On January 8th, it's time to say happy birthday, Randall Hylton. He would've turned 63.
(Who were you expecting?)
Randall Hylton was, without question, one of the five greatest guitarists who have ever graced this planet. He was also a marvelous songwriter. In fact, he was such a frequent winner of the "songwriter of the year" award at SPBGMA (Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America) that he was "retired" from the category!
He was hilarious on stage. His routine with "Wildwood Flower," the song he said "separates the pickers from the pluckers" in guitar playing, was legendary. He'd even play the song backwards (those who saw Hylton perform know how he pulled it off, too). He toured with two guitars, "Sylvia and Michelle, the blond bombshell." When he'd go into a solo, he'd say, "Pick it, Michelle!"
I cannot claim that I was a friend of Randall's, but I do have one incredible, cherished memory. He played in a venue in West Point, Kentucky, about 35 miles south of Louisville (and 20 miles north of Fort Knox). It was raining cats and dogs that night -- raining so hard that the pounding of the rain on the roof was occasionally louder than Hylton and his guitar. After the show, Hylton, his friend Berk Bryant (longtime bluegrass DJ and festival MC), and I went next door to wait for the rain to let up so we could safely trek back to our respective homes (mine in Louisville, Randall's in Nashville, Berk's in Radcliff). In that little restaurant, for an hour and a half, Randall, Berk and I discussed guitar playing, the Delmore Brothers, and music in general over glasses of tea. It was fabulous. Not only could he play the music onstage, but he had an encyclopedic knowledge of it offstage.
Hylton passed away after suffering a stroke in 2001, and I miss him dearly. The world needs more guitarists and just plain quality entertainers like Randall Hylton.