By Andy Ellis Enclosed in a soundproofed vocal booth, Travis Tritt shuts his eyes and rears back from his mic to belt out a high note. As his gritty, soulful voice booms out through Emerald Studio’s control room monitors, seven of Nashville’s finest session players lay down a swampy groove in the adjacent studio. Arrayed in a circle, the seasoned hitmakers layer the sound of two electric guitars, flat-top, Dobro, organ, bass, and drums into a tight, dynamic arrangement that owes more to Muscle Shoals than Music Row. Sitting among the musicians, producer Billy Joe Walker taps his foot to the greasy backbeat and smiles. Brent Mason takes the solo: Armed with a souped-up ’68 Fender Telecaster—the guitar he has used on hundreds of hits—he picks a handful of blistering phrases and then releases a stuttering bend against the percolating Hammond chords. Three passes later, Walker signals his satisfaction, and the musicians troop into the control room to hear the playback. After the session, Mason pours a cup of coffee, grabs a spare Tele, and prepares to field our questions about his snappy fingerstyle techniques. He has been playing for hours—it’s the second day of a week-long tracking marathon—but that doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for sharing his 6-string secrets and 14 flashy examples.
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