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Great Gretsch Guitarists: Adam Burchfield

Great Gretsch Guitarists: Adam Burchfield

Catching Up With The Pedal-To-The-Metal Driving Force of The Octanes.

For 20 years, Adam Burchfield has been pushing modern rockabilly with The Octanes and living up to the nickname his uncle gave him as a teenager: The Rockabilly Rebel.

Music is genetic in Adam’s family. His grandfather recorded bluegrass music for Capitol Records in the early 50s. Adam’s father and uncles were all accomplished musicians as kids, and Adam describes his mother as a folkie: playing guitar and singing Joan Baez and Judy Collins songs around a home that was always filled with music.

Adam groovin’ onstage with his bass-playing father, James Burchfield. Photo by Myke Toman of Toman Imagery.

Adam was listening to Joe Satriani, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and other popular 80s guitarists long before he had his first guitar at age thirteen. Mostly self-taught, his bass-playing dad and guitar-strumming mom showed him the basics, and he also bought a Mel Bay Chord Chart. (Adam also confesses to watching a ton of “Hot Licks” instructional videos at all the guitar stores he worked at growing up.)

The Octanes: “That Other Little Ol’ Band From Texas.”

Heavily influenced by Brian Setzer, Cliff Gallup, and the movie, The Outsiders, Adam decided to follow the Rockabilly route and formed The Octanes in Houston, Texas in 1997. He chose the band’s name because it reminded him of gasoline, going fast, and the hot rod culture that is so popular across Texas, the Southwest, and the West Coast.

A natural ball of energy and described as an “encyclopedia of roots guitar licks,” Adam fronts the band and is responsible for the lead guitar, vocal, and songwriting duties. Other members of The Octanes include Kevin Skrla on upright bass, Brian “Chopper” Shoppell on drums, and Clint Boyd on saxophone.

Billed as America’s premier roots/rockabilly band, The Octanes continue to gain popularity and fans with their high-energy style of modern rockabilly and roots music. When asked to describe The Octanes’ music, Adam shared, “We’re definitely influenced by rockabilly music, but I like the term “roots rock.”  We’re a rock ‘n’ roll band influenced by the roots of the music, but we’re not your granddad’s rockabilly. We’re pushing it forward 60 years!”

We recently caught up with Adam over the phone from his Austin, Texas home. He was restringing his two main Gretsch guitars at his kitchen table, and looking forward to 2018 and recording a new album as a follow-up to their critically-acclaimed Roots, Rock, and Romance CD.

Adam ripping it up with saxophonist Clint Boyd. Photo by Myke Toman of Toman Imagery.

We learned a lot of interesting tidbits about Adam’s life and music career. Here are a few of them:

“When I was five, I played along with Sha Na Na on TV.”

Music was all around me growing up. My dad and uncles would all get together and play and jam over at my grandma’s house. That was my first exposure to live music. Growing up, I was heavily influenced watching Buck Owens on Hee Haw and Sha Na Na’s TV Show. Those two shows had a lot to do with me wanting to play the guitar. As a kid, I’d tune up my little plastic drug store guitar, get close to the TV, and just play along.

“One album pretty much taught me how to play the blues.”

I had a lot of influences growing up: Satriani, Setzer, Steve Ray, and especially Albert Collins. He had that Tele and my first guitar was a Tele knockoff with a little Crate amp. There was an album back in ’85 with Albert Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland called Showdown! that just blew my mind. That album pretty much taught me how to play the blues. That was it.

“I’m a solid body, Gretsch Jet kind of guy.”   

I gotta have a Gretsch to get the big sound and tone I’m chasing after. I started out playing Gretsch hollow bodies in the early 90s; I had a vintage Single Anniversary from the 60s and a big, brown Baldwin-era Country Gentleman. I put a P90 in the neck like Eddie Cochran and it was a cool guitar. Kind of wish I still had that one. But once I had the chance to play the solid body Duo Jet style of guitar and could get that sparkly Gretsch sound without the feedback concerns, I was sold on them. Now, they’re all I play.

“To me, pinstriping and Gretsch guitars are a natural combo.”

Adam posted this pic on Instagram and wrote: “My super rad Chet Atkins with the Bigsby that I can’t live without!”

I still play my gold workhorse Electromatic, but my main axe today is an orange Chet Atkins solid body. It plays so good, the action is low and its sparkly sound is just amazing through my Marshall JCM800. A buddy of mine in Mexico pinstriped it for me as a gift. He did a great job and people go nuts over it. It really accentuates the carved top and the lines of the guitar.

“When I write a song, I start with a catchy phrase, then sleep on it.”

I approach songwriting by first finding a good, catch phrase hook. “Don’t Flip Your Lid,” and “Movin Up, Movin Out” are two examples from our last album. I’ll think about the phrase all day and then sleep on it. If the phrase is still in my head the next morning, I’ll take it as a sign that it’s a good idea for a song and I’ll start writing words or sometimes start with the chorus. The guitar riffs almost always come second.

“Skateboarding helps me be a more focused guitar player.”

I’ve been skateboarding for 30 years. It’s my second passion in life besides music. When I go out and have a skate session and get some air in a pool, and then come back and practice my guitar, I have a bit more focus; a bit more gusto. I feel like taking more chances. I guess the adrenaline is still pumping and I’ve got this laser focus.

Adam “catching some air” and focused in on his second passion: skateboarding. Photo by Howard Dvorsky.

“You better watch the gas pedal if you’re driving and listening to The Octanes.”

Our music is good time music; we’re not going to bring you down. I write songs that everybody can kind of be in touch with, and at the same time, make you tap your foot. Ours is the kind of music you could put in your CD player and drive down a country road to see the sights. You better watch the gas pedal though, you might find yourself driving a little faster.

For more information about The Octanes, please visit their website.

Check out Adam’s big, twangy tone and dive-bombing Bigsby action on “Movin Up, Movin Out” at the Star Bar in Atlanta:

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