Bellar and Gibson: Resonator Guitar

Johnny Bellar, photo by Sarah Terpstra Hanson

Johnny Bellar, of Ashland City, Tennessee, is recognized today as one the most expressive and well-respected resonator guitar players in Tennessee–and the United States for that matter. Born and raised in Springfield, Tennessee, Johnny grew up immersed in traditional country music and began tuning instruments for a local band, the Cumberland River Boys, while still in grade school. Johnny considers his father, Johnnie, who played in the band, to be his greatest influence. At age 14, he was inspired to first take up the resonator guitar–an acoustic guitar with a metal resonator cone built into its body–after hearing the playing of his dad’s older brother, Felix. Johnny began listening for hours on end to recordings of Josh Graves, of Tellico Plains, Tennessee and Beecher Ray Kirby (better known as Bashful Brother Oswald) of Sevier County, Tennessee. Graves and Kirby were by then two of the most pioneering and influential resonator guitar players in country and bluegrass music. By age 17, Johnny was a guest on stage with Graves at the Bluegrass Inn and shortly there after won his first contest.

Joey Gibson

Johnny soon launched a career that would see him play for over a decade with the legendary Stoneman Family, found the bluegrass group New Tradition, join Wilma Lee Cooper’s Clinch Mountain Clan on the Grand Ole Opry for many years, and pursue a solo career that has included the recording of ten albums and the composition of many well-loved instrumental tunes. In 1999 and 2000, Johnny was one of four featured performers on two national tours for the “Masters of the Steel String Guitar” sponsored by the National Council for the Traditional Arts. He was inducted into the Old Time Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

As part of the Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Program this year, Johnny is teaching apprentice Joey Gibson, of Manchester, Tennessee. Also born and raised in a family of musicians, Joey’s primary instrument is the banjo. First introduced to the instrument at age 10, Joey has won 14 state championships and a 3rd place title at the National Championship. He has also played resonator guitar as a secondary instrument for many years, and intends to use this opportunity with Johnny to enhance his skills and continue to hone his personal style. Joey puts it plainly, when it comes to resonator guitar and Johnny Bellar: “Who would not want to work with the best player there is!!”