Bryan Sutton seemed to come out of nowhere as part of Ricky Skaggs' return to bluegrass in 1997. Bluegrass Unlimited's review of Bluegrass Rules! took special note of his "spellbinding solos...[which] establish him as a musician who bears close scrutiny," while an appearance on Tina Adair's Just You Wait And See (Sugar Hill) led another reviewer to call him "a guitarist to be reckoned with." All in all, it was a remarkable welcome for a young musician.
Born near Asheville, NC in 1973, Bryan started playing the guitar at the age of 8. By the time he graduated from high school, he was already immersed not only in bluegrass, but jazz and rock and roll, playing in an array of bands and making his first recordings. From there he went directly to work in his first band, spending two years on the road with acoustic country gospel artist Karen Peck before joining Mid South, a contemporary country/gospel band. That job, and a growing desire to excel in studio work, led him to move to Nashville; Music City served as a base from which he visited gospel-oriented recording studios around the southeast, adding mandolin, banjo and fiddle skills to his already considerable guitar abilities.
In 1995, Sutton joined Ricky Skaggs' Kentucky Thunder, then still chiefly a country act. As the group metamorphosed into a bluegrass band over the next two years, his fiery guitar solos and punchy rhythms grew more prominent. By 1998 he was not only turning heads with his work behind Skaggs - as a member of Kentucky Thunder, he shared in that year's bluegrass Grammy award - but also appearing on some of the highest-profile releases bluegrass had to offer, including Aubrey Haynie's Doin' My Time, Jerry Douglas's Restless On The Farm, and Don Rigsby's A Vision (all on Sugar Hill), as well as Bobby Hicks' IBMA award-winning Fiddle Patch. With his broad-ranging musical interests, he also turned in stellar performances on albums as diverse as the all-instrumental Hats Off: A Tribute To Merle Haggard, and alternative country singer Hayseed's critically acclaimed Melic.
Few artists have come so far so fast - and yet, at the beginning of 1999, Bryan followed his heart and retired from Kentucky Thunder to devote himself to the recording work he finds so fascinating and rewarding. As a leading session guitarist, he continues to appear on numerous recordings, from gospel albums to Rhonda Vincent's Back Home Again to million-sellers like the Dixie Chicks' Fly. His guitar playing anchors Dolly Parton's sensational bluegrass albums, Little Sparrow and The Grass Is Blue (Sugar Hill), and the singer returned the favor by contributing to Bryan's album, Ready To Go. Filling in for the injured Tony Rice with the Bluegrass Sessions gave Bryan continued acclaim as he continually amazed audiences with his distinctive precision guitar leads. In the fall of 2000, Bryan was honored by the International Bluegrass Music Association as "Guitar Player of the Year".