Doyle Dykes – Giarre 2000
When people hear a solo recording by Doyle Dykes, they often assume they’re hearing two people playing guitar, if not more. It’s because Doyle does more with just his own two hands and an acoustic guitar than most people do with a whole band. It’s the reason that during his stint as guitarist for country legend Grandpa Jones, there was no need for a bass player in the group — Doyle easily held down the bass-lines with his thumb while simultaneously playing rhythm and leads with his other fingers. He blends precise fingerstyle playing with solid bass lines, bluegrass banjo techniques, flamenco flourishes, gospel piano dynamics, fluid harmonics and more. He’s a true “guitarist’s guitarist,” in that other guitarists are awestruck both by the flawless technique and the heartfelt passion he brings to the instrument, passion that can be heard in all its glory on his debut album for Windham Hill records, Gitarre 2000
It’s a passion he firmly felt as a kid growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, playing guitar in church. He followed in the musical footsteps of all the family members who came before him — his grandfather was the church choirmaster, his father played guitar, his brother piano , and his mother sang. From an early age he integrated the sacred and the secular in his playing, a fusion still reflected to this day on Gitarre 2000, which has renditions both of “The Lord’s Prayer” and The Beatles’ “Girl,” as well as a rich assortment of his own compositions. Rather than feel that music would distance him from the divine, he’s always recognized his talent to be a gift, and uses it to spread the joy he has found in God. “I really got serious with God when I was eleven,” he said, “and there was this burning desire in me to do something special for God. And that’s what caused me to really want to play guitar.”
His first guitar was a little Sears model, which he taught himself to play by mimicking the licks of heroes such as Chet Atkins and Merle Travis. He started writing songs, and would both sing and play them at first, but he quickly discovered that the most pure and dynamic expressions of his heart came through his instrumental guitar playing. He’d listen to records by Chet and Merle everyday, sometimes slowing down the turntable with his finger so as to better analyze and master their riffs. “I copied and stole everything I could from their records,” he said, “but Chet calls this `petty theft’ so it’s okay.” He also started playing banjo at the age of 17 –“not great, but good enough to get in trouble” — and began applying various banjo techniques to the guitar, such as frailing and the use of chromatic style runs. His family performed as a gospel group at various churches throughout the state. Doyle’s gift for expressing spiritual joy through the guitar attracted abundant attention, and other gospel groups started pursuing him, all while he was still a teen. He accepted an offer from the The Crusaders, and was soon playing gigs with them in surrounding states, traveling all night on their bus to be dropped off directly at school the next morning.
It was at one of these shows that Doyle was heard by gospel legend J.D. Sumner (who still holds the world record for sustaining the longest bass note in history). Sumner invited Dykes to perform with his band The Stamps, the former back-up band for Elvis Presley. Skipping graduation from high school (with the okay of his principal, whose son he’d taught guitar), Doyle headed straight to Nashville to join The Stamps.
But life on the road held little appeal for Doyle, who longed to be back home with his high school sweetheart, Rita. He decided to leave The Stamps, and returned home to Florida to marry Rita and settle down to work a normal, non-musical job. He worked as an engineer for the city of Jacksonville , swinging the machete, doing some land surveying, and also as a salesman for Scotty’s Home Building Supply . But he wasn’t happy without music, and with Rita’s encouragement, he returned to the guitar.
Calling a friend at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, he learned of an opening as a guitarist for “Hee Haw” star Grandpa Jones, one of Nashville’s true elder statesmen. Doyle got the job, which in addition to being a great gig also afforded him a thorough education in traditional country music and blues. “Grandpa liked me because I did the Merle Travis and Chet Atkins thumb style on electric guitar,” he said. “But at first I tended to put in a lot of passing chords, like in Gospel. But Grandpa said, `Stay off those passing chords now!'” It was during this time that Dykes first performed with many of his idols, including Merle Travis, Chet Atkins and Tennessee Ernie Ford.
After nearly three years with Jones, Doyle again felt a restlessness stirring in him, and realized it was time to return to the church. His intention was never to walk away from music, but to use it in the service of God. With Grandpa Jones’ blessing, Doyle left to start his own ministry. Jones told him that he knew sooner or later he was going to lose him, and was happier losing him to God than to some other band. Doyle became pastor of a church in Jacksonville, and also continued to play dates around the world, and recording two albums of devotional music for Step One Records. He went from church to church, both preaching and playing his music — solo renderings of hymns such as “Amazing Grace” and “The Lord’s Prayer,” when played by Doyle, never failed to touch people’s hearts. Recognizing that listeners were more moved by his music than his words, he devoted himself exclusively to spreading the good word with his guitar. But it wasn’t enough. “I realized I wasn’t reaching enough people. I was playing for Christians in churches, and it looked as if I would get on these Gospel labels and Gospel TV. But it felt like it was the wrong place for me to be.”
He was at a crossroads. He wanted to serve God, but also felt compelled to bring his music to a larger audience. To make up his mind, he poured out his heart in prayer. “One night I said to God, `I’ll do anything you want me to do — I’ll start a church, I’ll move to Brazil, anything you want me to do if you tell me.’ And I heard a little voice inside say, `Okay, what do you want to do. You tell me what you want to do.’ And I said, `I want to be myself, I want to be a musician again, I don’t want to be thought of as this preacher evangelist, because that’s not who I am. ‘ And I felt a presence in the room, and a very warm feeling came over me that let me know this was going to happen.”
From that moment on, his life changed, and musical offers began flowing in from all corners, including a record deal with Windham Hill records, and an invitation to endorse Taylor Guitars.It was a lesson that took some time to learn, but he took it to heart — that to realize your prayers, you have to have a clear vision of what you want. It’s a lesson he’s passed on to his children: when his daughter Heidi told him that she had prayed for a rose but didn’t receive it, Doyle suggested that she specify the color, and so she asked for a white rose. The next day after a show, a woman came up to him, handed him an object wrapped in aluminum foil, and said, “God told me to give you something.” Unwrapping the foil, he found a single white rose. He brought it home for Heidi, and also wrote a song for the new album inspired by the experience, called “White Rose For Heidi.”
To realize his own white rose, he and Rita took out a loan to buy recording equipment , and set up a home studio at his house in Cleveland, Tennessee. He began recording a series of new songs he’d written — intimate acoustic guitar instrumentals inspired by his love for Rita and their children (besides Heidi, there’s Holli, Haley and Caleb). With the addition of strings, overdubbed in Los Angeles, the album became Gitarre 2000.
“I called it Gitarre 2000 with the German spelling because I first played the song in Germany, and it has a European feel. And also because we are coming to the year 2000, and extravagant things always tend to happen every 2000 years.” The album showcases Doyle’s innovative acoustic guitar playing, as on the amazing “Shadows Of The Heart” and “Angel’s Desire.” He leaves the realm of conventional guitar playing behind on many songs , using guitar to play violin lines on “The Visitation” and “Passings.” “That tremolo part there is based on string parts — thinking in an orchestral way, playing the melody on the lower strings while harmonizing them with violin-like lines on the upper strings.” On “The Road Back Home,” he uses vocal choral effects he learned in church — starting on a unison note before splitting off first into a duet, then a trio, and ending with a quartet. “I don’t just think of guitar when I play,” he says. ” I want people to hear an orchestra when I play.”
He chose to include The Beatles’ “Girl” because “it kind of jumps out at you on *Rubber Soul* and does the same thing on this album. It jumps out at you like something out of the blue that you don’t expect.” And his rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” here is sure to make even non-believers feel the Holy Spirit. “`The Lord’s Prayer’ is very special to me,” he said. “It’s not just a song. It’s a way of life.”
His life is spent mostly on the road, playing some 300 gigs a year, often supported by two of his daughters — Holli on guitar, and Haley on mandolin. Wherever he travels, he consistently astounds and delights audiences of all ages with both the intensity and grace of his playing. As Chris Rietz of Elderly Instruments wrote: “In a guitar world populated with delicate pattern-pickers, Doyle Dykes comes on like a turbo-charged steamroller… He can make you sigh with the melodiousness and jazzy sophistication of his slow ballads, but he also can cut loose with the best of them.”
Dykes is also a technical innovator — when he complained to amp maker Paul Rivera of his frustration with conventional amplifiers, Rivera designed a special model customized to his specifications, and fulfilled the guitarist’s dream of having a tube amp for acoustic guitar. The result is the Rivera Sedona amp, which has already been dubbed the “BMW of acoustic amps.” Taylor is coming out with a special Doyle Dykes signature guitar in 1999 –a combination acoustic-electric that has a white rose on the headstock.
Though he is thoroughly committed now to the life of a musician, the preacher within him is never far away, and as he leaves he offers a quote from the scriptures that affirms his chosen direction in life: “Then shall the trees of the wood sing out for joy in the presence of the Lord.”