Session guitarist performs show, teaches classes


Photo by: Thessalonia Thomas

During the Jan. 18 show, Jon Conley performs some of his favorite music, including pieces he performed while touring.

The FMU Performing Arts Center welcomed guitarist Jon Conley for FMU’s Fine Arts Artist Series with a performance on Jan. 18 for community members and students.

For Conley’s first time in Florence, he performed alongside FMU Associate Professor of Music Industry, Brandon Goff, also a former student of Conley. In addition to the performance, Conley spent time playing for and educating music industry students during classes on the day of the performance.

“This event is sort of a three-prong event with education, question and answer and partly, a show,” Conley said. “I’m going back and revisiting my old heroes that I haven’t played in a long time to show the kids where I came from and where I am now.”

Conley is a session guitarist, meaning he is a musician who is hired to perform in recording sessions as well as live performances. He is currently the guitarist and back-up singer for country music star Kenney Chesney. Conley toured with Chesney during his record-setting 2011 tour.

“I still get nervous, but it’s a good kind of nervous,” Conley said. “I get a little worried if I don’t get nervous. I love the energy of a huge crowd, but I love the intimacy of a small crowd. I like them both equally depending on what I’m in the mood for.”

Conley, a native of Paragould, Ark., said he picked up a guitar at the age of seven and has yet to put one down. His passion for music has led him to work with a variety of artists over the course of his career such as Wynonna Judd, LeAnn Rimes and Lee Greenwood.

“Country was king where I grew up,” Conley said. “I liked Johnny Cash. I liked Willie Nelson, but I needed to learn more.”

At a young age, Conley was inspired by musicians and bands such as KISS, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Conley said he knew becoming a guitarist such as Eddie Van Halen did not happen overnight and required a lot of work and dedication.

“Everything I try to do is off the hairs of my forearm,” Conley said. “If they come up on my arm, I’m all about it. I love music that moves me, and Stevie’s music moved me like no other kind of music.”

Conley moved to Nashville, Tenn. in 1995 after landing his first job touring with Wynonna Judd.  Conley said after playing for Judd, he became the lead guitarist and musical director for LeAnn Rimes.

“Think of achieving a goal as trying to lose 100 pounds,” Conley said. “The worst way to think of it is losing that 100 pounds. Try to think about losing one pound, then doing that 100 times. Then, you’ve lost 100 pounds.”

Rising country artist, Luke Combs, debuted his first single “Hurricane” in October 2017, in which Conley played. Conley said Combs never knew how to play the guitar until he got to college, but he set goals for himself and did not stop making efforts to achieve them.

According to Conley, Combs first learned to play a single chord, then moved his goal to three chords, learned a full song, learned an entire set of songs and how to sing them while playing, before he finally booked a gig.

Conley said throughout his years of playing, his favorite thing has been forming relationships with people on both a musical and personal level, as well as being able to create something beautiful out of nothing.