TERRE HAUTE —
If J.T. Corenflos stood in line at a supermarket in his hometown, few people — aside from friends and family — would recognize him.
Yet, chances are, they like him. They just don’t realize it. He is the most famous Hautean that most Hauteans don’t know.
On the drive home from the supermarket, with the groceries loaded inside the SUV and the radio humming,
they’ll get reacquainted with Corenflos.
His guitar riffs have spiced up dozens and dozens of hit songs by country, pop and rock artists for more than two decades, from Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts, to legends such as Brooks and Dunn, George Jones, Alan Jackson, Don Henley and Bob Seger.
This month, he and his guitar played roles in a Sheryl Crow video, filmed in Nashville.
Humble and quiet, the 48-year-old Corenflos, who left Terre Haute for Music City at just 18, enjoys life just outside the limelight. He’s one of a handful of elite session guitarists the stars call first when it’s time to record a single or an album.
They know him well, even if the general public does not. A new solo project could bring Corenflos a rare moment at the forefront.
Not that he’s seeking fame. His current work situation is going pretty darned well. Take the Sheryl Crow video, for example.
“I had a great seat, because I was right there in the studio,” Corenflos said in a cell phone interview last week. “My chair was about eight feet away from where Sheryl was, so she was basically singing right toward me.”
And then there was the four days of studio work in the past year with Henley, the lead singer and drummer of The Eagles. Corenflos handled the lead guitar work on tunes for a new album by Henley, whose past lead guitarists included Joe Walsh and Don Felder. That’s pretty lofty company.
Corenflos was a teenager in Terre Haute when The Eagles’ “Hotel California” was saturating the airwaves. Playing alongside a co-writer of that legendary song, and many others, was “obviously exciting for me,” Corenflos said.
He found Henley to be “kind of a serious guy, not happy-go-lucky. But after a few days, he warmed up a little. But he sounds great. It’s amazing to hear that voice coming through the headphones, and you say, ‘Yeah, he really sings like that.’”
Corenflos’ talents catch ears wrapped in headphones, too. That’s why his summer schedule includes sessions with country notables Reba McEntire, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Big and Rich, and Kenny Rogers. They keep calling, and he keeps delivering, earning 10 consecutive Guitarist of the Year nominations in the Academy of Country Music Awards. He hasn’t won an ACM yet, but this year may be different.
On nights and weekends, on his own time, Corenflos has been crafting an album of his own original material. Fittingly, the songs are all instrumentals, no voices or lyrics, just melodies and rhythms meticulously generated by Corenflos and fellow Nashville session go-to-guys such as drummer Lonnie Wilson, bassist Jimmy Carter and keyboardist Mike Rojas … an all-star lineup of behind-the-scenes aces.
“It’s just my own thing I’m doing,” Corenflos explained. “I’m not doing it with a label. It’s a do-it-yourself project.”
He’s recorded a dozen tracks so far, and has four to go. In Nashville, country music keeps Corenflos busiest, but he’s deft at all genres, and his solo album will reflect that. “It’s all over the place,” style-wise, he said. There will be some pure country, “and then I did a few other things that people might be surprised at, that they don’t hear me do.”
He plans to release the compilation independently by November, in both compact-disc and vinyl. Why the old-school LP format? His 14-year-old son is “all way into vinyl,” Corenflos said, with a chuckle. “And, actually, I love the way it sounds. From growing up in the vinyl era, I just miss that.”
Placing his name on the cover, up front, solo, is a new twist for Corenflos.
“It’s a little scary to go ahead and put it out there,” he said. “You think, ‘What if people hate it?’ But I just felt like it’s something I needed to do.”
The audience for the album, he suspects, will be “people that read the liner notes, that know who plays on the records.”
Ideally, he hopes one of the 16 instrumental tunes will be catchy enough to turn up on a movie soundtrack or as a TV show theme. If so, hang around until the credits roll. You just might recognize one of those names.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.