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Soulful guitarist known for improvisational excellence
A-J ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
John Sprott, who often has been encouraged to move to a larger market, smiles when told that many consider him to be Lubbock’s best guitarist.
Of course, he’s heard the compliment before and, judging by the fans who stopped by to shake his hand during a two-hour interview at Crickets, the reputation may stick.
Sprott, 47, has played lead guitar the past 13 years with Elvis T. Busboy & The Blues Butchers. For six years, he’s also performed alongside buddy D.G. Flewellyn in Plain Brown Wrapper. Solo appearances round out his weeks.
The compliment about being the best is fine with him, although he is humble.
“I want people to like me enough to come back to see me again,” he said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want them to think of me as the one playing the craziest (expletive) on stage.
“But no, I’m not the best.”
Challenged to name three better local guitarists, Sprott doesn’t pause for breath before saying, “Mike Caraway can play anything. Then there’s Steve Williams, who’s been all over the world playing with Marcia Ball.
“And I have to include Darren Welch. He can appear all calm but, if he even thinks there’s any sort of competition, he will rip your guts out.”
Williams, now teaching guitar at South Plains College, called Sprott, “a soulful guitarist and a great entertainer. I like to hear John play the blues.”
Joe Don Buckner / Staff
John Sprott, equally at home playing acoustic and electric guitar, said he is enjoying playing six niights a week after cutting back on Sunday jams.
Welch said simply, “The man plays like no other.”
Ryan Hyatt, who finds a way to applaud local music on his weekday sports talk radio show, said, “John combines the explosion of energy of all great lead guitar players with a subtle, almost gentle, passion for music that gives him a unique range and depth.
“I could listen to him play mic-stand slide guitar all day long and twice on Sunday.”
Joe Don Buckner / Staff
The 14 guitars Sprott owns are tools with which he makes his living. He does not work a day job to pay the rent. He plays six nights per week, humbly saying that overexposure is why he is considered the best.
Even Sprott has limitations. He said he has no interest in playing hip-hop, where the lyric rules, although he does enjoy the genre’s humor.
“I’m not a jazz player, although I can fake my way for a while. I’m not against improvisation, but then I never learned all the jazz song standards being improvised.”
His sister, Sara, was the first in the family to learn chord and finger-picking on a guitar their mother had purchased with S&H Green Stamps.
Joe Don Buckner / Staff
Sprott got his hands on the same instrument at age 12. It wasn’t long, he said, before he “could fool people into thinking I could play guitar.”
Sprott played guitar on the side, filling in with country bands at the VFW Posts. But he was happy when his aunt helped him land a position as an apprentice to a machinist. Working at Hall Foundries allowed him to make good money by age 22.
Born: Fort Worth, but family moved to Lubbock when he was a child.
Education: Rush and Parsons Elementary Schools, Evans Junior High School, Monterey High School.
Early influences: Acoustic: George Harrison, James Taylor, Joan Baez. Electric: Argent.
Definitions: “Country music is playing in time. Rock ‘n’ roll is all about aggression. Blues is all about emotion.”
Personal mantra: “In tune and in time.”
Philosophy: “Life is hard. Why should music be any different?”
John Sprott CD
Title: “Ain’t Worried.”
Producer: John Sprott.
Recorded: Crystal Clear Sound in Dallas, 2005.
Songs: All written by Sprott.
“Ain’t Worried,” “Issues,”
“Proud of the Blues,” “Stumblin’ and Staggerin’,”
“Winnin with a Losin’ Hand,”
“On This Watch I Shall Remain,”
“Oklahoma 3/4 Moon,”
“Knee Walkin’ Heartbroke,” “Reelin’ from the Blow” and “Christmas Guitars.”
He enrolled at Texas Tech, aced his drafting courses and hoped to earn a degree in engineering while maybe playing in a campus jazz band.
He didn’t last more than two years at Tech, thanks to the hours demanded throughout the early 1980s by the rock/punk band he joined. It was called The Nelsons.
Sprott emphasized that he had taught himself to play guitar, learning bad habits that would not be corrected for years – and yet, he considers all his years spent with The Nelsons memorable, though never even slightly profitable.
By his mid-20s, Sprott was considered a rock star by Lubbock fans. Yet he was sleeping on any bed offered and, as he put it, “living on milk and bread crumbs.”
The Nelsons submitted a song and won MTV’s National Basement Tapes competition.
“We never tripped the elephant. We never got a major record deal,” Sprott said. “But we played at Farm Aid in front of 45,000 people. We sold product in 28 states. I’m not sure if investors ever got their money back from the EP (extended play recording) we made, but we traveled a lot and got $15 a day to eat on.”
That was about all they received in terms of cash.
So the day came when Sprott decided, “If someone offers me $20 to play, I’m going to take it. I won’t get rich, but I’ll eat.”
His guitar playing had improved drastically, with fellow musicians expressing respect.
Jesse Ballew, a member of The Darren Welch Group, states, “He is the best all-around guitar player I’ve ever met. He’s without a doubt the best acoustic player in Lubbock, and he’s also the best blues player I’ve come across.”
Scott Faris, director of guitar studies at South Plains College, said, “John constantly surprises people with his improvisation. He’s just fun to watch.”
Sprott said that his current goal is to learn a trill like that mastered by B.B. King, but the performers that inspired him early on were varied. He loved the guitar phrasing of George Harrison. He finds James Taylor “so not-produced, so classy.” Sprott likes Joan Baez’s acoustic guitar and Argent’s electric rhythms.
Divorced with no children, he’s able to accept opportunities to travel, and Elvis T. Busboy has taken Sprott to paying venues in Phoenix, Ariz., Philadelphia and Chicago.
Sprott recorded his own compact disc, “Ain’t Worried,” in Dallas last year “because of all the people who come up and ask if I have a CD for sale, and because of friends like Cary Swinney who nag me about not recording my own stuff.”
He purposely included a variety of musical styles. What has pleased Sprott most is that so many people cite different tunes as their favorite on the CD.PURCHASE IN iTUNES STORE