Travelin’ man: Roots musician to perform at Winter Garden Heritage Museum

Brian Smalley will be bringing his brand of American roots music to the Winter Garden Heritage Museum.

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  • | 4:06 p.m. September 12, 2018
Guitarist Brian Smalley plays a riff on his guitar in front of The Attic Door in Winter Garden, where he performs about once a month.
Guitarist Brian Smalley plays a riff on his guitar in front of The Attic Door in Winter Garden, where he performs about once a month.
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Growing up in a military family, Brian Smalley never had a true home. By the time he turned 18, he had moved 22 different times. The transient nature of his childhood made it hard for Smalley to make friends, but there was always one thing that offered him a release: his guitar.

“I was 9 years old when I picked up the guitar,” said Smalley, now 55. “It’s been a long love affair with the guitar.”

Smalley will be performing from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Winter Garden Heritage Museum, 21 E. Plant St. Reservations to the event are available $20 at any of the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation offices or by calling (407) 656-3244. Admission to the concert also includes a glass of wine and a chance to speak with Smalley. Proceeds of the concert benefit the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation’s museum and programs. 

Smalley plays American roots music and cites Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed and Tommy Emmanuel, among many other musicians, as influences.

“(American roots) is a real large umbrella,” Smalley said. “I like any kind of music that’s melodic … that encompasses every style of music.

Smalley said although he also sings, he’ll only “sing just so I have an excuse to play the guitar.” He enjoys playing the guitar because of its versatility. 

“What I like about the instrument is that you can get melody and an alternate melody going at the same time, you can get a little bass behind it (and) get other elements going on.”

Music runs in Smalley’s family. His father played the accordion, his brother played the piano, and his son is a vocalist. Smalley started off with the piano at age 5 but didn’t enjoy it. In addition to the guitar and piano, Smalley also can play the trombone and banjo. 

“I was required to play, so my influences, whether I liked it or not … were classical musicians,” Smalley said. “I think that’s where the melodic (musical) necessity comes for me.”

Eventually, Smalley convinced his parents to let him try the guitar. He took guitar lessons about a year before he opted to teach himself how to play. He also learned from a few friends throughout his life. Today, he continues to learn more about playing the guitar through the internet.

“What’s great now is the internet,” he said. “You can go on YouTube and … learn anything. You can go on the web and just find anything you’d want to play.”

Smalley added he enjoys studying music using websites like YouTube, because he can pause whatever he’s watching to closely study the video.

“I’m old, so new tricks are real hard for me,” Smalley said.

Common themes in many of Smalley’s songs are travel and being on the move — a nod to his early years with his family. 

“(The moving) sucked, but … I got to see a lot of the country,” Smalley said. “One thing you’ll notice in my music — there’s a heavy influence on traveling. The songs are about moving places and going places.”

Smalley added that although he’s settled in his home in Apopka, he still likes to travel.

“I always tell people, ‘My life is simple,’” he said. “I either play guitar or I get in the car, go somewhere and play guitar.”

Smalley has released seven CDs, and his music is available on iTunes. However, he suggest buying his CDs directly from him at one of his shows. Each CD comes with a personal touch, Smalley said.

“Everything is homemade,” he said. “Every CD is made at my house … so everyone is kind of one-of-a-kind. I make each cover myself … no two ever comes out the same.”


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