Growing up in her homeland of Switzerland, Andrea Benz was absolutely certain that she was destined to be a country music guitar player. “It all started the night I watched the CMAs [Country Music Awards] on TV with my parents,” she says. “I was already playing the guitar as a hobby, but when I saw Brad Paisley on that show, I said, ‘That’s what I’m going to do.’”
After mastering Paisley’s solo to Mud on the Tires (“I practiced it day and night for weeks”), Benz started to study the guitar licks of players like Danny Gatton, Albert Lee and Roy Nichols.
“I gravitated toward players who had a clean sound. I wasn’t much into distortion,” she says. “Brent Mason became a real favorite of mine. He just encapsulates everything I love, and his chicken pickin’ is second to none.”
With two music degrees under her belt, Benz set off to go pro in Europe. “Country is popular there, but it’s tough if you want to play original music,” she says. “I would play in cover bands on weekends, but it was hard to make a living off it. After a while, I said, ‘It’s time to move to where it’s happening.’”
Arriving in Nashville three years ago, Benz quickly found employment as lead guitarist for country singer Karen Waldrup. At the same time, she played solo shows around town and began recording her own songs.
Her just-released debut album, Who I Am, is full of spunky, engaging gems like That’s How a Country Girl Gets the Blues and Plains of Montana that showcase Benz’s crystal-clear singing voice and impeccable guitar chops. “I tried to plan out my solos in advance, but I always throw a little improv in. Whatever the moment calls for,” she says.
Benz is hoping Who I Am launches her career as a solo star, but she’s not ruling out side-person gigs. “I absolutely love being the lead guitar player in a band – any band,” she says. “In a perfect world, I could alternate between making my own records and hitting the road with other artists. As long as I’m playing guitar, I’m pretty happy.”
- GUITAR: Fender Deluxe Nashville Telecaster
- AMP: Peavey Classic 30 112, Dr. Z Z-Wreck
- EFFECTS: MXR Dyna Comp, MXR Carbon Copy
- Who I Am (opens in new tab) is out now.