Jimmy Bryant grew up on the road, playing fiddle or guitar behind his fiddle-playing
father. In 1941, he joined the army and was wounded on active service. Finding little
work for a fiddle player, he began paying more attention to the guitar, playing
country but becoming more interested in the fast jazz styles of Tony Mottola, a
fellow soldier. When discharged, he used his release pay to buy a Stella guitar
and an amplifier and began to play with a small group in Moultrie Georgia.
In 1946, he moved to Los Angeles, where he found radio work, soon becoming the
lead guitarist with Cliffie Stone's band on the Hometown Jamboree. He was also
soon in great demand as a session guitarist.
During the time he spent with Capitol Records, he recorded with country artists
such as Roy Rogers, Tennessee Ernie Ford and Tex Williams, and many non-country
stars including Bing Crosby, Kay Starr and Stan Kenton, and in later years, he
even recorded with the Monkees. Bryant once estimated that between 1955 and 1956,
he recorded with 124 different artists.
Steel guitarist Speedy West, who had previously played western swing with Spade
Cooley and Hank Penny was also a member of Stone's band. West was a dazzling and
versatile musician whose playing was the perfect match for Bryant's extraordinary,
rapid guitar work, prompting Stone to dub them "the Flaming Guitars".
They became firm friends and their musical improvisations of western swing and
jazz/country left other musicians dumbfounded in admiration. They subsequently
appeared together on many recordings, and in 1954, they recorded an album together
that has become rated as a classic.
In 1967, Bryant recorded a guitar tutor album, complete with instruction book,
although it is doubtful that any purchaser came even remotely near the tutor's
In 1973 he recorded with the legendary steel guitarist Noel Boggs. He moved to
Nashville in the mid-70s, working for Hohner Guitars, and in 1976 he was reunited
with West and released an album titled "For the Last Time ".
In 1979 Bryant, a heavy smoker, was found to have lung cancer and he returned to
Los Angeles, even playing at a benefit concert organized for him. Soon afterwards,
his health worsening, he moved back to Moultrie, where he died in September 1980.
Legendary jazz guitarist Barney Kessel once said, "of all the guitar players
I have known, Jimmy Bryant is the fastest and the cleanest, and has more technique
than any other".
Bryant, who was an inspiration for England's guitar great Albert Lee, owned the
first Fender Broadcaster guitar, which carried his name and the serial number 1.
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