From Indianapolis! Dynamic Electric Guitarist combines Jazz, Blues, and Roots for a unique blend!
An arc of mystery and music stretches across America like a vein of gold, an eternal blue highway that grows mired in fable as time both adds to and erases it. What Greil Marcus called “the old, weird America” can be heard in the music of Robert Johnson and Santo and Johnny and Tammy Wynette and Duane Allman, from the dark underbelly birthed in New Orleans that extends across the plains from Bakersfield, California, to Macon, Georgia; from Roscoe Holcomb’s “high lonesome sound” to Bob Dylan’s “wild mercury sound.” And it can most definitely be heard in the reflective, lightning-flash-of-brilliance that is the music of 29-year-old Charlie Ballantine.
Born in the American heartland of Indianapolis, Indiana, Ballantine’s quicksilver guitar is all Fender Telecaster flux and flow, Deluxe Reverb danger and drive. Ballantine has two current releases: Life Is Brief: The Music of Bob Dylan and Where Is My Mind?, with two albums prior, all drawing from music and experiences documented long before he was born.
“I've always been attracted to the guys on the outskirts,” Ballantine says from Indianapolis. “Like John Scofield, Bill Frisell, and Jeff Beck; you can call the first two jazz, but a purist might disagree. And I like using distortion and delay and [different] vocabulary, not necessarily playing straight bebop. That’s what’s I’ve always loved, guys who are unique in their approach and who have their own voice.”
Growing up in a musical household, Ballantine was exposed early on to the pop greats, but also the sounds of jazz, blues, pop and rock. “My parents were born in the 50s,” Ballantine explains. “So I grew up kind of listening to the Beatles, Beach Boys, the Band. I have Sergeant Pepper on one shoulder and Wes Montgomery on the other shoulder, and Hendrix too. So I have all these things, these influences I'm trying to make sense of and give a sense of continuity.”
Scott Ballantine, Charlie’s dad, fixed his son up with the best: “a handful of CDs by Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, Wes Montgomery. I really obsessively listened to Hendrix’ Axis Bold As Love. It has incredible songwriting but also this virtuosic guitar playing on every song. I've always loved great guitar players, but when matched with a beautiful song that's the perfect storm and on that record that’s exactly what Hendrix does.”
When not playing and practicing, Ballantine followed his dad from club to club.
“Being old enough to see my dad play a trio gig at a blues club when I was 15 or being able to sit in the back and watch him play, it was pretty awesome. It took me that long to appreciate that I was watching some really heavy musicians. It was contagious for me.
“He’d give me a lesson every few months,” he continues, “more importantly, he gave me all the right things to listen to. Then he showed me the guitar player’s guitar players like Danny Gatton and Roy Buchanan, and Guthrie Trapp and Johnny Highland, modern Nashville players we still go to see.”
Ballantine graduated from Indiana University in 2013 with a degree in Jazz Studies; he currently teaches guitar performance at Marian University in Indianapolis.