Laur Joamet: Andy Sapp.
The path to Nashville is often associated with Tennessee hollers, Arkansas cabins, or Texas jooks. However, for Laur Joamets, the talented Teleslinger behind Sturgill Simpson, it all began in his native Estonia.
On two self-released albums, Sturgill Simpson has made a resounding impact on Americana music. Despite initial skepticism from the Music City establishment, fans recognized the powerful combination of Joamets’ keening vocals and hard-driving bluegrass-tinged playing.
Joamets’ guitar-picking style adds a vital element to the music, characterized by breathtaking runs, fresh-sounding classic country riffs, and an intriguing fusion of hard rock and psychedelia.
“In Nashville, there is no shortage of talented guitarists, but Sturgill must have heard something unique in my playing,” Joamets reflects before stepping onto the stage during their world tour. “Hiring me was a big risk. I play guitar with my Eastern European accent, and initially, I wasn’t as fluent in playing country.”
Growing up, Joamets was exposed to a diverse musical diet of Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, and Deep Purple, thanks to his guitar-picking dad. His father also introduced him to country pickers like Albert Lee, Danny Gatton, and Redd Volkaert.
“As I delved into country music, I discovered many similarities with the blues and rock and roll I grew up playing, and I started developing a genuine love for the genre,” Joamets explains.
Country music has an intriguing history in Estonia. Artists frequently borrow classic melodies, write lyrics in Estonian, and reinterpret the songs in their own way. Joamets played professionally in the “Pop Idol” TV-show studio band and at various events, which often required him to perform two country songs, “Folsom Prison Blues” and “That’s All Right.”
How did Joamets go from playing Baltic weddings to joining Sturgill Simpson’s band? It was a coincidence. Through his manager, Dave Cobb – who also managed the Rival Sons, a band that performed in Estonia – Joamets connected with Simpson. One thing led to another, and in 2014, Joamets traveled an unconventional path to Nashville for an audition.
“I aim to infuse my influences from Hendrix, Deep Purple, and the Stones into my country playing because there are so many better country guitarists than me. So, in my opinion, the best thing I can do is play in my own unique way,” he shares.
James (LEFT) on stage with Sturgill Simpson.
Simpson himself is a talented picker who played all the guitar on his debut album, 2013’s High Top Mountain. However, on his 2014 follow-up, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, Joamets took the lead with outstanding slide work on “Living The Dream” and an unprecedented psychedelic freak-out ending in “It Ain’t All Flowers.”
Joamets’ go-to guitar is a lightweight black ’74 Tele made of swamp ash with a rosewood fingerboard, which he stumbled upon in a guitar store in Stockholm years ago. He also plays a parts Tele given to him by Simpson, featuring a Warmoth body aged by MJT, a maple neck, and Lollar Jazzmaster P-90s. According to Joamets, this guitar offers a compressed twang that complements the music and provides a unique sound.
More recently, he has been experimenting with a Fano PX6, a guitar that combines elements of a non-reverse Gibson Firebird and Jazzmaster. Equipped with Lollar P-90s, Joamets describes its tone as “amazing.”
When it comes to amplifiers, Joamets prefers low power for that natural tube compression and a touch of breakup. In the studio, he relied on a hot-rodded late-’60s Fender Champ, while for live performances, he uses a ’74 Fender Musicmaster with a 12″ speaker, 10 watts, and just Volume and Tone controls. “Originally a bass practice amp, it’s no surprise that Fender amps designed for bass often find their way into the hands of guitar players,” Joamets laughs.
He is currently exploring the possibilities of a prototype 15-watt Charmer amp based on a tweed 5E3 Deluxe, built by his father and a friend, Urmas Anderson.
Joamets’ effects are kept minimal. For slide work, he employs a Greer Amps tremolo pedal to add a subtle touch of movement. When things start rocking, he introduces the Greer Lightspeed Organic Overdrive, and he swears by the Greer Black Tiger Delay, one of the best-sounding delay pedals he has ever encountered.
Lastly, don’t stress about pronouncing Joamets’ name correctly; even Simpson and the band just refer to him as “L’il Joe.”
This article originally appeared in VG April 2016 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.