of myself playing eventually.

      Reply
  11. Daniel

    It is a really great article on Jimmy! I didn’t know him until now but now he is standing ready to be listened on my playlist.

    Good job man, waiting for your next article!

    Reply
    1. admin

      I’m glad you enjoyed Jimmy, he is my goto whenever I need musical inspiration. I also appreciate you taking the time to comment 🙂

      Reply
  12. Eileen

    Wow! Amazing. I am astounded that anyone can move their fingers so fast. Great website. I am so glad to have learned about Jimmy Bryant.
    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Jay (Post author)

      Hi Eileen, your response to first hearing Jimmy is pretty much what mine was like all those years ago. I was quite astonished 🙂

      Reply
  13. phil

    Yes Jay:
    Wonderful music indeed would never stop listening to it. And new to me.
    And beautiful site too, congratulations.
    Your friend Phil from WA.

    Reply
    1. Jay (Post author)

      Thanks a lot Phil, glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *