I have to admit, the first time I met Pete Huttlinger I was nervous.

A few weeks before the NGW circus descended for the first time on the campus of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, I had emailed Pete through his website, introduced myself, and asked if we could meet for lunch while I was in town. The selfish idea I had was that I get to meet one of my all-time guitar heroes and hopefully lay the groundwork for getting Pete to work with NGW in some way.

Not knowing too much about how to get around Nashville, it was decided that we’d meet at Sportsmans Grille. Immediately, Pete puts you at ease and you quickly forget that not only is this guy a world-class musician, but a world-class person. His wife Erin joined us that day and near the end of the lunch she leaned over.

“Are you a country music fan?”

“Kinda,” I said.

Erin nodded over my shoulder and when I turned around, I recognized either Brook or Dunn (I can’t exactly remember) was sitting at the next table over. Either way, Pete was still the most famous person in the room as far as I was concerned.

We kept in touch over the years and when Pete would come to Connecticut to play we’d make the trek down and hang out for a bit. One of the shows was at a nature center in Canton, CT. The setup was a bit surreal: a bunch of chairs in front of a makeshift stage and then directly behind the performer was a collection of reptile tanks full of snakes with sheets over them. During the show, as Pete was nonchalantly playing “Superstition” or some other finger-twister he wandered over and looked down in one of the tanks.

“Was there supposed to be a snake in here?”

There were a few audible gasps, before Pete cracked a smile. It was as effortless for him to crack a joke as it was to play some unbelievably syncopated riff. The beauty of his playing was that you could feel the heart and work behind his playing, but you never heard it. Always grooving. Always smooth.

The last time I hung out with Pete was after an afternoon at Vince Gill’s house. My colleague Andy Ellis and I were there to shoot an interview with Vince and Paul Franklin. During the interview Pete was just sitting on the porch just outside the door playing guitar. The whole scene was a bit surreal. Here I was with one of my favorite guitar writers (Andy) in the studio of one of the greatest country pickers of all time (Vince) and one of my other heroes was just hanging out on the porch (Pete). Oh, and that day I got to play one of Hendrix’s guitars.

After the shoot, Andy, Pete, Pete’s wife Erin, and I went down to Boscoes for dinner. Pete was in great form and, like always, quick to drop a joke.

Soon after we sat down an alarm went off from the satchel that carried around the battery for his pacemaker. Immediately, Andy and froze.

“Uh oh,” said Pete.

I can’t even imagine the look on our faces as Pete started to look worried. Pretty soon Erin somewhat scolded him for the charade and both Andy and I took a deep breath. Pete thought it was the funniest thing ever.

Pete was one of my first guitar heroes that ended up becoming a friend. Every year we could count on a Christmas card from the Huttlingers and every time we talked he’d ask about Cindy and the kids.

I’ve always had a goal of really working on my fingerstyle chops. I knock away at it in spurts thanks to Pete’s arrangements and videos. Now I’m going to grab a thumbpick and work slow and steady through some tunes.

Thank you Pete. For the music, inspiration, and friendship.