Although thrilled to be in the midst of a successful nationwide tour in support of their latest album Wild Child, Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown have also suffered one of the worst tragedies musicians can face.
The guys had been bouncing around from city to city through the first part of the year, and were finally headed home to Nashville from Vancouver. And then, it happened.
During a stop at a hotel in Spokane, Wash., the Shakedown had nearly all their gear stolen by an enterprising criminal. For a band far from home and in the middle of a tour, losing your instruments and the tools you use to make your livelihood can be catastrophic.
But while Bryant and the band could have cowered at the spectre of losing four guitars, a bass and a few drums, they’re still moving forward on a mission like Liam Neeson in Taken.
“It’s one of those things that you hear about, and think it sucks, but you just keep moving,” Bryant told Fender News over the phone while traveling from a show in Denver to another one in Las Vegas. “You don’t really think about how bad it actually is, or even how it could happen to you. When it happens, you think, ‘Wait, people actually do this?’
“It’s terrible, but we learned from it.”
Perhaps worst of all, one of the axes that went missing was Bryant’s beloved shell-pink Fender Stratocaster. “Pinkie” was a replica that Fender built for him of a 1960 Strat that Bryant first started out on.
While the original is currently locked in a safe in his house, Bryant rarely took his eye of the newer pink beauty, which was replicated even down to the extreme wear on the neck and back.
“It’s like a piece of my body,” he told the Texas Music Times about Pinkie many years ago. “It’s my favorite guitar in the entire world.”
The band posted bulletins all over their Facebook and Twitter accounts, rallying their rapidly-growing fanbase to help find the equipment. There is still hope for recovery, but in the meantime, Bryant is already working on a replacement for “Pinkie.”
In fact, Bryant has big plans for his next pink Strat.
“I’m thinking about doing a pink one with white on the top, like a relic look to it,” he said. “I also want to put a humbucker in the new one. Certain songs call for a humbucker with the rock stuff, and I don’t want to be playing any of the Gibsons that I have. I played a sick Fender Custom Shop that had a humbucker in it, and I thought, ‘This makes sense. I’ll just get one of those.’”
The fact that the Shakedown has so many ears to the ground looking for their stolen goods is a testament to the hard work they’ve put in over the past few years.
It starts with Bryant, who began playing at the age of seven and matured into a member of acclaimed rock photographer Robert M. Knight’s Brotherhood of the Guitar, which highlights young prodigies. He was also featured in the Knight-driven feature film titled Rock Prophecies, which chronicled the photographer’s career shooting the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Slash while helping push the next generation of artists.
Quickly, Bryant’s ability to conjure the ghosts of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan through whatever wood and strings he grasped shone through. Bryant moved from his hometown of Honey Grove, Texas, to Nashville in 2008 to write with local musicians. He eventually met up there with drummer Caleb Crosby and bassist Calvin Webster.
That was the beginning of the Shakedown. Now, the band includes Noah Denney on bass and guitarist Graham Whitford, the son of Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford.
“When Robert introduced [Graham] to me, he said that this was the guy that was going to put me out of a job,” Bryant recalled with a laugh. “So I didn’t like Graham when I first met him. I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ He came to my radio interview, and he’s got a guitar, looking cool and trying to steal my thunder. I didn’t talk to him too much and kept to myself.
“But then, when Fender brought me and Caleb out to play NAMM, we stayed in the same hotel as Graham. We asked him to come hang out with us, and it clicked from there.”
As for Denney, Bryant said he knew he had his bassist from the moment he stepped into the studio.
“We auditioned about 25 different bass players,” Bryant recalled. “He came in with a short-scale Gretsch bass and more fuzz pedals than I have, and that’s a big statement. He’s gnarly, really, really dirty.”
Now, they are a band so tight that it speaks to the camaraderie between the young 20-somethings.
Bryant had written a few of the songs prior to joining up with the other three members. It didn’t take long, however, for the rest of the album to come together, as everybody signed on enthusiastically.
Titles like “Still Young” and “Poor Boys Dream” are extremely poignant. The coming-of-age themes run through the entire record, even if the music stretches from straight-forward rock and roll to bluesy roots tunes.
“Being young, following your dreams, having a good time with your friends, living your life,” Bryant said of Wild Child’s themes. “Lyrically, the songs on the album matched that. You’ll hear ‘Still Young,’ which is really melodic and anthemic, and then you go straight into ‘Poor Boy’s Dream,’ which is super-rootsy—straight into the resonator. It’s where I started out. Those are different elements to us.”
The album was released on Jan. 22, 2013 to a capacity crowd at the Viper room in Los Angeles that included the likes of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and guitarist Orianthi in attendance. As cool as that was to have highly respected artists checking them out, one of the most-rewarding parts of the Shakedown’s live shows is meeting their young fans.
“When kids come to the show with their guitars to sign, I look at them and think, ‘Man, I’ve been there,’” said Bryant. “There are a million kids out there who love music so much, and they’re not thinking about making money. They’re so honest.”
Bryant has already made waves with an ethereal video for Wild Child’s opening single “Last One Leaving.” The clip shows the spirit of an ex-girlfriend still haunting Bryant’s life in an old house that he can’t seem to escape.
“I was in a haunted house, and the ghost of this girl wanted to mess me up because she didn’t want me to move on,” he said. “I was really stretching my imagination with it.
“The goal was to sound like Muddy Waters on steroids. Lyrically, it’s a pretty simple song. It’s about one of those toxic relationships that is really bad, but you can’t walk away.”
Bryant is hoping to keep the band’s burgeoning fan base around with a few upcoming shows at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, where they first built buzz as a complete group one year ago.
This time, though, Bryant is excited to have an actual full-length album to put in people’s hands.
“I’m just happy to have the album finished and to be able to hold it,” Bryant said. “We’re pressing some into vinyl. I’ve got a studio room at my place in Nashville, and to go back there and put it on the record player and sit there and listen to it is really rewarding.”
Post SXSW, it’s more tour dates before reconvening in Music City to work on the next album.
“We’ll be exhausted by the end of the year and then start working on the record and do it all over again,” Bryant said.
When he is sweating and putting everything he has into his guitar on stage, it’s impossible to doubt Bryant’s exuberance for playing music.
But hearing him talk about his desire to keep pushing forward – even without his typical gear – it’s easy to envision Bryant as a fledgling superstar.
For more information, visit the Bryant’s official website.