Shawn Lane (March 21, 1963 - September 26, 2003) was an American musician who released two studio albums and collaborated with a variety of musicians including Ringo Starr, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Reggie Young, Joe Walsh and many others. After studying the piano, he rapidly mastered the guitar, which he played with exceptional speed. One of the most technically accomplished players of all time with a melodic ear, Lane was named by the American Guitar Institute as the "greatest guitarist who ever lived".
Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Lane began playing piano with his sisters at the age of eight, but did not play guitar seriously until he was ten. At age 12-13 he began to practice heavily. At fourteen, he became the lead guitarist for Black Oak Arkansas (BOA), alongside members including drummer Tommy Aldridge toured over the next four years opening shows for bands including REO Speedwagon, Ted Nugent, Outlaws, Cheap Trick, Molly Hatchet and Blue Öyster Cult. During 1979 Shawn played in The Streets recording studio demos with Andy Tanas on bass, Chris Craig on drums and Jimmy Henderson on guitar almost securing a deal with Epic Records.
At age fifteen Lane saw Allan Holdsworth play guitar with the progressive band U.K., which inspired him to develop his own style of playing guitar. Lane also played in Savage Innocence with singer Jim "Dandy" Mangrum, guitarist Keith Plunk, keyboardist Billy Batte, drummer Chris Craig and bassist Kinley Wolfe who then played with The Cult. As the original members dropped out, Lane replaced them with players from his high school days. Lane began to play a style close to jazz fusion. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Lane played in The Willys, a band consisting of singer/keyboardist Sam Bryant, singer/bassist Rob Caudill and drummer Russ Caudill who had played in The Breaks with Susanne Jerome Taylor. Lane also performed in the fusion band Out of Bounds, with Barry Bays and DeGarmo and Key drummer Chuck Reynolds.
Adulthood and piano:
From age eighteen to twenty-six, Lane studied music, composed music, and played piano. In 1983 he became a father to a daughter named Ashley. Much of the material on Lane's first studio album, Powers of Ten, was written on his home piano. He quickly developed his technique on the keyboard as well, taking influence from pianists such as Franz Liszt, Art Tatum and Georges Cziffra.
His demo tapes led Shawn to be sought out by Jim Ed Norman and a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records. Except for one cover song, Lane wrote all the material and played all the instruments on his debut album. The album sold well and earned several magazine awards. Following its release in 1992, Guitar Player magazine named him "Best New Talent" and Keyboard Magazine placed him second in the "Best Keyboard Player" category. During the production of the album, Lane continued to play live shows and do session work. On September 19, 1992, Lane played in Guitar Player Magazine's 25th anniversary concert at Warfield Theatre, San Francisco alongside Steve Morse, John Lee Hooker, Dick Dale, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Adrian Belew, Ry Cooder and others. He also performed on the Mark Varney Project's Centrifugal Funk album along with Brett Garsed, Frank Gambale, Jimmy Earl, T. J. Helmerich. To promote his album, he formed The Powers of Ten band with Barry Bays on bass, keyboardist Doug Scarborough, Todd Bobo on saxophone and drummer Sean Rickman; they opened for Robben Ford's US tour.
Lane released two more solo albums following his debut, Powers of Ten; Live!, recorded live in 1993, and The Tri-Tone Fascination in 1999.
During 1994 Lane met bassist Jonas Hellborg. Lane and Hellborg played with drummer Jeff Sipe in HLS (Hellborg, Lane, Sipe). Between 1994-1995, Lane played with D.D.T., a band consisting of Paul Taylor, Luther Dickinson and Cody Dickinson; the latter three would then form the North Mississippi Allstars. During this time Shawn developed curricula and taught at several European Conservatories including the American Institute of Music in Vienna alongside Joey Tafolla and Milan Polak. He also wrote columns for Young Guitar Magazine in Japan which were published between February 1995 and 1996. During 1996 Shawn also wrote columns for Guitar for the Practicing Musician in their Over the Top series. Shawn also engineered and co-produced the album Red Reign by Steven Patrick from Holy Soldier. In September 1995, Hellborg, Lane and drummer Anders Johansson played with Chinese pop singer Wei Wei and the trio appeared as an opening act at many of China's largest musical venues. Lane played the Warsaw Summer Jazz Days festival on June 19, 1998 with Hellborg and Félix Sabal Lecco. In 1998 Lane played the guitar solo on Bang a Drum featuring Jon Bon Jovi and Chris LeDoux reaching number 68 on Hot Country Songs. During May 1999 Lane played with drummer Steve Ferrone at the Disma Music show, Rimini, Italy. Later, Lane and Hellborg formed an East-West fusion band with Indian musicians V. Selvaganesh and V. Umamahesh. On April 19, 2002, HLS opened up for guitarist John Scofield at the Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA. While in Memphis, Lane would play with the Time Bandits, with singer Regina Parker, steel guitarist Tony Sutton, drummer Steve Sutton and bassist Adam Sutton. In February 2003, Lane and Hellborg toured India with drummer Andrea Marchesini playing the Great Indian Rock Festival, Hamsadhwani Theatre, Pragati Maiden, New Delhi. Shawn played the Swedish Jazz Celebration Festival, Stockholm, on March 29, 2003 with Hellborg, V. Umamahesh, V. Umashankar and Ramakrishnan. Lane's last concert performance was at Smilefest in North Carolina with Hellborg and Jim Britt on May 31, 2003. In September 2003 Shawn Lane was preparing for a new album with Hellborg and Ginger Baker. The Shawn Lane Memorial Concert was held on August 28, 2005, New Daisy Theatre, Memphis, TN celebrating the life and music of Shawn Lane featuring Andy Timmons, Jimi Jamison, Lord Tracy, Craig Erickson, Kevin Paige, FreeWorld, Jim "Dandy" Mangrum and many others.
Lane had a passion for the cinema, both in the USA and abroad, including the ability to recall and recite dialogue from movies that interested him. Lane had a particular love of off-beat horror movies, a passion he shared with fellow guitar great, Buckethead, who also cited Lane as one of his biggest musical inspirations. Musically, Lane was influenced by many other artists but an important one was Pakistani musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Called "the King of Kings of Qawwali" and very popular in Pakistan, India and Southern Asia, Khan fascinated Lane deeply with his wide vocal range and the intertwining of his voice with the notes from his instrument. Lane was also a genuine lover of great paintings and often spent some of his free time on the road visiting museums, occasionally attracting small crowds as he educated visitors about the history of a particular work of art, or it's creator. His personal favorite painter was 17th century, Dutch great Johannes Vermeer, who ironically like Lane, was widely accepted as a gifted artist yet never obtained any real personal wealth from his tremendous talent. Vermeer was noted for his attention to the fine details of his work, also a characteristic of Lane. Speaking true musician-ese, Lane once said, "Music is kind of like painting because both have color, tone, texture and a story".
Health and 2003 death:
Lane had psoriasis throughout his life. After age twelve, he also suffered from psoriatic arthritis, which caused stiffness in his joints and after 2000 was affecting his ability to play guitar (Lane stated that with proper rest he could still play live gigs, etc.). Lane had treated his psoriasis with hydrocortisone for many years, which caused his weight to increase, further loading his joints. The required usage of cortisone over time resulted in him having Cushings syndrome. Consequently he backed off taking cortisone, but then the psoriasis would flare up, and he would need prescription pain killers to deal with the unremitting pain. The symptoms of his condition and the side effects of the medications created a vicious circle. Complicating matters, for many years Lane did not have medical insurance coverage. In 2003 he started having difficulty breathing and was told that he would have to remain on medical oxygen for the rest of his life.
Lane died in a hospital in Memphis on September 26, 2003 of lung-related illnesses. His body was buried at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis.
Although not a familiar name to many outside musician's circles, today's guitar virtuosos such as Rusty Cooley, Michael Romeo, Guthrie Govan, Paul Gilbert - who called Lane "the most terrifying guy of all time" during a guitar clinic when asked about his thoughts on Lane's guitar playing skills - and many others regard him extremely highly. The American Guitar Institute has named him the "greatest guitarist who ever lived".Guitar World magazine wrote in 2008, "Few, if any, guitarists can play faster than Lane could, and his arpeggio sweeps and precision-picked lines blasted more rapid-fire notes than the average human mind could comprehend."