Nathan Pope: Youthful Innovation

Nathan Pope

Through the decades I have been fortunate to witness many moments of youthful innovation in Blues-Rock guitar playing.

These are pertinent points of our shared musical history. I am both grateful, as a musician, and eternally grateful, as a fan, to have witnessed concerts by Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Duane Allman, and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among many. These four were all in their twenties when I first saw them burn up their perspective stages. All were born in the 1940’s, except for Stevie.

The generations that have followed the aforementioned have had some distinct advantages that their forebears could not even imagine. Recording technology and methods to  learn music have advanced dramatically in the past 50 years. Self produced music is more and more common. Younger players are getting better, sooner and faster.

I remember seeing a young Derek Trucks in the early 1990’s at the Jewish Mother Deli and Nightclub in Virginia Beach. He was around 13, maybe 14 years old? He was wearing an Atlanta Braves baseball cap, dressed casually, playing slide guitar on a Gibson SG that was as big as he was. He was playing a lot of Duane Allman licks on that SG. Considering Derek’s Uncle, Butch Trucks, was a founding member of the Allman Brothers that wasn’t that surprising. But these particular musical passages were as if Duane had lived another twenty plus years past October 1971.

These days Derek Trucks continues to innovate. I have always likened Derek to a Jazz saxophone player, like John Coltrane. More linear in his approach than a traditional Blues Slide player. Not surprising that since that early 90’s show, Derek has covered material, from time to time, by Coltrane. The palate of Derek Trucks’ music continues to broaden. Those musical expansions are often in partnership with his Wife Susan Tedeschi, a marvelous guitarist and vocalist, in the Tedeschi-Trucks Band. An incredibly diverse band that never ceases to stimulate and inspire.

On June 5, 2022, I had a musical experience not unlike seeing Derek Trucks so many years ago. That night, I played my last gig with a Charlotte based band called The Instigators. The Instigators, were a good Blues and Soul Band. I was lucky to have an almost six year run with them. After a couple of Instigator sets, we turned the stage over for an open Blues jam. The venue had a great backline of amps and drums for the jammers to use. We sort of directed the jam, occasionally sitting in ourselves, filling in the holes. The majority of the players this particular night were young guys. But there was one specific young player that was getting my immediate attention. You could have hung a sign around this kid’s neck. A sign that could almost be inscribed; “Innovator in training.”

For you see, June 5, 2022 was the evening that I first saw Nathan Pope play live. Nathan hails from Liberty, NC, currently he still lives there. His parents, Doug and Lindy, are good hard working folks. A great family who support Nathan’s musical efforts in an effective and supportive manner.

At the age of 20, Nathan is already a flaming wonder as a guitar player. More on that later. On that June night, Nathan got my attention with a well developed muscular tone from his Gibson Les Paul guitar. When one or more of the jammers got a bit loud, Nathan slid through the jam with a very subtle and serpentine approach in his guitar playing. Magically, he lowered the dynamics of those playing loud by playing softer. The others were listening to learn.

That impressed me. Part of the curse of open Blues jams is the possible decibel wars. I found it interesting that a younger player would approach the music with a very adult in-the-pocket technique. Nathan’s sense of melody and dynamics in his guitar playing betrayed a maturity beyond his youthful appearance.

In recent months, Nathan Pope talked with me for a series of phone interviews. In speaking with Nathan, I discovered that he has been playing guitar since the age of two.

His first guitar was purchased by his Grandmother, Doris Powell. He remembers dragging that guitar everywhere for years. Nathan’s Grandmother Doris has demonstrated a powerful influence on Nathan’s character and passion for music. Nathan would accompany Grandma Doris to church where he became directly acquainted with Southern Gospel music. Ms. Powell, figures prominently with her influence on both Nathan’s music and his morals to this day.

By the time he was seven, Nathan was proficient enough on guitar to be able to play a solo in any key. An early influence on Nathan’s guitar playing was Blues-Rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd. But a more profound influence on Nathan’s playing has been that of Guitarist/Vocalist Joe Bonamassa. Particularly influential was Bonamassa’s song, “The Ballad of John Henry.” Nathan was exposed to this song when he heard it on a live Bonamassa DVD recorded at the Royal Albert Hall. Brought for him by his Father, Doug.

On November 10, 2013, right before his eleventh birthday, Nathan met Joe Bonamassa. This was at a meet and greet established by Joe’s street team before a Bonamassa concert in Fayetteville, NC. Nathan was a bit nervous initially. But playing with Joe Bonamassa was the fulfillment of an early dream and a future dream of playing the Royal Albert Hall himself. Waiting in line to get his guitar signed, he started playing snatches of Joe Bonamassa’s songs. Nathan’s passion and skill as a player got Joe’s attention. Joe exclaimed, “Wow playing the songs better than I can. I need a break!”

After signing Nathan’s ‘56 Les Paul, he asked Nathan to follow him. They went to an area where a couple of amps were set up and played together. Bonamassa was gracious enough to instruct Nathan on a proper voicing for his tune, “Django.” Always gratifying when someone you respect is even better than you expect them to be. Joe Bonamassa, in turn, treated Nathan Pope in a professional manner. Like an equal.

Nathan participated in the Pinetop Perkins Foundation’s youth mentoring program for a series of Summers in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He was involved in this program from when he was 12 through the age of 17. An invaluable experience where Nathan got to learn Blues techniques from formidable musicians such as Bluesman/Former Muddy Waters sideman, Bob Margolin. Nathan received not only musical advice, but also sound business and surviving-on-the-road tips.

In 2016 Nathan represented the Triangle Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. In 2018, when Nathan was about 15, he released his first album titled “I’m Not Alone.” This was a high energy Blues-Rock EP. It demonstrated an artist with great passion and talent who was just beginning his journey.

In 2021, Nathan won first place in the 10 Best Guitarists under the age of 20 competition at the Dallas International Guitar Festival. This is a very serious competition and it is a high honor among guitarists in
that age bracket and beyond.

Nathan Pope

In 2022, Nathan was nominated as Best Rock Guitarist in the Carolina Music Awards. Because of Nathan’s upbringing, these early accomplishments are neither feeding his ego or increasing his hat size. He remains a sincerely nice guy with a strong artistic focus. He works at his art.

As promised, I want to further articulate my praise for Nathan’s guitar playing. His actual dexterity as a player is remarkable. Amazing speed and accuracy. Yet, it is his tone and melodic themes that continue to grab the focus of my attention.

2022 also marks the release of Nathan’s first full length release, “Waiting There For Me.” When I hear this work I hear a huge step forward from his first release, “I’m Not Alone.” The aforementioned guitar work continues with some very new sonic innovations in Nathan’s approach as a guitar player. After the guitar work what captivates me are the profound Christian themes present in many of the the lyrics of Nathan’s songs on this CD.

In one of our conversations, I spoke to Nathan about the Christian themes in his work. A maturity that surprises me coming from a 20 year old in America in 2023. The opening track, “Alive,” was one of the first songs written by Nathan for this CD, written in January 2021. It came to him like, literally, a 3 AM passion. These are the points in the songwriters life where the songs must come out. “Alive,” was written not long before the Dallas guitar competition. This is where the passion of the Blues meets a broader sonic landscape, like Hendrix. A beautiful, high energy song that is framed by some higher ground, Christian lyrics. Consider the following:

The path is long, but I see myself living to his win
The guide, the light, the one who brings sin to a raging ends
Pushing through the mountains and my knees are starting to burn
My lungs have caught on fire and my soul can hardly take no more
My senses they come, they come alive.”

Rather deep lyrics in a world of broken hearts and misogyny that propagates most popular music. “Alive,” is an embracement of spiritual principles in a Blues-Rock form.

The title track, “Waiting There For Me,” is equally stunning. There is a broad range of styles in this song. From a Jeff Beck-like expansive fusion to Southern Gospel. There is also a collaboration between Nathan and his Grandmother, Doris Powell, as part of the song. This is where the Southern Gospel influence comes in with their vocal collaboration. Grandma Doris also chimes in on piano. Nathan and his Grandmother are incredibly close. He addresses the concept of his Grandmothers future passing in this song. Nathan addresses that inevitable reality with Christian joy in the lyrics as follows:

“When your gone, I know it won’t be easy
But I know, but I know
You’ll be waiting there for me.
When that dove has come to take you away from me
Cause I know you’ll be waiting there for me…”

Present in these seemingly simple lyrics is a very mature way at looking at death. All in all, this is a layered work that I appreciate, more and more, with additional listenings. The song “Waiting There For Me,” is like a pean towards a future Heaven.

The production values in this CD are warm, yet expansive. The work was produced by Nathan Pope with engineering by John Agnello (Pink Floyd/Son Volt.) Sterling Sound, with Greg Calibi & Steve Fallone, did a
wonderful job mastering this CD. Their production values serve the music well and they have a sterling list of production credits, too numerous to list here. Nathan’s work is available at and on such platforms as Spotify.

Along with long time, backline band members, Bruce Wassell and Dana Trantham, “Waiting There For Me,” boasts some special guests. “Alive,” features the incredible Kenny Aronoff (John Fogerty/John Mellencamp) on Drums and James LoMenzo (John Fogerty/Megadeth) on Bass. Drummer Boogie Bowles (Previously with JB and KWS) joins in on Drums on “Waiting There For Me and The Journey.” World class Drummer Tal Bergman, (Sammy Hagar to Rod Stewart) makes an appearance on the track “The One.”

Nathan’s vocals have a great sense of melody. Power and Soul come with time and experience. I am immensely impressed by Nathan’s compositional skills and his guitar playing. Like folks like Jeff Beck and Roy Buchanan, I could see Nathan exploring a guitar hero status with an incendiary vocalist out front. I also can see Nathan branching out as a vocalist. I can see him pursuing different styles and approaches.

Again, experience dictates all.

I have great hopes for Nathan Pope and his music. With his continued dedication, I see him occupying a broad musical space. Despite the awards and accolades, he remains the young man that his family raised into youthful innovation.

Michael Ingmire

Michael Ingmire, is a musician, writer, commentator, activist and author based in North Carolina. As a musician he has shared stages with artists like John Lee Hooker, Albert King, Bo Diddley, Dr. Mac Arnold, Wilson Pickett, Allen Ginsberg, Kenny Neal, Bob Margolin, among many. Michael's work is available for listening or purchase at under Michael Wolf Ingmire. Since the death of his nephew, Sean Smith, in the September 2012 Benghazi attacks, Michael’s writing has taken on a strong political edge. He has previously written about Benghazi extensively for The Daily Caller and Starting in September 2015, Michael has been a consistent contributor to Politichicks, writing about, political, musical, and social topics. His article, “Benghazi: A Tale of Two Reports,” closes out the chapter on Islam in the collection, “Politichicks: A Clarion Call to Political Activism.”

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