4th June 2018

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown: “We’re on a mission to bring rock’n’roll to the world!’

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown return to Ramblin’ Man as conquering heroes. They made their debut at the festival on the Blues Stage last year. This time around, the Nashville band appear on the Main Stage on Sunday as part of an unofficial Tennessee Takeover alongside fellow Music City acts The Cadillac Three and Halestorm.
“We had a great time last year,” says Bryant. “We had a packed out tent and I’m just happy that we got asked to come back and play.”

The Shakedown – completely by bassist Noah Denney, drummer Caleb Crosby and guitarist Graham Whitford, the latter the son of Aerosmith six-stringer Brad Whitford – have had stellar few years, supporting everyone from Guns N’ Roses to the Axl Rose-fronted incarnation of AC/DC, while their self-titled second album was acclaimed as one of the finest rock’n’roll records as 2017. But they’ve had their tough times too – seven songs they recorded for their former record label, Republic, were shelved and have never seen the light of day. “It’s frustrating but you’ve gotta move on,” says the Texas-born 27-year-old. “We’re on a mission to bring rock’n’roll to the world.”

How does a kid from small town Texas end up opening for Guns N’ Roses and AC/DC?

Man, it’s been a lot just playing every gig you get offered, from crappy little club gigs upwards to great opening slots. People ask, ‘What’s it like opening for AC/DC compared to playing your own shows?’, and the truth is we just give it hell every time we play – it doesn’t matter if it’s our own show or Ramblin’ Man, we’re just there to play rock’n’roll to the best of our abilities. ‘The fact that we’re all down to earth southern dudes has really brought a lot of great opportunities our way, because that whole arrogant, we’re-hot-shit mentality is so passé. We just try to play the best rock’n’roll we can, everywhere we get a chance to.’

Who inspired you to pick up your first guitar?

Elvis Presley. When I was in first grade, the teacher showed the whole class a video of Elvis, and I just immediately thought, ‘I want to be like that.’ I didn’t realise he wasn’t playing a lot of guitar, but just the way he shook it and the sound of rock’n’roll and the blues just captivated me.
As I started getting a little older, Johnny Winter’s Greatest Hits really got me, and then it was Back In Black and Appetite For Destruction, which was kind of crazy cos it’s come full circle for me. And then it became Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and it still is Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

Was your dad a musician?

It’s funny, man, I grew up in such a country town – my dad is into old school country. My first concert was George Strait. Rock’n’roll was very foreign to my family, but my parents are cool. The best thing I learned from my old man is that you gotta work hard, no matter what you’re doing. And if you see how many shows the Shakedown play a year, I was brought up with that ‘Get out and earn your keep’ mentality.

The other big figure in your life was your mentor, the late Roosevelt Twitty. Where did you meet him?

I was in a music store when I was 11 years old, and I was kind of killing time and he was in there playing blues – Texas Flood by Stevie Ray Vaughan. I had never heard blues before – I was just completely captivated. He asked me if I liked blues and I told him I didn’t know, and he said, ‘Well, I’m playing the blues.’ The next time I went in, he was there again, and again the next time. He picked me up from school, we’d go to his house and listen to records and he would show me how to play certain things on the guitar – he became one of the deepest wells of inspiration in my life.

What was it about the blues that hooked you in?

It’s hard to pinpoint. But something about the sound of it resonated with me emotionally. That still happens with all kinds of music, whether it’s a Tom Waits song or a punk rock song – whenever you believe something, it just captivates you. The blues did.
But it was also the way Mr Twitty was so giving of music – he’d say, ‘Hey, check out this record, check out that record.’ I felt like I belonged to a club. We started a group called The Blues Buddies, and it was our own little gang – we listened to the same music, we could talk about guitars and stuff. It was just a cool place for me to feel like I belonged somewhere. And it was rebellious too, because nobody I knew listened to that music. I felt like I was sitting on buried treasure.

When you were still a teenager, you toured with Jeff Beck, jamming with him most nights. How did that come about?
As far as I know, Jeff saw a video of me playing an acoustic song on YouTube, and he just asked me to come and open for him playing an acoustic set. I’d never done that before, but obviously you don’t say no to one of your heroes. In my childhood bedroom, I still have the Guitar Shop album pinned up on the wall, cos I love that cover, so it was pretty surreal opening for him and getting to know him and jam with him so many times. We still stay in touch.

You moved to Nashville a few years ago. It’s a real country music city. Why did a rock’n’roll guy like you move there?

Well, it was between Los Angeles, New York and Nashville, and obviously I’m a country boy, so I just thought, ‘Well, there’s music in Nashville and there’s probably better fishing there.’ I went to LA, but I didn’t really like the traffic and how spread out everything was, and I went to Nashville and immediately started realising that there’s a lot more than country music there. There’s a whole scene there of people who are making a lot more than cookie-cutter country music.

Tell me about the scene in Nashville.

When I moved to Nashville, Jaren from Cadillac Three was my neighbour. My first writing session was with Jaren, when they were still doing their old band, American Bang. I got to my writing session 30 minutes early, not realising that Jaren lived literally five seconds away – right next door. And so I became friends with the whole Cadillac Three camp – they did one of their first shows when they were still called The Cadillac Black opening up for us in Nashville. It’s just been so much fun to watch them blow up. There’s a lot of that in Nashville – a lot of that energy, a lot of really passionate people making cool music.

You put out the first Shakedown album, Wild Child, in 2013, and then a six-track EP for Republic Records. But you recorded another seven tracks for the label that never came out. Was that demoralising or did it drive you on?

It was a little bit of both. It definitely frustrated us, but it drove us on too. We made our latest record on our own and licensed it out to Spinefarm in the UK. We still have a lot of touring to do on this album, but we’ve been working on a new album. We’re constantly writing and recording.

What’s the best bit of advice Axl Rose or Angus Young has given you?

I was talking to Angus about how it has been a great learning experience for us to play in arenas and stadiums for the first time, and he told me, ‘If you believe you’re going to take them on a journey, then they’ll believe that they’re going to go on a journey with you.’ That’s his M.O. – he’s unstoppable up there. You’ve got to go into a big show with that attitude – I’m here to lead you to the party.

What makes a great rock’n’roll star?

They have to be commanding, they have to have the goods. It’s different for everybody, obviously – Axl’s whole persona is a lot persona is a lot different to Angus’s, but they’ve both got the goods to back up the mystique they have. Same with Slash – he has the image, the persona. Find your own identity and get behind it 150 per cent.

People have said that rock is dead. What’s your take on that?

Tell ’em to go to Ramblin’ Man and see that it isn’t. I did so many interviews around the AC/DC tour, and they’d go, ‘Do you think rock’n’roll’s dead?’ And it’s like, ‘Man, go look at the seven year old singing along to AC/DC.’ The way the world is right now, it’s the perfect time for people to turn to rock’n’roll – it’s one of the things that brings people together more than anything in the world.

You mentioned you’re writing new material. What’s the plan with that?

At some point, hopefully by the end of this year, we’re going to release the seven songs that Republic Records didn’t realise. But we’ve been writing in all of our downtime, which isn’t a lot – in a mobile recording studio we take on the road. We’ve been writing every chance we get – we have some really cool tunes, we’re just waiting for enough of a break to get in the studio and make another record.

You, Cadillac Three, Blackberry Smoke, Halestorm – it feels like things are really happening in the States. It that how it feels to you?

Yeah, it does. Especially in the UK and Europe – it feels like it’s getting ready to take off there for us, which is a cool feeling. It took AC/DC to get us over there for the first time, and that kicked down some doors for us, and we’ve made a lot of good friends. Our whole motto is just keep pushing, keep playing rock’n’roll.

Who is do you want to jam with that you haven’t jammed with yet?

Oh man, that’s hard. Keith Richards. That’s one of the only huge bands we’ve never done any shows with – I’ve never met any of the Stones. I’d just love to jam on some old delta blues with him. I’d like to play some Muddy Waters with Keith Richards.

Tyler Bryant & The Shakedown play the Planet Rock Main Stage at Ramblin’ Man Fair on Sunday July 1