Music and Meritocracy: Witnessing a Legend

He strutted to the stage wearing bell bottom jeans and a loose fitted shirt. His dirty blonde hair down past his shoulders, a couple of tussled curls fell over his relaxed face; a youthful 24 years of age. Before him stood a crowd of those predominantly from the Baby Boomer generation, blown away by the young man’s talent. He has the likeness of Robert Plant if you squint your eyes, but more like Jimmy Page if you close them and just listen. His name is Tyler Bryant, and he is opening for Page’s Yardbirds companion, Jeff Beck at The Paramount, a modest converted movie theater in suburban Huntington, New York.

What year was this, you may find yourself asking. If you answered 1972, I would say that’s a good educated guess. However, the year is 2015, and in my late 20s, I was probably among the youngest at that show.

My generation is far more content to listen to Top 40, as is any generation in their youth. The difference of course is that Top 40 has changed significantly over the years, relegating the music of yesteryear into a niche. Joni Mitchell recently told New York Magazine that today’s music scene which she quit in 2007 is less so about the talent, and more so a look:

[producers] were tyrannical and trendy. They would have squelched my need for risk and invention. They would have straightened out all the quirks and oddities and steered me toward the dog race where the bigger profits were. It’s just gotten worse. Somewhere after 2007, around that time, I think, I heard on the radio, a record executive saying quite confidently, ‘We’re no longer looking for talent. We’re looking for a look and a willingness to cooperate.’

As I stared in awe at Tyler Bryant, melting the neck of his acoustic guitar in a blazing solo, I couldn’t help but wonder if this old soul was born to the wrong generation; a Hendrix reincarnate born into the times of commercialized Hip Hop, auto-tuned vocals and polished pop-rock. He is someone, I recall saying to my father (60) standing beside me, “[who] should be on the cover of Rollingstone, not Justin Bieber.” My father agreed, we both agreed, that if he had come up 40 years ago, he would be bigger than Bieber is today.

Though I doubt Tyler would agree with that sentiment. He was so incredibly humble, just happy to be doing what he loves  for a living. “Thank you for coming,” he said sincerely, “when I was young, I had posters of guys like Jeff Beck on my wall, so it’s an honor to be here.” He was gracious for all his opportunity; a story of young success, a prodigy who moved to Music City at the age of 17 only a year after playing on stage with Eric Clapton. Though I doubt he’d like the word prodigy either, and made sure to invoke his band (Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown) back in Nashville rather than make it all about himself.

After the show, Tyler greeted fans by the merchandise table. I can imagine so many other young men afforded the same opportunities would be fickle and elitist. Tyler was anything but. I quickly purchased his new tour-exclusive EP, Bombay B-Sides, and walked over to shake his hand and take some photos. Even though my father couldn’t effectively take the picture, Tyler was patient and offered to wait until we got it right (we did, sort of). He signed my EP, and after thanking him for coming to New York, I realized on my EP it was him thanking me — and others too. “Thanks, Tyler Bryant” the cover of the EP read, a musician who shared the stage with legends, a legend in the making himself, thanking his fans.

As I stared at the “Thank you” I realized that any sense of feeling bad about the fact meritocracy is seemingly on decline was misguided. I realized that this was someone just happy to be doing this. It is all too easy to complain about your circumstances, or the lack of perceived merit — “thank you” I stared at it again — “thank you” was signed by someone just happy to be on this ride.

We can’t control the record industry, or what Top 40 is. But we can support great talent. Please check out and support great talent, you can buy Tyler’s records on iTunes & check him out at his band page.