Jedd Hughes’ extensive skills as a guitarist have been evident since he won a country music contest in his hometown of Quorn, Australia as an 8-year-old. By the time he was 12, Hughes had already toured Europe and been featured in many area country bands, and his versatility as both a player and singer have served him well over the past few years.
But after serving as a guitarist for Patty Loveless and then having two separate deals at various times with MCA and EMI-Capitol, Hughes is now focusing his efforts on live performance more than session work or recording. He’ll appear Thursday night at The Belcourt along with the Infamous Stringdusters, and he’s recently been on tour with Dierks Bentley.
“I’ve just discovered that what I really am is a guitarist, first and foremost, and playing is what really excites and drives me,” Hughes said. “My father had a great record collection and I certainly heard a lot of great country music growing up, but I also enjoy a lot of other types of things too, especially Southern rock and blues. I think the mistake that I made in the past was trying to fit into some specific image or definition, when I’m really a more broad-minded person and just naturally do many things musically.”
When Hughes writes a song or plays his instrument, he said questioning whether it will work as a country tune or as a rock tune; he’s just wondering if it’s a good song and something he can really stand behind and believe in.
“That’s what’s been so great about being out with Dierks,” Hughes said. “Playing in front of his fans, you get a lot of people that seem to enjoy hearing different types of songs and styles. It’s been just as good an experience for me as being the opening act for Jewel when she was doing her acoustic tour. I saw a completely different side of her, kind of the folkie and writer side, plus I heard how she worked country influences into a wide range of other things. It was a really good lesson for me as a performer and a writer that you don’t have to limit yourself, and that audiences will respond to honest presentation.”
Hughes’ early introduction into the world of songwriting came when he met Terry McBride while a student at South Plains College in Levelland, Texas. The duo collaborated on sessions that ended up being featured in his 2004 CD Transcontinental.
Though that album yielded a pair of good singles in “High Lonesome” and “Soldier for the Lonely,” Hughes got caught in label politics; his release was one of many affected by the merger of Universal with Dreamworks. He eventually opted out of his EMI-Capitol deal.
While things might not have been going well commercially, artistically he was inspired by a period he spent writing songs and traveling with Rodney Crowell. Hughes cites that time and the period he spent as guitarist with Loveless, plus his studies and sessions with McBride, as the things that have enabled him to become a productive professional.
While he eventually plans to issue some full-length recordings, Hughes is now periodically recording and releasing EPs for the Carnival label. The first is now available on his MySpace page (myspace.com/jeddhughes) and also at Grimey’s New and Preloved Music. It’s a showcase for all his influences, with such songs as “Big Blue Sky” and “Scatter Brain” revealing his flair for country flatpicking, delicate, expressive vocals and more frenzied and assertive solos.
“The EP format is perfect for me right now,” Hughes said. “I can get new music out to the fans and don’t have to be so concerned with trying to just do one or two singles to fit a format and then try to work around them. I’ll be doing a more complete project soon, but in the meantime, the EPs help me with developing ideas, and also just having a good time playing and singing.”
What: Guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Jedd Hughes along with The Infamous Stringdusters
When: 8 p. m. Thursday
Where: The Belcourt Theatre, 2102 Belcourt Ave.
Info: 846-3150, belcourt.org