Legendary Guitarist, Singer, and Entertainer Thom Bresh Dies

There are many things Thom Bresh will be remembered for, because he did so many remarkable things in his life. He was a Grammy-nominated recording artist and performer, a stuntman, an actor, a comedian, a television show host, and an engineer and producer. But perhaps what Thom Bresh is best known for in the musical community is being one of the practitioners of the thumb-style guitar that he picked up from his father, Country Music Hall of Famer Merle Travis, and carried into the future.

Born February 23rd, 1948 in Hollywood, California, Thom Bresh was birthed right into showbiz, acting in films at a young age, and he began recording his own music shortly thereafter. One of his first major jobs was working as a stuntman at the Corrigan Movie Ranch. In 1963, he joined the rock and roll band The Crescents, which enjoyed some moderate success.

In the early 70s is when Thom Bresh decided to start following in his famous father’s footsteps, and started performing country music, recording for the labels Kapp and Farr. In 1976 he had a Top 10 hit with the song “Homemade Love,” which earned him a nomination for the Academy of Country Music’s Top New Male Vocalist. Bresh later went on to record a couple of records for ABC with the legendary Jimmy Bowen producing.

But Bresh struggled to get any traction in his music career, though it was through a cover of the novelty song “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)” written by his father with Tex Williams that he would find his calling in entertainment. In Bresh’s version of the song, he featured 13 different impersonations. This allowed Bresh to transition into the acting/hosting/comedian world.

Thom Bresh became a regular on The Merv Griffin Show and Dinah!, and also appeared on Barbara Mandrell’s variety show. Bresh appeared on his own shows as well, including one called Nashville Swing, and another with Lane Brody called The Thom & Lane Show. His skill in television also allowed him to work on video projects for folks like George Jones, Tanya Tucker, Jerry Reed, Lyle Lovett, and Brooks & Dunn.

But to many in the country music community and beyond, Thom Bresh was always the keeper of the thumb-style method of guitar playing that his father had perfected, and that Thom put his own spin on. That is what allowed him to sit right beside some of the greatest guitarists in country music history such as Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Tommy Emmanuel, and of course, Merle Travis, and hold his own.

Guitarist Chris Scruggs said at his passing, “He played with such command and authority, yet there was something so extremely relaxed, casual, and almost lazy (I use this word in the most complimentary of ways) about the way he grinned at the crowd and hit those guitar strings. It flowed out of him as naturally as taking a breath, as natural as speaking. But in his calm delivery was so much power. His stage presence filled the stage like a mighty oak tree.”

Later in life, Bresh was well-respected as a guitar teacher, and was also passionate about photography.

Thom Bresh had been diagnosed with late stage esophagus cancer in 2021. He died on May 23rd at the age of 74.

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