By Johnny Griffith
The term ‘mercenary’ has pretty much always had somewhat of a negative connotation with it throughout its history. It’s typically portrayed in literature and film as someone whose loyalty extends as far as the next highest bidder and in whom trust can’t be entirely placed. In the music world, however, being a “gun for hire” isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. In fact, some of the most talented musicians you’ve never heard called by name, you’ve actually heard on some of the most famous albums of all time as studio musicians or on stage as touring musicians. One of East Texas’ most talented musical mercenaries is Mayson Garner. With eclectic musical tastes, killer guitar chops, and the vocal range to cover a broad spectrum of styles, Mayson can be found on stage in the area several nights a week and has worked with several projects in the area as well.
We caught him at a Thursday Open Mic night at Alibi Barcadia over in Longview this month to get a little better idea of the man behind the guitar:
Johnny: What was one of your earliest musical memories growing up?
Mayson: I remember my mom having this classical acoustic guitar lying around the house. It had only three strings and I would play it anytime I got the chance. That little guitar sparked this intense love that I now have for music, and guitars in general. I ended up playing it until all three strings came off, but I couldn’t forget the feeling it brought me when I played it. That’s why I am the way I am till this day.
Johnny: When did you first pick up an instrument, and was it a guitar or did you start somewhere else and gravitate to the guitar later?
Mayson: I was 4 when I discovered my mom’s acoustic, and from then until I was 15 or 16 it was only the guitar that I was interested in. Then it was drums, piano, bass, and other various instruments.
Johnny: What were some of your early musical influences when you were learning your instrument?
Mayson: My real musical influences started to appear when I was an early teen; that’s about as early as I can remember having major influences on the guitar. Adam Jones from the band Tool, as well as Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, were major impacts on my playing, and still are in a few ways with Jerry Cantrell being the one I hear most in my playing these days. Guys like David Gilmour, Jeff Loomis, Michael and Christopher Amott, and Mikael Åkerfeldt played a part as well in shaping my earlier years of guitar playing.
Johnny: Did you pick any of your musical abilities up from your parents?
Mayson: No not at all, neither of them could play instruments. I mean my mom could sing, but that was heard on the rarest of occasions. It’s still a mystery to me how I fell in with music. This might sound a bit quirky, but I like to think maybe whatever or whoever is looking out for me was like “here you go I want you to have this.”
Johnny: When did you perform your first public gig and do you remember the first gig you ever got paid for?
Mayson: The first time I played for an audience was a talent show at my school. I loved being up on stage showing people what I could do. From then on I was hooked on playing for the masses, but it would be years before I would ever play my first paying gig, which was for the acoustic nights held on the patio of an On The Border here in Longview about 4 years ago. The first night I ever met Neal McCoy too – it was weird sitting there trying not to suck as this country star was sitting across from me.
Johnny: When did you get the idea that you might want to be a bit more serious with music and take it just beyond the hobby stage?
Mayson: I think I’ve always been serious about music, and wanted to take it past my bedroom, so I started playing different churches and youth groups. But I wanted to keep pushing it further, so I went to a jam and knew at that point I had to be in an actual band. And before I knew it, I found myself in a few different bands basically marketing myself as a hired gun, and have been doing so since that jam, and I gotta say I’m very glad I labeled myself as a hired gun because I have met some really talented and genuinely awesome people along the way.
Johnny: You’ve got a pretty extensive catalog of songs you call on when doing open mic and solo events. What would you say some of your favorites currently are?
Mayson: I would have to say right now my favorites are “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin, “I Am The Highway” by Audioslave, “Do I Wanna Know” by Arctic Monkeys, and “Keep on Swinging” by Rival Sons.
Johnny: How many originals do you have and how often do you get to work them into sets?
Mayson: I actually have a few notebooks of originals, but I have yet to work them into any of my sets because after I write them I either forget about them or never think they are quite right so I never play them. I tend to overthink my music thus keeping me from sharing it – a bad habit I’ve got to break – but that doesn’t stop me from writing. I will have some new originals waiting to be played in the near future.
Johnny: Some of your work I enjoy the most is when you’re doing some of your bluesier covers. What direction do your originals tend to take stylistically?
Mayson: Thank you. I’m very much an eclectic musician, so I tend to write various styles of music, but if I had to pin down a specific genre I feel is the most me, I would have to say rock ‘n roll. Rock music inspired by the styles of the ‘70s and ‘90s is more what I dig than anything else.
Johnny: You do a lot of collaborative work with other local musicians as well as your own solo nights at several venues around East Texas. Who are some of your regular partners you take the stage with?
Mayson: My good friends Jerry Johnson, who is a killer bassist; and Ladarius Daniels, who we all know for being the main man when it comes to playing a mean saxophone. But recently I’ve made a new friend named Kasey Moore who is a cool dude, and a good player.
Johnny: About how many times a month are you on stage somewhere around the region?
Mayson: Anywhere between 5 and 6 times a month on average. I do some solo shows and some open jams, but with this coming year chances are my band and I will be everywhere else besides our home town.
Johnny: What have you been the proudest of, so far, in your musical journey?
Mayson: Probably how far I have come with who I am as a person and how I am as a musician. Both of which are things I am constantly working on.
Johnny: What are you excited about, musically, as we begin the new year?
Mayson: The new shows my band and I have lined out for 2020, and really just the excitement of where me and my music are going. There’s a sense of excitement for me in what the future may hold as I keep my head down and keep working toward the ultimate goal.
Follow Mayson Garner at facebook.com/mayson.garner.