Nashville Cats: A Social Session with Bryan Sutton, Pat Bergeson and Friends

When Bryan Sutton moved to Nashville almost 25 years ago, he tapped in to a tradition of session players that dates back to the earliest days of recorded music. And while the heyday of pop session players like the legendary Wrecking Crew came and went, Nashville’s session scene has endured, vibrant and vital. Bryan is one of many musicians who have taken up the mantle of the Nashville A-Team—legends like Chet Atkins, Hank Garland, Phil Baugh and Paul Yandell, among many, many others.

The FJ was already working on a piece with powerhouse players Pat Bergeson and Richard Smith, and we thought it would be fun to add to the party and invite some of Nashville’s new guard together for an afternoon of pickin’ and chatting. It was a monster session with Richard, Pat, Bryan, Guthrie Trapp and the one and only Tommy Emmanuel—a last minute addition to the session.

It was quite the lineup: Pat is a classic under-the-radar guy. When he was still a struggling rock guitarist in New York City with a jazz studies degree, Chet Atkins heard him on a demo tape. Chet invited him to play on his album Sneakin’ Around with Jerry Reed, after which he continued to tour and record with Chet for several years. He now tours with his lovely, talented wife, Annie Sellick, Tommy Emmanuel and many others, and, until the untimely death of Butch Trucks, Pat played with Les Brers (featuring numerous Allman Brothers Band alums). As if that wasn’t enough, he’s also a stellar harmonica player. Guthrie, a subject the FJ’s “Six Strings from Stardom” column, played in Jerry Douglas’s band for five years and has worked with everyone from Earl Scruggs, Tony Rice and Dolly Parton to John Oates, Alison Krauss and Roseanne Cash. And we’re guessing y’all know about Tommy Emmanuel…

Gathering at Richard’s TuneSmith Studios in Goodlettesville, just outside Nashville, the guys worked their way through a handful of tunes, starting, fittingly, with “Nashville Cats” and covering territory from “The Tennessee Waltz” to “Folsom Prison Blues.” The playing was, unsurprisingly, superb, but it was the discussion before each tune, when keys were chosen and arrangements came together, that was pure gold, providing a window into the mysterious stuff that makes up the bread and butter of a session player’s world. After the session wound down, we were flies on the wall for an illuminating conversation about guitars, music and more. Read their conversation in the new Fretboard Journal #40 (now mailing to subscribers everywhere) and watch the videos below. Clips were filmed by Nathan Shuppert and edited by Eric Garcia of 48 Windows.

First up, the guys have some fun with “The Tennessee Waltz.”

And then “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Lastly, the session maestros take on “Lonesome Fiddle Blues.”