Cleveland Guitar Legend Doyle Dykes Brings Epic Six-String  

 By Casey Phillips – 6-17-16

Doyle Dykes

Doyle Dykes

Musical legend has it that Robert Johnson came into the full flower as a blues guitarist after trading his soul to the devil at a Mississippi crossroads.

Finger-picking guitar master Doyle Dykes credits his own musical blossoming to a similar exchange with a higher power when he was 11 years old but, in his case, it was with someone a little more trustworthy.

“I said, ‘God, give me a job to do, and I’ll always tell people about you,’” says Dykes, who was raised in Jacksonville, Fla., but has lived in Cleveland, Tenn., for more than 20 years.

“It was a touchstone in my life that I’ve never gotten away from — haven’t ever been able to, haven’t ever wanted to,” he continues. “I’ve never been able to separate my spiritual life and my music because that’s when I really took an interest in playing the guitar.”

Whether he’s performing blazingly fast originals, secular medleys or intricate arrangements of religious hymns, Dykes’ playing makes it easy to accept divine intervention as a suitable explanation for his dexterous navigation of the fretboard.

Dykes eschews holding a pick in his right hand, preferring instead to use his fingers to pick out intricate melody, rhythm and bass lines simultaneously. It’s an approach for which he has become world-renowned, and some critics place him on equal footing with finger-picking legends such as Merle Travis, Jerry Reed and Chet “Mr. Guitar” Atkins, who once called him “one of the finest finger-picking guitarists around.”

Now 62 years old and a grandfather five times over, he has collected a hoard of career touchstones in the half century he’s spent laying finger to string. He has been a signature artist for Taylor Guitars and Guild Guitars — formerly a subsidiary of Fender — and his music has been heard everywhere from spots on National Public Radio programs to aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

Dykes’ career has taken him all over the world, from Japan and Australia to major music festivals in Europe and North America. He has not, as yet, been made a member of the Grand Ole Opry, but he has graced the stage at the storied Nashville institution many times, both as a solo artist and in support of players such as Tennessee Ernie Ford and Grandpa Jones, with whom he toured for years.

In a backstage interview with Dykes after a 1995 appearance, Grand Ole Opry host Porter Wagoner introduced him as “a great one, a finger-picking dude who is dangerous on the guitar.”

“For whatever reason, I’m not a member [of the Opry], but I guess I’m the next best thing,” Dykes says. “I’ve been a regular guest for a long time, and they’ve been good to me.”

Tonight, Dykes will perform on the Unum Stage at Riverbend. Given his busy schedule, his opportunities to perform locally are typically few and far between, and he says he’s pleased to have an opportunity to take part in an event so close to home.

He says he plans to perform a set comprised predominantly of secular music and a few religious arrangements — “I don’t think I would ever do a show without doing ‘How Great Thou Art’ or something like that,” he says — and his fervent hope is to find some way to connect with the crowd and impart some fraction of the joy he has for music to them.

“I always said that if I could get out of those strings, out of that instrument, what I feel inside, if I could somehow translate that in a positive way in what I do, then I think I’ve accomplished something,” he says. “[When you play,] you’re there especially for the people sitting in the seats in front of you. It’s more about them than it is me.

“I want to be able to do something that will touch them and entertain them.”

Contact Casey Phillips at cphillips@ or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at@PhillipsCTFP.

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