News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 9, 2013

Terre Haute native Corenflos wins ACM Guitarist of the Year

Guitarist had been nominated 10 times before he finally received the award

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The resume speaks for itself.

J.T. Corenflos’ guitar virtuosity has put the sparkle in hit songs and albums by legendary singers, from Alan Jackson to Bob Seger, Brooks and Dunn, Don Henley and George Jones, as well as country music chart-toppers such as Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Rascal Flatts. When the greats are ready to record a single or a CD in Nashville, Corenflos’ phone usually rings first. He’s one of Music City’s most well-regarded session guitarists.

Just one honor eluded Corenflos — the Academy of Country Music Guitarist of the Year Award.

Until now.

The Terre Haute native has received the ACM Guitarist of the Year Award for his work in 2012. The Academy handed out its more glamorous awards in a show televised by CBS live from Las Vegas on Sunday night, but Corenflos learned of his award earlier this spring when the off-camera honorees were selected. He’d been nominated 10 consecutive years for Guitarist of the Year before winning this time.

This year’s field of guitarists included Brent Mason (an 11-time ACM winner), Tom Bukovac (a two-time winner), Jay Joyce and Rob McNelley.

Now 49, Corenflos left Terre Haute for a career in Nashville as an 18-year-old. A few months before the move, he visited the country music mecca with fellow Terre Haute guitar ace Marc Rogers — already working there — just to “tag along and check it out a bit,” Corenflos recalled in a 2006 interview. So impressed was he that Corenflos finished his high school degree at Terre Haute North and then drove south to join the band of Grand Ole Opry singer Jean Shepherd. That gig led to touring work with Joe Stampley, followed by his less-traveled role as a recording session guitarist.

His efforts in 2012 — upon which the 2013 ACM is based — included playing in a video with rock star Sheryl Crow. “I had a great seat, because I was right there in the studio,” Corenflos told the Tribune-Star last August. “My chair was about eight feet away from where Sheryl was, so she was basically singing right toward me.”

He also recorded last year with Reba McEntire, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Big and Rich, and Kenny Rogers.

The job of a session guitarist is to liven up a singer’s single or album with catchy riffs and danceable rhythms. The Sunday night ACM show validated Corenflos’ ability to meet that demand. The ACM Entertainer of the Year Award went to Luke Bryan, whose two most recent albums — “Spring Break: Here to Party” and “Tailgates & Tanlines” — feature Corenflos on electric guitar.

The job requires not only deft performance but also creativity. Corenflos often conjures the guitar lines on his own, while the recording session unfolds.

“As far as the different licks and parts and stuff, we come up with those ourselves,” Corenflos told the Tribune-Star in 2006. “The producer or the artist might have a few ideas, and they might hum or sing a little lick they’re hearing somewhere. But that’s all different every day too. Some people are very specific about the parts they want, and they’ve got it all mapped out and ready to go, and they’ll sort of micromanage the project. And then other times, they’ll just play the song, and I’ll ask them what kind of guitar thing they’re hearing, and they’ll say, ‘Just go in there and play what J.T. Corenflos would play if he was playing on this song.’”

Ironically, Corenflos began work on a solo album last year. Fittingly, its original songs are all instrumentals, recorded alongside fellow Nashville session musicians.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or