Sleepwalk Guitar Festival: A weekend of guitar greats and legends

You won’t be able to sleepwalk through this guitar extravaganza. The 2nd annual Sleepwalk Guitar Festival at The Great Hall on the weekend of Nov. 2-4, sponsored by Six Shooter Records and curated by Luke Doucet will be filled with guitar stars and legends: in concert, in workshops and in interview sessions.

The festival website with schedules, ticket info and more is here. The Six Shooter Facebook page has more information, and a raft of videos of some of the performers.

Some more about a couple of the artists is below.

James Burton
Many years ago, whenever I read anything about him, he was inevitably referred to as “the great James Burton“; now of course it’s “the legendary…“, and while I find that term thrown around much too easily, in rock or country musical terms it’s completely appropriate for him. He’s a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (and several other HOF’s).

He first made his mark at the age of 15 in 1957, playing the guitar licks that made “Susie Q” (by vocalist Dale Hawkins), one of the all-time classic rock songs. Soon after, he started playing guitar behind Ricky Nelson. Any rock & roll credibility that teen idol Nelson had as an Elvis wannabe came from the driving guitar backing up his songs. Burton played with Nelson until 1967, when he was recruited (by Johnny Cash) into the band playing the TV rock show Shindig.

Following that gig, he became Elvis’s lead guitarist until Presley’s death, and for a few years in the mid-70’s juggled touring jobs with Elvis and Emmylou Harris’s first band. (He’d met her when they both recorded with the late Gram Parsons on his two albums). He apparently had to turn down Bob Dylan’s request to join him on his first electric tour. (Was Robbie Robertson the substitute?), and since then has recorded and/or toured with a massive list of stars.

Burton will close the Toronto festival, with a raft of guest singers performing some of the songs he’s played on over the years, and earlier that afternoon will be doing an interview, plus a workshop with Albert Lee, Cindy Cashdollar, Junior Brown & Luke Doucet.

Burton’s success in the early days of rock & roll came not just because of his technical skills, but because he really did synthesize the two main musical strains that created the new music: country and rhythm & blues. You can see — in great detail — his style and technique in the 47 minute guitar instructional video below. But even if you’re not a guitar geek, it’s an excellent view into how some of rock’s great sounds were made, as he runs through how he did what he did on many of the most famous recordings he played on.

A few notable spots

  • The first 6 or so minutes are basically James picking and visiting guitar shops. Then…
  • His unique picking style: around 7:35
  • Around 11:06 he tells how he tried to capture the echo effects he heard on many of the early rock & roll records. Not knowing what equipment those recordings had used, he developed his own “echo” sound through his playing
  • From there, he continues through the techniques and playing he did on many of Nelson’s hits
  • His “chicken pickin’” style: around 18:30
  • 24:30, he goes into the techniques he’d used on many of Merle Haggard’s early records
  • At 28:10, he talks about his  sounds with Emmylou Harris’s first recordings, including (at 29:08) the sounds behind her beautiful “Too Far Gone” from her first (Pieces of the Sky) album
  • Finally, at 42:00, he sums up, and just plays…

I’m looking forward to finally seeing him live. (I missed him back in the 1970’s when Emmylou’s first Toronto concert was cancelled for visa issues).

Junior Brown
One of my favourite (of many) memories of concerts at Harbourfront goes back to a double-bill sometime in the mid-90’s. Part of a guitar-themed weekend, it was the first time I saw Louisiana slide-guitar wizard Sonny Landreth, and Junior Brown.

(I recently came across an online reference to those two in a comment posted on a page entitled “What live performance has made the biggest impression on you?”

Some guys are just other-worldly. Sonny Landreth and Junior Brown immediately come to mind.


Luke Doucet says of Brown,

Junior Brown straddles the line between pioneer of guitar wizardry and flat out showman. His ten gallon hat is eclipsed (barely) by his most unorthodox technique of playing a 6 string Telecaster & a lap steel guitar simultaneously–as they are built into one monster instrument known as the guit-steel. The juggling act itself is enough for many but I have always bristled at gimmicks when they stand in for music. Fear not. Brown would be welcome at Sleepwalk if he showed up with nothing but a beat up Tele–and no hat–as he is a master of the slippery western swing licks that have become his trademark, whether he is pulling them from the lap steel or the working man’s axe. He will no doubt awe us with both..

A clip of him performing his classic “My Wife Thinks You’re Dead”


There are a raft of other terrific performers, including the great Albert Lee (on a double bill with Junior Brown on Saturday night!), slide guitarist Cindy Cashdollar (last in town I believe a few years ago at a guitar concert for Luminato, playing with Sonny Landreth), Hawaiian slack-key guitar whiz Don Rooke of The Henrys (who played the same Luminato date), Kevin Breit, Nels Cline (Wilco)… and Luke Doucet plus others.

I’ll leave this post with one last video clip, featuring James Burton, Albert Lee playing with Chet Atkins on “I Got a Woman”. Watch here



2 responses to “Sleepwalk Guitar Festival: A weekend of guitar greats and legends”

  1. Nice piece! Thanks!
    One clerical error: you attributed the Jr Brown quote to Colin Linden, when in fact, that is my handy work.

    All the best!

    • Thanks for pointing out the obvious mistake. Too many guitarists’ names must have been in my head! Corrected it now. Looking forward to the weekend.
      – John