Brad Paisley | Credit: Jeff Lipsky, UMG Nashville

Five years ago, when the 805 was reeling from the Montecito debris flow, Santa Barbara experienced a kind of season of Paisley. Brad Paisley, that is. Country music superstar, wickedly fine Telecaster guitar picker, and part-time Montecitan, with family in tow. Paisley headed up a fundraising concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl, with a bonus night at a very full-house SOhO the following night, for fun and charity.

This was after having performed in the Christmas-timed telethon for the venerable local philanthropic organization the Unity Shoppe. When Paisley returns to the Bowl on Sunday, May 21, his charitable instincts are again attached. The Unity Shoppe is the beneficiary. Partly inspired by the nonprofit’s example, Paisley and his wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, helped launch The Store, a free, referral-based grocery store in Nashville. 

After bursting on the scene with his 1999 album Who Needs Pictures, Paisley has amassed a hefty list of chart-topping hits, awards, and accolades. As far as guest cameo partnerships go, Paisley has an unusually strong résumé. Five years ago in Santa Barbara, he whipped up an impromptu song with fellow Montecitan Ellen DeGeneres at the Bowl and had longtime friend and guitar pickup guru Seymour Duncan sit in with him for his entire SRO SOhO set.

Alison Krauss joins him, duet-style, on his moving ballad “Whiskey Lullaby,” and he has rubbed musical shoulders with George Jones and Dolly Parton. Mick Jagger joined him on the tune “Drive of Shame,” from his 2017 album, Love and War. Paisley’s recent release, “Same Here,” a first single from the forthcoming album Son of the Mountains, is a pacifist’s anthem featuring none other than Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a spoken-word segment. “We’re fighting for our children, our dreams,” Zelenskyy says. “In many things, we are really the same.”

There is much to admire in Paisley, from his affable skills as a singer and a songbook ranging from romanticism to comedic twists and songs about drinking — pros and cons. If “Whiskey Lullaby” is a sad lament for alcoholic overkill, his song “Alcohol” gamely plays the partying card. In an interview I did with Paisley years back, he said, “I set out to make that song completely observational and impartial. I would say though that it wound up slightly in the drink’s favor, with disclaimers included, being that most of the situations are funny to people. The main thing I wanted was to draw pictures that people would relate to.”

And for fans of hot guitar picking, Paisley’s playing can be off the charts, in terms of technical derring-do and wild flights of invention. Ax-wise, he is an ardent believer in the classic old-school tool of country music, the Fender Telecaster master.

“I love the Telecaster,” he said. “It’s a man’s guitar. No whammy bar; no pretty, pop-y settings; just a hunk of wood that looks like a cutting board and a neck bolted on. My heroes are all those you mentioned and then some. I love the way an electric guitar can cry, bark, laugh, be defiant, and scream, all like a vocalist. It’s always fun to see what I can try and make mine do.”

He’s a bona fide guitar hero, and a sensitive, funny, and charitable guy, to boot.



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