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11 Jun 09 To Be Young and Talented

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Here at the Texas Music Journal, we often get tips about young performers from Texas who are sure to be “the next big thing.” Often, however, they fall a little short of the promise. We were referred to a young blues singer and guitarist who would be playing in McKinney. After sitting through his sets, in our opinion, he could very well be … well, you know.

Colton O’Neill is 17 years old. If you close your eyes, during his performance, though, you would never know it. He recently played at the Cadillac Pizza, surrounded by paintings of the great guitar legends. As he played, it seemed as though he was bringing them and their music back for the audience.

The Colton O’Neill band looks like what you would expect a teenage garage band to be: three friends including a shy bass player (Tanner Cash) and a drummer (George Johnson) whose trap work kept up a good beat for the band. The difference between this band and others is O’Neill’s voice and guitar work.

Unassuming between songs, O’Neill takes complete charge as the music begins. He laughs when he makes a mistake, which we find refreshing. It’s a sign that he does not take himself too seriously. But as he plays, he “feels” the guitar and the music. He has a classic blues voice, mature well beyond his years.

One of the more interesting moments of the evening was when O’Neill seriously told the audience that he had once done some hard time. Now our reaction was like everyone else, “Huh?” We certainly weren’t expecting to hear this from a 17-year old blues guitarist. He followed that statement with, “Yeh, I was mowing lawns as a job.” That brought a good laugh from the audience. This was O’Neill’s humorous way to introduce one of his songwriting efforts, “The Lawnmower Song.” He wrote it one day in his head while on his riding lawnmower. It has a funky, jazzy, blues sound; one line stating “I’m going to Texas, where these blues pour down like rain.”

Despite his youth, he banters with the audience like a veteran. During one lengthy pause, while setting a difficult tuning on his guitar for the next song, he told the audience, “I tune because I care.”

As we listened to him perform, we could feel him taking the guitar into places where more veteran performers have been. This was particularly illustrated as he performed a number of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix songs.

O’Neill’s talent is home grown. “My dad was one of the top Texas country guitarists,” he said. Just four years ago, the son decided to learn the guitar and he had has done pretty well. It won’t be long before his dad passes on the crown to a new top Texas guitarist.

What’s next? “My dad convinced me to stay in school; but I really want to go on the road.”

We will see a lot more from Colton O’Neill. At his age, to have that level of talent and to have that level of drive to be not just good, but one of the best …

Oh, to be that young and that talented!

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