Every six minutes another guitarist is born. Every 13 minutes another guitarist falls out of the musical spotlight and into the household one. Some polls claim there are 20 million guitarists living in America, while others claim there are 50 million if you include the ones who only know how to play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and a random Nirvana tune. For every 10 guitarists only one actually rises above the "I can play 'Stairway to Heaven'" level, and only 1 out of 10 of those enthusiasts becomes a guitarslinger and earns money for his or her mind-blowing skills.
But famed rock photographer Robert M. Knight is hoping to change that with his newest idea -- the Brotherhood of the Guitar, a program that has helped aspiring guitarslingers like Texas' own Carson Brock, Collin Fish, Yayo Sanchez and recent inductee Tyler Tallant achieve their rock star dreams.
"I've found rock stars are more powerful than politicians," Knight says. "Bono is the guy who helped to end a lot of issues in South Africa, and Sting brought the world's attention to the rain forest. We no longer seem to trust our governments, but we trust our rock stars."
As a child in the late '50s/early '60s, Knight wanted to play guitar but never learned, in part, because he was left handed. "I loved being around guitar players, though, but I needed a reason to be in the room. The camera was my passport."
Knight has been using that passport for more than four decades and capturing rock stars' images like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck -- 15,000 images of him alone -- and Joe Perry, which are just some of the famous names in his more than 200,000 images collected over the years. He is also the first photojournalist to capture Jimi Hendrix's magic onstage and Jimmy Page's operatic-style of playing in Led Zeppelin, and he was the last photojournalist to capture Stevie Ray Vaughn's final performance.
"The visual is everything, your vibe, the swagger," Knight says. "When you look at Slash, you see what is needed to be a star."
Knight has been searching for aspiring guitarslingers who have the "gift" and the "swagger" since after the release of 2009's Rock Prophecies, a documentary about Knight's journey to revisit his glamorous rock star past by reconnecting with old friends like Jeff Beck, Slash and Carlos Santana. Filmmakers also tested his ability to locate musical talent by chronicling the rise of the Sick Puppies, a rock band from Australia, and guitar prodigy Tyler Bryant of Texas.
After the documentary's release, Knight began receiving emails, sometimes 300 a month, from young guitarists and bands who wanted him to help make their rock star dreams come true. "These were kids who have no plan B with their lives," he says. "It's either making music or flipping burgers."
Turning to his friends at Ernie Ball, Fender, Guitar Center, which all provided the funds and the tools to make dreams come true, and Jim Evans -- an artist who created a logo "that gives the Brotherhood its identity" -- Knight established the Brotherhood of the Guitar and then began scouring the country (and the world) for talented young guitarists.
Since 2012, the organization has sponsored more than 32 talented musicians between the ages of 14 and 20 by making spotlight videos, which can be found on YouTube. The Brotherhood also has a Facebook page where young guitarists can upload their YouTube video performances for Knight and other staff to view.
Recently, Knight was catching a gig at Grover's Grill in Frisco when he saw 15-year-old Tyler Tallant blazing through several solos with his band Under Rage. "The drummer could hardly see over the drum kit," Knight says, but while watching Tallant's fingers attack the Stratocaster's strings, Knight thought: There it was again, someone who had the gift.
"What I look for, is someone who appears not to sleep much, plays guitar day and night, does not have major relationships going on and gets what this is all about," Knight explains. "There is also a certain look in his or her eye, a sort of OCD that I pick up on. They seem to be the ones who will go all the way."
After the show, Knight approached Tallant's parents and discussed the possibility of interviewing their son for the Brotherhood. They agreed, and in June, Knight returned to Dallas to film the virtuoso guitarist at Guitar Center on Central Expressway.
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Tallant recently earned an Ernie Ball sponsorship and a 30 percent discount at Guitar Center. His main ax is still a made-in-Japan Fender, but he's hoping to find a vintage white American Strat in the near future.
The future of the Brotherhood looks promising. Fender and Guitar Center are planning to sponsor events to showcase members' talents. "Several famous artists like Steve Vai, Brad Whitford (Aerosmith) and Phil Collin (Def Leppard) are interested in supporting what we are doing here." Knight is also in talks to put a record label together to showcase "the best of the best of our players."
"The end result for the Brotherhood is to shine a light," Knight says. "The net results so far have been artists getting signed, joining bands and getting record deals while also introducing them to the real music world, which is full of sharks, and giving them advice on what to avoid."