published Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Instrumentalist Daniel Wamp finds confidence through music

Fifteen-year-old Daniel Wamp plays several instruments with the family band, Wizards of String. Almost entirely self-taught, he credits the video game “Guitar Hero” with showing him that playing a six-string wasn’t difficult for him.
Fifteen-year-old Daniel Wamp plays several instruments with the family band, Wizards of String. Almost entirely self-taught, he credits the video game “Guitar Hero” with showing him that playing a six-string wasn’t difficult for him.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

CLAIM TO FAME

Since he began playing music at 10, Daniel Wamp, 15, has become proficient on a number of instruments, including guitar, mandolin, drums and banjo. At 13, he began performing alongside his parents in Swing Shift and Bluetastic Fangrass, their swing and bluegrass bands.

ABOUT HIM

* School: Ninth-grader at Center for Creative Arts.

* Pets: Two cats, Maxwell and Killer.

* Instruments: 11.

* Favorite albums (of the moment): "In Rainbows" by Radiohead and "Either/Or" by Elliott Smith.

* Favorite bands: Led Zeppelin, Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins.

* Place he'd like to visit: Scandinavia.

TALENT SHOW

Do you know a child age 15 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.

The way Daniel Wamp sees it, nervousness is the mark of a weak musician, and when he's onstage, nerves are the last thing on his mind.

Whether he's behind a drum kit, performing rolls on the banjo or strumming a mandolin, guitar or bass, Daniel, 15, said he has confidence in himself.

"If I'm up onstage playing for an audience, especially if I'm in my comfort zone on guitar, I don't even have to think about it," he said. "It's all about being familiar with your instrument.

"The thing that really makes me what I think of as a good musician is knowing my instrument, knowing what sound I'm going to make on a fret before I get to it, then going to it and there it is."

The son of Western swing/bluegrass musicians Lou Wamp (resonator guitar) and Lynn Wamp (upright bass), Daniel grew up in a house surrounded by dozens of instruments, but he didn't begin to seriously pursue music until he was 10 years old.

He credits his introduction to music to the video game "Guitar Hero," which showed him that playing a six-string didn't have to be difficult.

Once he realized that the learning curve wasn't so steep, Daniel said his natural facility to learn by ear kicked in.

Within months, he said, he was learning new songs, mostly classic rock songs by bands such as Boston, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, almost immediately after hearing them by isolating each instrument's part.

With the exception of a handful of lessons on the banjo, which he took up last year, and his classical guitar studies at Center for Creative Arts, Daniel is almost entirely self-taught. He said he acquires new techniques by analyzing the music he hears on recordings or by watching other performers on YouTube videos.

Music, he said, has almost always been an instinctual activity.

"I'm not thinking about where I'm going next or where my fingers will take me," Daniel said. "Most of the time, I don't really have to figure out music. I just sit down and play it. It's my automatic iPod."

Two years ago, Daniel began joining his parents onstage for shows as a pinch musician filling in on mandolin, drums or whatever was needed at the time.

Daniel's father has performed in many groups, including The Dismembered Tennesseans, Hiwassee Ridge and Blue Moon Rising. Of the 40 dates the elder Wamp plays annually with his current groups, Daniel joins in on about half.

Wamp said he's in awe of his son's unflappable demeanor and ability to figure out complex techniques seemingly without effort.

"He was always comfortable onstage," he said. "If any of the rest of us get nervous, he's looking at us, like, 'Why are you nervous?' "

"He has more talent than I do. At age 14, that's when he started playing stuff I'll never be able to play. I want him to go to the top of the mountain."

Local musicians who have performed with Daniel said his ability to switch between rock, bluegrass, jazz, classical and swing music on multiple instruments is as impressive as it is depressing.

Swing Shift guitarist Chris Hopkins said he's proud and a little envious of how quickly Daniel has grown, musically, since he met him five years ago.

"He's kind of frustrating for an old picker like me to work and work at something and then have Daniel come on and figure it out in five minutes," he said, laughing. "I'm anxious to see what he ends up doing."

Americana guitarist Lon Elrdidge met Daniel 18 months ago and was struck almost immediately by the maturity of his personality and his approach to music.

"His music is a lot more developed than 95 percent of the kids his age," he said. "[Being a multi-instrumentalist] definitely takes a lot of drive. You've got to be all music all the time. It has to be a borderline-obsession kind of thing."

For his part, Daniel said he's bent on pursuing music as a full-time career, preferably when he's old enough to be taken seriously without the need for a "for his age" qualifier.

"I don't want it to be like a Justin Bieber situation," he said. "[I want to] skate, play music and not die until I'm at least 60 -- the usual."

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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