Segue 61: A Cultural Center

On October 9, 2014, John Oates was driving into the small but thriving Raleigh, NC SW suburb of Holly Springs, looking for the venue where he’d play a rare solo show that night, away from his long-time musical partner Daryl Hall, only four months after the duo was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In the latter’s “seat” in the car was stellar guitarist Guthrie Trapp, who would accompany Oates and Cajon player Johnny Richardson that evening. It was Trapp who spotted the sign first.

“Hey,” Trapp yelled to a guy near the only stoplight in town. “Is this the only Cultural Center in Holly Springs?” For a ‘burb that had grown from 900 in 1992 to almost 25,000 at that point, the question was tinged with an appropriate dose of cynicism and humor. The blank stare Trapp got in return from the resident cemented a story to be repeated indefinitely, but began a day when an essential element of a Segue 61 program still in transition would be put in place.

Through our common involvement with cars & motorsports, I had known John for many years, including collective time with our mutual friend Danny Sullivan, winner of the iconic 1985 Indianapolis 500 and a business partner of mine in several ventures. When we planned to meet for his show at the Holly Springs Cultural Center, John told me I would love the guitar player coming with him, both for his talent and personality. I’d never heard of Guthrie Trapp before that day but did my research and loaded up prepared for the ride to the Raleigh area, with Catawba College Music Department Chair Dr. David Fish and two of his students.

What happened that day beyond general introductions and an on-stage recounting by John of their in-town directional “event” was fun but unremarkable. Two days later, John joined me along with his son and Guthrie for a day at Charlotte Motor Speedway, around the fall NASCAR race-weekend there. During that full day at CMS, I spent time with Guthrie, who despite his roots as a native the of south Alabama/Florida panhandle region had never been to a racetrack until 10/11/14. Through our discussions that day, I realized his unique backstory and his reach into the current Nashville music industry base could be essential to coloring in around the edges of a Segue 61 concept just making its transition to the 615 from a previous iteration in the 213 (LA). That day, we began a dialogue that would be fundamental to the correct construct of the Segue 61 program, now in its first sessions with students at its Berry Hill workshop/studio location.

What I learned after only a few trips to Nashville after that initial meeting is what most in the industry already knew: Guthrie Trapp was likely the best guitarist you may never have heard. Yet. Inventive, broadly influenced and selectively lightning fast as a player, Trapp is widely respected as a first-call session guitarist and is now one of the most in-demand instrumentalists worldwide as a member of the Artist Works instructional web portal. He’s shared the stage or the studio with a broad range of artists, including Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Vince Gill, Travis Tritt, Dolly Parton, Tim O’Brien, Delbert McClinton, Randy Travis, George Jones, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush, Tony Rice, Earl Scruggs, Lyle Lovett, Rosanne Cash AND Oates, among others.

As Segue 61 developed, I spent more than 250 days in Middle Tennessee, asking questions, developing relationships and studying the feasibility of the Segue 61 concept. I was almost always out in the marketplace with Guthrie, for whom no doors were ever closed. Zero. During a visit in early 2015 while observing a mind-bending four-minute-plus solo by Trapp at his weekly live show, one seasoned rock & roll observer familiar with both the catalog and legend of late electric blues master Stevie Ray Vaughan said, “I know it may sound blasphemous but Guthrie might be as good as Stevie was, and more versatile. He has all of Stevie’s in-the-moment intensity. He plays what he hears, not what he heard. Few guitarists display that quality and sustain it. He clearly can.”

A Rolling Stone magazine feature on Trapp titled “True Grit” focused on the tenacity/talent mix that has fueled his musical journey. It was this character element, as much as his myriad talent and his grasp of the initial intent of the project, that made him a logical choice as Creative Coordinator for Segue 61, His unique mix of currency in the music marketplace and perspective on the true goals of the project for young people aspiring to absorb information only industry insiders possess made Trapp a perfect choice to have a central role in the program. (He even understood both the futility AND the prescience of my early question “how do you teach tenacity”).

“The Segue 61 music program is a game changer,” said the 38-year old Trapp. “Having played music professionally since I was 12 years old, with no formal training, I truly see the importance of Segue 61. It’s a ‘from the heart and soul’ program, with access to working music industry professionals that will unlock the behind the scene secrets of the business. I’ve never been exposed to any project structured like this. In its intended form, it will change a lot of lives and hopefully better prepare talented students on how to navigate a very challenging industry.”

It’s funny how the world goes ’round. That first night in Holly Springs when I met Guthrie Trapp, a young Catawba College music student named Damon Atkins was along for the ride and John’s show. He and I had met a month earlier upon my arrival at the school to work on not the eventual Segue 61, but a sports-related project. We shared musical interests, spent time together going to live shows and our friendship grew during his undergraduate years. Damon and I now co-own a vintage Fender Stratocaster, “Woody” (another story for another time), which has already produced blistering sonics. For me, it seemed like a good investment in the future of a young player with an old soul and unlimited horizons, in my view.

It’s funny how the world comes back ’round. Damon graduated a semester early last December and became a perfect candidate for the inaugural class of Segue 61, a program wrapped in the exact fabric a talented student like he might be yearning for but not seeing on a cluttered landscape of options to “take you to the next level”. More often than not, if that’s the mantra…..it can’t and they don’t. And THAT is the void Segue 61 through its real-world, real-time delivery to music industry aspirants has been doing as promised since its start in early January for students from six states……including guitarist/singer/songwriter Damon Atkins from Surry County, NC….in the only cultural center on Longview Avenue in Berry Hill.

We could have never envisioned the path that would lead each of us…Damon, Guthrie and myself to the same point in time/place 30 months later. He met Guthrie at the exact moment I did, backstage at the esteemed Holly Springs Cultural Center. But I know one thing: tenacity played a role, for each of us to persevere to this point. Do you have that in you, but can’t find a clear path to the destination you feel is your musical fit? Segue 61 could be the conduit you’ve been searching for. There’s a seat for you in OUR cultural center.

“Come Back Baby” — John Oates, w/Guthrie Trapp & Johnny Ruben (Holly Springs Cultural Center, NC – 10/9/14)

~ BILL ARMOUR, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, SEGUE 61

Flesch-Reading-Ease-Score: 50

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