Ask 22-year-old Jedd Hughes what he did on his summer vacation while gearing up for the release of his debut Transcontinental and the young artist responds with an answer that turns the phrase “even in my wildest dreams” into more than mere cliché. Last June and July, in the space of just four weeks, the Australia-bred guitar phenom performed at two prestigious, high-profile events—Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas and the Gram Parsons tribute concerts in Southern California—where he rubbed shoulders and swapped riffs with everyone from James Burton and Vince Gill to Eric Clapton and Keith Richards. For Hughes, who grew up in a little South Australia town called Quorn and who’s ridden an already dream-like wave toward stardom in the two years since he first came to Nashville, the operative word is surreal. “I have a pretty vivid imagination,” says Hughes, “But there’s just no way I could envision some of these things that have happened recently. It’s just amazing.”
Of course, amazing is how a lot of people describe Hughes’ guitar playing, which combines dazzling technique with an infectiously freewheeling spirit—products of Hughes’ ambition-driven will to excel and his seemingly boundless enthusiasm as a performer. A child prodigy who, at age 12, toured Europe as Australia’s representative in the International Music For Youth festivals, and who first came to the U.S. to study bluegrass in a special program at Levelland, Texas’ South Plains College, Hughes hit Nashville running in 2002. Just weeks after he arrived in town, he auditioned for—and landed—the lead guitar spot in Patty Loveless’ touring band, and once demos of his music started making the rounds, it wasn’t long before he had his own recording contract with MCA Nashville.
Hughes’ album features a rip-snortin’ take on Gram Parsons’ “Luxury Liner,” and he met the late country-rock icon’s daughter, Polly at an L.A. showcase last spring. “We started talking after my show, and she kind of took me out on the town,” recalls Hughes. “We’re in the car driving around L.A. playing my CD, and there I am listening to my version of ‘Luxury Liner’—with Gram Parsons’ daughter. Very surreal.” The encounter led to Hughes being asked to take part in the Parsons tribute shows, an experience he was humbled by. “I played a few songs with Steve Earle—what an honor that was—and also some things with John Doe and Kathleen Edwards. And then I got Keith Richards and James Burton to sign my telecaster. In fact, I’ve got the guitar in the shop right now. They’re putting a clear lacquer over the autographs.” Who said youth is wasted on the young?