From bedroom guitarist to believing “the sky’s the limit,” Josh Love isn’t just moving his fingers around his guitar, he’s seeking to communicate the message that music is life.
article by VANELIS RIVERA and photographs by ANDREW BAILEY
Josh Love was only a few minutes behind schedule when he walked into Standard Coffee Co. to meet with me. He’s hard to miss, standing 6’3” and styling a densely packed, curly-haired afro. I also noticed he was dressed comfortably, in jeans and a tee that read “Unity” in a bold font and all caps. He apologized for keeping me waiting, though I had brought a surmountable amount of work to pass the time, and initially he warned me that his guitar lesson might go over. “You know how musicians are when they get together,” he smirks. I was a bit thrown off. He was the one taking lessons. Turns out, he has continued to place himself in a learning environment despite his degree in music and fifteen years of developing his chops. At least once a month, he’ll seek out seasoned guitarists and set up Zoom sessions like the one he was just coming from with Charlie Allen, a jazz and blues guitarist who lives in London. “I just want to improve myself every single day. I want to be so much better ten years from now. I don’t want to be the same person or the same musician,” he asserts.
Love’s parents played records and CDs around the house, “like most people,” he recalls. Both of his parents played instruments—his father played guitar and bass, while his mother played the clarinet. Growing up and “hanging out” with his dad, he would listen to bands like Rush and Living Colour. His sister also contributed to his music education by introducing him to pop and R&B, which would end up becoming huge influences on his individual sound: “I heard those songs, and I would later learn them years down the road. That planted the seed.” Then, at fifteen, Love saw “somebody who would soon become a friend” play guitar at a school talent show in his hometown of Crossett, Arkansas. He was transfixed by the medleys and licks his soon-to-be-friend was rocking. “I went to my grandmother, who I was living with at the time, and I was like, ‘I have to learn guitar.’ “It was the craziest thing because I didn’t really have something I was passionate about,” says Love, referring to his average teenage diversions, like video games and chilling with friends.
His first guitar, a “1970-something Harmony” electric guitar, was a junky, a pass-me-down from his cousin. “It was horrible,” he laughs. The bottom two strings, the E and the A, were the only strings that came through the pickup. “It was a terrible guitar, but it was awesome because I had a guitar, you know.” He also had a tattered amp to match the shabby electric twanger. “I remember playing until my fingers were numb, and it was a life-changing experience.” At the time, he didn’t realize the extent of his early days as a “bedroom guitarist,” but that awareness would develop with time, a lot of patience, and further instruction from experienced musicians that would end up inspiring him to keep progressing.
When he graduated high school, he enrolled at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM). “I didn’t know what I wanted to major in, so I kind of meandered around college not knowing what it was I wanted to do,” he says. Though, he admits that he wanted to major in guitar, but “they didn’t have a teacher until Dan Sumner showed up.” Even then, he was discouraged from doing so, being told that it wasn’t feasible. “Because, it’s music, you know? You can’t make a living doing music,” he says sarcastically, finishing with the afterthought, “except you can.” Thanks to the ULM music program, and instruction from one of the lead guitarists of the area and prominent recording virtuoso, Sumner, Love’s guitar savvy began to solidify. “I started taking guitar lessons from him, and getting introduced to local cats, like the school vibe, and also the cats in town, and, you know, it just kind of snowballed into where it is now,” he says, feeling fortunate to be able to play music full-time.
Any musician will tell you, getting local gigs amounts to what and how covers are played. The more versatile the range, the more engaged an audience, and Love has sharpened his pulse for the covers that resonate with his audience. He’ll play Stone Temple Pilots, but he’s also a “huge” John Mayer fan. “Anything with guitar in it, I gravitate toward,” he emphasizes. Recently, he’s been listening to Paramore, rekindling his admiration for the alternative, pop rock sound. In his setlist, you’ll encounter tunes by Roberta Flack, Luther Vandross, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Tom Petty, “and the list goes on.” Recently, he impersonated, for the second time, personal favorite Jimi Hendrix at Legends: A Tribute performed at Flying Tiger Brewery. “I love Hendrix. I love Clapton. I love all those guys,” he says. Though it’s hard to stray from the original sounds of the greats, recently, he has started to plug his own musical intuition into popular songs. “I don’t ever really think about it like that, to be honest. I just have a sound in my head. And, it just depends on the day. As cliché as it sounds, it really does reflect on my attitude. Sometimes, I just want to punch the audience in the face, musically.” “Tush” by ZZ Top is one of those covers. “The way that they play that song is very particular,” says Love, explaining that sometimes he’ll take the song and play it “more as jump blues.” Other times, he’ll throw in some jazz changes, or even saturate his guitar with some gain, “to give it an aggressive tone. It really just depends on the day and the feel of the band.” Love plays with many musicians, each with distinct music backgrounds. When he plays with his “gospel-church” peers, he sticks to jazzier, R&B sounds. With musicians who regularly play as sidemen with other local bands, he hammers out more pop and rock n’ roll numbers.
Having accumulated such strong collaborations is currently working in his favor, as some of his peers will be joining him on his first album. “I’m still writing it, and I’m just letting the inspiration dictate the sound,” he reveals, adding, “I was just talking about this very thing with Charlie Allen. We were just talking about how music can get really muddled with the idea of trying to get a lot of likes or streams.” Love admits that, for a long time, he cared “so much” about pleasing other people with his guitar playing and his singing: “Now, I’m just going to put a lot of work and effort and time into the way that I sound and the way that I look. You know, my whole product. But, at the same time, I’m starting to care less about trying to perform, and I’m just gonna—whatever comes out, comes out.” This includes the originals he has been working on. “I think it’s time for me to bring out what it is that I love, and what it is that my sound is because I think we all as individuals have stories to tell. So, what stories will you be telling in your first album? “Man, I’ve had woman troubles in the past,” he admits. “You know, it’s part of the human condition, if you will.” Love is also thinking of other relationships, like friendships he has lost that were painful. “I’ll just be painting a picture of what it is like to be human in a musical format,” he finishes. Acknowledging he has an “infinite amount of inspiration to draw from,” Love is excitedly looking forward to the project.
He’s approaching the album from a guitar and production perspective. “I want it to be a clear start and a clear ending, and I want it to flow really well,” he says, adding, “I’m thinking of everything from the guitar and the bass to the drums.” Even then, he doesn’t want the album to be a “guitar record” per se, or to be considered a “gunslinger album,” where song progressions are centered on “lick after lick after lick, and only a few bars of vocals.” Love isn’t trying to overthink too much, especially since the project is still in its early stages, and he expects his ideas to change as his songs advance. Though he knows he’ll continue playing covers, his new album is about discovery. “I’ve been playing out in Monroe since 2015. It’s 2021. Now it’s time for Josh Love to have an identity. It’s time for Josh Love to have a sound.”
The steady decline of COVID-19 numbers in the area, alongside the rapid rate of citizens getting vaccinated, has meant the return of music to restaurants, bars, and other regional venues. Love’s gigs have increased and recently he’s played at Flying Heart Brewery & Pub in Shreveport, Tribe’s in Farmerville, and Smoot’s Grocery Blues Lounge in Natchez. Every Sunday he plays at 2Dudes Brew & Que solo: “So, that’s fun. I can, you know, do my solo chops, get my voice together, and carry my own.” Every Tuesday, you can find Love and a few other musicians at Little India for a Jazz Jam, which is open to instrumentalists or “people that enjoy the genre.” In the past they’ve had blues harmonica players join the stage. A few regulars include Mason Howard on sax, John Hoffman on drums, and David Oliver on bass. “We have a blast,” he exclaims.
He used to be a “big ball of nerves” before going on stage, but he recently feels like he’s getting comfortable in his own skin: “I’ve grown into myself, so now the stage is a second home, if you will. It’s where I can be myself, and where I can kind of show what I got.” Regarding his music, he says, “Imagination is key,” considering it “that thing that you can’t really put your finger on; it’s the thing that kind of keeps us alive.” From bedroom guitarist to believing “the sky’s the limit,” Josh Love isn’t just moving his fingers around his guitar, he’s seeking to communicate the message that music is life.
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