Great guitar pickers are, at essence, nerds. Solitary, obsessed, they spend a large part of their lives woodshedding, bent over their instrument and in the zone as they chalk up their 10,000 hours. What they are not, mostly, is particularly business savvy or entrepreneurial.
Meet Mitch Merrett.
Based in British Columbia and known for years as the guitar player behind the much awarded Canadian country artist Aaron Pritchett, what most don’t know is how much he’s been the stealth manager behind the Pritchett success story. He helped navigate Pritchett out of the bars and into the much more lucrative concert circuit, took care of all the niggling road details, co-produced albums and co-wrote hits including the much-lauded “Hold My Beer”, the Canadian Country Music Association SOCAN song of the year winner for 2007 from the album Big Wheel, a Juno nominee from the same year.
Altogether Merrett has earned two SOCAN Songwriter awards, two CCMA awards as both producer and songwriter and numerous British Columbia Country Music Association awards including a pair as guitar player of the year. And the business knowledge he’s picked up along the way dealing with major labels, negotiating distribution deals, touring, writing, recording and producing could fill a textbook. In fact, he does offer a consulting service now on the intricacies of the music business outside teaching guitar.
This is not just another sideman.
And now that he’s out marking his own course these days, Merrett is on the phone and in the air, developing the careers of two amazingly promising new country artists, marked for sure success by every biz insider and regular country fan that sees them. Chad Brownlee is a former professional hockey player who, after one too many injuries, launched a hot music career that has already seen him charting nation-wide.
Meanwhile, stunning Hayley McLean is a killer guitar slinger, sings like a country Bonnie Raitt and generally snaps heads around every time she gets on a stage.
A lot of Mitch Merrett’s ease with the back line of the music business can no doubt be traced to an entrepreneurial father who used to run a theatre in hometown Ashcroft, B.C. He later moved the family to Vancouver where he immersed himself in stock trading.
Young Mitch got his first guitar in eighth grade, a Yamaha electric with a little amp. He never looked back. He wanted to be Stevie Ray Vaughan. Later, when Dwight Yoakam hit the country charts, Merrett and a million other pickers deconstructed what guitarist Pete Anderson was doing behind Yoakam. Meanwhile Merrett graduated from a two year music theory course at the excellent Selkirk Music College but as he’d be the first to admit, the learning never stops.
Player, arranger, producer, songwriter, manager – there’s hardly a hat in contemporary music Mitch Merrett hasn’t worn. Somehow they always seem to fit like a charm.
-John P. McLaughlin