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Joe Don Rooney

Rascal Flatts

"You hold that high note and it's just soaring. And it's like, there's the reason why you're put on this earth." Listen as Joe Don of Rascal Flatts talks about the power of music in this episode of String Theory.

Transcript

Joe:
The introduction to the guitar for me was when I was about 10 to 11 years old, believe it or not. I was around music my whole life, my father was a guitar player and a singer and had bands, multiple bands that he played with around our area where I grew up in Oklahoma. It was honky-tonks and bars and stuff, and I remember my dad playing from a very early age. I remember him playing and being inspired by him playing, but when I first was really introduced to learning how to play the guitar and wanting to learn some chords, I remember I came home from school one day and my dad was home early from work. He was a relentless worker. He was a blue collar guy, union guy out of Tulsa and an electrician by trade, but he always found time on the weekends for music.

Joe:
It was rare for my dad actually be home early in the afternoon, and I remember running out to the den and hearing him playing and it just dawned on me. I don't know exactly why, but there was something when he was playing, and I can't remember what he was playing, but I said, "Dad, I want to learn a chord. I want to learn how to play." I didn't even know what I was talking about, and he said, "Well, okay, well sit down here and I'm going to show you G chord." And boom, that's when my life really began. After that, my dad noticed that I was taking a liking to it and he started showing me more than just one chord.

Joe:
By the time I was 11 going on 12, my dad bought me my very first American Standard Telecaster. This thing was ugly, it was sea foam green. It was a Telecaster and it had an amazing scale to it, and I just remember wearing that thing out and everything from chicken picking style Vince Gill stuff to Metallica on this thing. It was a well rounded guitar for me, it could sound like a lot of different things with the pickup positions, and my dad was always pushing me towards country, but my friends were always kind of pushing me towards rock and roll. I had this dichotomy of, "Okay, this country thing is cool and this rock thing is really cool too." In my teenage years, I started kind of combining those, and my good friends who loved rock never understood why I loved country, and my dad and all of his cronies who loved country, didn't understand why I loved the heavy metal so much.

Joe:
All I could say is, "I just love them both. I can't explain why, but they fall under my fingers very well, and it's inspiring for me to play and I love all these different guitar players and I'm inspired by them so much, playing these different worlds." It kind of dawned on my dad at one point like, "Oh, I'm not gonna be able to fix him. He's troubled. This rock and roll stuff's taken over his life, but he obviously does it pretty well. Son, whatever you want to do, I think you should just go with your heart, you know?" He said, "But I'm going to tell you, the money's in country music. You better do some more country." 

Joe:
My dad started teaching me obviously, guitar like we talked about, but once I learned enough, he took me to some other guitar players around our area and one of which was Ed Menton at Fly by Night Music in Neosho, Missouri. I remember going to Ed. He was a big blues guy and he played Ernie Ball strings primarily. I remember at Fly by Night Music, they sold exclusively Ernie Ball strings. Back then he was way into Stevie Ray. Stevie liked the heavier gauge string, so I went down that path of, "Yeah, I want to have a fricking 13 gauge string on my high string." I was the idiot young kid trying to, getting carpal tunnel at 14 years old. But I remember Ernie Ball speaking to me at a very early age. My dad played Ernie Ball strings, and I remember Ed Menton though, having those strings, I was stringing up our guitars together and play them blues music together. Walking down the blues path really inspired me, and having the Ernie ball strings right there early on in my life, it's a big part of how I play today. It's a big part of my sound. I've used Ernie Ball strings forever, since I can remember. Every tour Rascal Flatts has been on, we have been so thankful to get these amazing strings through the years. (silence).

Joe:
Rascal Flatts music has evolved so much through the years, and live, sometimes we'll tune on a half step for certain songs. Some of the stuff has a little more balls to it, the rockier edged music, and it's funner to have like everything down a half step on the guitar with a drop D so all of a sudden you're in D flat, and it just got this [inaudible 00:05:33] to it. For that, you don't want the gauges to be too light. We'd sometimes go to to an 11 on the top. I normally play 10s on every electric guitar I have especially, a 440 standard tuning, but anytime we're going to drop down a half step, it's important for me to feel like it's still in the original key. It almost feels like it's the original key with the slightly heavier gauge string for the lower tuning. (silence).

Joe:
Through my journey with music you get used to doing things sometimes, and we've all been guilty of autopilot setting in when you're on stage or you're playing sold out shows or you're playing big venues. You're getting to play some amazing classic venues, but there's those moments where you go back to the reason why you do what you do, and it's those magical moments of when Jay and Gary and I are singing on a stage together. We just hit a certain note and hit that harmony together. Or following a solo section, I slide into it just the right way, and you hold that one high note and it's just soaring. It's like there's that call and response. There's the reason why you're put on this earth. There's the reason why all those years you've locked yourself in your bedroom and you tried to learn how to play guitar. Those moments still happen on stage, and after 15 years of touring together and playing all over the world, there's still those moments. I'm so thankful for those moments because that's what keeps you fueled for the next day, for the next gig, for the next song, I'm going to record, for the next song I'm going to write.

Joe:
Music is really, truly medicine. We're artists and we're musicians and we play music for a living, but that music's also our medicine. I look back through the years on some of the songs we recorded that songs like "My Wish," songs like "What Hurts the Most" and sounds like "Bless the Broken Road" that I loved the songs when they came out. When we recorded them, I was in a different phase of my life. Now playing those shows 10 years after the fact, those songs affect me differently on stage night after night. Now I hear them in a different way. I have babies now. I've got kids, I've got a beautiful wife, I've got an amazing life. I'm very blessed in that way, but now I hear those songs differently. I get affected and emotional sometimes up on stage playing these songs and hearing Gary sing these songs, and these band guys that we have are so great, and our crew and everybody's dialed in. It's like you get those powerful moments where, damn man, we are so fortunate to get to do what we get to do and impact people in such a beautiful way, and what we hope is a positive way for the most part.

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