Shawn Lane: A Remembrance by Paul Taylor

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This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the passing of Shawn Lane. Lane was known the world over as a peerless guitarist. Newby's is hosting a weekend-long festival of music to remember him. Below, his friend and student Paul Taylor remembers Lane as a mentor and considers Lane's influence on his musical life.

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Shawn Lane was a preternaturally gifted guitarist, who by the age of 14 had mastered his own techniques and speed on the guitar that to this day remain nonreplicable. To this day, the current guitar wizards all genuflect and marvel at his unparalleled speed, melodicism, and compositional skills.

When I was a boy, my father would take me to see Shawn, and I really couldn't — I still can't — understand how anyone could play that fast. At first, I made the common mistake of writing it off as finger-wiggling with no depth. My brain couldn't process it. Many guitarists view Shawn this way at first. Maybe It's a mechanism of jealousy, or all of our ears are just entirely too slow!

My dad's band was Shawn's rhythm section, so I had access to bootleg tapes that would become his Warner Brother record Powers of Ten. I obsessively wore those tapes out. Slowly it began to sink in. This guy was playing very legitimate musical patterns at blinding Art-Tatum-does-triple-time speed. It was no B.S. And it was all on top of his beautiful compositions that had the rare ability to invoke deep feelings. That trait is so hard to come by in instrumental music. It was a rare gift.

Shawn did his best to teach others how to do what he did but always would say that his nervous system was just wired differently.

I had the good fortune of befriending Shawn and playing music with him in my late teens and early 20s. It was at this time that his true depth became clear to me. He was an avid reader, student of philosophy, science and culture; a film devotee; a lover of soundtrack music and classical music. He was a self-taught piano savant and a student of music from all over the world, especially qawwali (Sufi music of Southeast Asia) and Indian classical.

In the last 10 years of Shawn's life he was able to tour the world in a trio with bassist Jonas Hellborg and master drummer Jeff Sipe. Shawn's interest in Indian classical music was fulfilled as they toured India, and he made music and studied with many of his heroes. Shawn himself is still regarded as a hero all across Europe and the east.

Shawn languished in obscurity stateside and particularly in his hometown of Memphis. In a city that claims to be a music town, his is no new story: Original artist/innovator can't buy a gig, while cover bands thrive on Beale and dance and garage bands fuel people's weekends. Shawn led that double life many of us know well. His craft was recognized largely everywhere on earth except for this town.

After battling illness for most of his adult life and without health coverage, Shawn’s health took a drastic downward turn in 2003, and he died from a lung-related illness 10 years ago today.

Although his technical wizardry will always be that for which he is most known, Shawn's legacy lies far more in his melodicism and his compositions than in his speed and literally unparalleled technical prowess on guitar (and piano). His soul shines through in his songs: in the singing bits of his guitar parts, the little inflections.

Still, for pure fire and an unworldly experience, watch footage of Shawn. It's unholy. Actually, it’s totally holy!!

His friends and family sorely miss Shawn, but he isn't going anywhere. He still sits atop the ever-clattering mountain of competing guitarists, laughing down at a rat race he never had to play a part in. He transcended. He transcends.

LONG LIVE SHAWN LANE!

— Paul Taylor

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