Brian Whelan

Brian Whelan

L.A. guitar slinger turns up the volume on ‘Americana’

As a creatively determined kindergartener, Brian Whelan built himself a guitar — out of cardboard.

Only fools doubted his path in life. As a real-deal six-string slinger he’s earned a badass rep in a city renowned for badass players, where discerning musicians and fans snap to attention when he takes the stage.

Having honed his chops with acts like the Broken West and Mike Stinson, he’s equal parts growling attitude and fretted finesse, a tone fiend with keen sensitivity to vocal melodies. So it’s ironic that his first big-time gig, a four-year stint in Dwight Yoakam’s band, had him playing pedal steel and keyboards.

Suffice it to say that dues were paid. In full.

Now Whelan produces songwriting peers like Rod Melancon, and he recently opened in concert for his onetime boss to celebrate his second solo album, “Sugarland,” a meaty platter of rock, country and power pop whose hooks and hummable melodies would likely have pleased heroes Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

The album opens with crunching electric guitar chords and pounding drums for “Americana,” with Whelan soon snarling out frustration with fashion-fixated posers: “You can still beat it out on the pots and pans/ But your cowboy boots don’t make you a better band/ Beat your head up against the wall/ But American music is gonna outlive us all.”

Even the banjos and fiddles sound indignant. Or maybe they’re savoring more irony: Come September, Whelan’s headlining his first official showcase at the Americana Music Association’s annual Nashville convention.

Expect him to show folks how it’s done this Thursday, when he shares the bill with San Gabriel Valley country hero Rick Shea at the Cinema Bar. The room will be rocked.

— Bliss Bowen

Brian Whelan and Rick Shea play at 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, at the Cinema Bar, 3967 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. No cover. Call (310) 390-1328 or visit