Courtesy of Dan Bankhurst
Dan Bankhurst started playing guitar when he was 11 years old. His dad played since he was 15, and his older brother started a few years before he did. Inspired by the likes of George Benson, Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt, he got into jazz when he was in his late teens. He went to Ohio State to study hospitality management and was playing jazz at Columbus clubs when he heard Chet Atkins for the first time, possibly his biggest influence.
After he moved back to Cleveland, he discovered Tommy Emmanuel, an Australian thumb-and-finger-style guitarist who's become a YouTube sensation on account of his distinctive style. Bankhurst was hooked and picked up that style of music. Turns out, he’s pretty damned good at it. A couple of years back, he won first place at International Home of the Legends Contest and the top prize was a $3000 Gretsch guitar.
For his debut CD, 2013’s At First Sight
, he went to Nashville to record with Pete Huttlinger, another finger-style player, who’s played Carnegie Hall. Bankhurst showed him some music, and Huttlinger liked it and said he wanted to record Bankhurst's debut at his studio that's known for its vintage gear. The disc features 10 original tunes that show off his incredible guitar skills. It also includes a few covers too, most notably a new arrangement of Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" for which Bankhurst makes his guitar sound like a cello. Though inspired by the guitar work of Phish's Trey Anastasio, Bankhurst embraces a wide range of musical styles on the instrumental album.
Back in 2014, he started working on a follow-up, Tradition Pickin’
. He recorded locally with producer and musician Brian Straw at his Survival Kit Studios. A song like “Travis Train” features some twangy guitar work and includes a rather complex bridge that allows Bankhurst to show off his deft fingerstyle guitar abilities.
“It’s kind of like a tribute album to my influences,” he says of the disc. “My first album was original tunes and this one doesn’t have any original tunes. I play cover tunes and a lot of the arrangements are mine. They’re traditional songs that people will know.”
The whole album is acoustic solo guitar though there are two tracks that feature [local] Kevin Johnson on upright bass. Danny Jenkins from the [local alt-country act] Speedbumps plays on those tracks as well. Adam Boose did the mastering at his locally based Cauliflower Audio, and the music was recorded over a period of six months.
“I had my first album produced by Pete Huttlinger who knows a lot about recording instrumental music,” says Bankhurst. “I learned by watching him. I self-produced this album. But the quality of Brian’s engineering and Adam’s mastering was great. They would give me a mastering point. I would tell them if we need to take some mid-range off here or there. I did the same thing with the mastering. Adam would send me one thing and we did four or five different takes and we’d tweak something here and there. I’m really particular with the audio quality. In the end, I was really happy with the way everything turned out. I didn’t have to rush myself. I was taking my time, which is really nice. Adam could cohesively stitch everything together.”
For the CD release party for the disc, Bankhurst has lined up a few special guests. Fifteen-year-old guitar prodigy Parker Hastings will open the show. He's opened for Tommy Emmanuel several times and has also played on the main Stage at the Chet Atkins Convention that Bankhurst regularly performs at. Bowling Green-based violinist Grant Flick will perform as well. Berklee College of Music recently gave him an award for his fiddle/violin playing at the age of fifteen. Johnson, a local bassist who plays with singer-songwriter Brent Kirby, will sit in with Bankhurst as well.
“I often get approached by people who don’t like the fact that there are no vocals,” says Bankhurtst. “I’m not doing the vocal thing right now. I just love instrumental guitar and I think this style has a lot to excite get people excited about. If you play it the right way, people really love it. I wanted to change this from every other shows at Nighttown that I’ve done. Parker Hastings won the International Home of the Legends Championship last year. He’s coming from Kentucky to open the show and is a great entertainer. I’ll do some solo tunes and then Kevin Johnson will play some songs with me and then Grant Flick will join us. It’ll be like a Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz set.”
Parker will join the band at the end for a blowout jam.
"I want to throw some more dynamics into the show,” says Bankhurst, adding that he’s moving to Nashville in January to attend Belmont, an art school located there. “I just want to keep people entertained.”
Dan Bankhurst, 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 28, Nighttown, 12387 Cedar Rd., Cleveland Heights, 216-795-0550. Tickets: $15, nighttowncleveland.com.