Bernard Butler has had the distinction of excelling on both sides of the recording studio — as a solo artist and guitarist for British rockers Suede, and as an award-winning producer for some of England’s biggest contemporary performers.
But it is largely on stage where Butler first made his name, establishing himself as one of the premier guitarists of the British pop wave of the 1990s.
And it is where most rock fans prefer to keep him.
Butler’s success in England was so complete that Paul McCartney himself once asked him to cover “Live and Let Die,” the song the former Beatle made famous with Wings.
Butler once joked that he was ridiculed as a schoolboy for playing the violin. It took him a few more years before he settled on the instrument that would define his career. He proved to be a natural.
“I’ve never had a lesson in my life,” he said in a 2006 article he wrote for London’s Guardian newspaper. “When I was 13 my brothers got a terrible electric guitar from a catalogue but they got bored of it. So I took it and sat down with a chord book and tried to work it out.”
“Then I heard Johnny Marr playing with the Smiths and that was it,” Butler wrote. “From then on, every record I got I listened to once then worked out the guitar parts. To this day I can play every Smiths song, something of which I am very proud.”
Butler first gained fame with Suede, a band he formed in 1992 with singer/songwriter Bret Anderson. The duo pushed the band onto the limelight, winning most of its acclaim in Britain, where they began charting after the release of their self-titled debut album in 1993.
But although Butler would release three more albums with Suede — two compilation albums — he and Anderson split after the second release, marking the end of Butler’s tenure with Suede.
Not one to sit still, Butler went on to pair with singer/songwriter David McAlmont, beginning a collaboration that would last several years and produce three albums.
Butler also entered the studio as a solo artist, producing his first album, People Move On, in 1998. The release included the hit “Stay,” and kept the young guitarist on the music map. He followed up with another solo album, Friends and Lovers, in 1999.
He was also establishing himself as a talented music producer, having taken charge of Suede’s releases as well as his own solo work. Butler would go on to produce artists like Aimee Mann, Neneh Cherry, Roy Orbison and The Pretenders, as well as performing and producing music on a number of movie soundtracks — including teaming up with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood for the sountrack of “Velvet Goldmine.” His studio work earned him several honors, including the top producer’s prize at the 2009 BRIT Awards and Producer of the Year at the 2008 Music Managers Forum Awards.
In addition, Butler has continued to perform, joining artists like Paul Weller, the Cranberries and the ‘80s techno-pop band, Sparks.
But don’t think his Suede days are gone forever. In 2005 Butler mended fences with former bandmate Anderson, and the two formed The Tears. The group landed to singles with their album Here Come The Tears.
Rest assured there’s always more to come from Bernard Butler.
(NOTE: This is part of my ongoing series of reports on guitar players who fly under the mainstream radar. Keep checking The Listening Room for future installments of guitar players you should know – JF)
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