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Guys like Chris Shiflett make you wonder if somehow you just are a musician before you ever pick up a six string and make the decision to become one. In fact, 35 years after getting his first guitar, the Foo Fighters lead guitarist and member/founder of multiple other bands still doesn’t think of music as a career. It’s just his life.

“My earliest memories are of my brothers’ records; all we wanted to do was listen to music and play music,” he told Consequence of Sound. “We never got into sports or really gave a fuck about going to school. My memories are of rock ‘n’ roll bands. I can’t really explain why that is, or what draws me to one sound, it’s just something…a passion.” Or possibly Ace Frehley, who Shiflett aspired to be from the get-go. He got that first guitar at 11 after a failed stab at piano and was in his first band by age 14.

Early brother-sponsored influences were Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Nugent, while grade school in the 80s introduced him to Stray Cats, Hanoi Rocks and David Bowie; but as a kid growing up in Santa Barbara, the only concerts he saw were the free ones played by punk bands in the local park. They made an impression. He joined punk outfit Legion of Doom and began opening for bands that came through town. He moved to San Francisco in the late ’90s to work for an independent punk record label and heard about an opening in one of its acts, No Use For a Name. He auditioned on a Thursday and was on tour as their lead guitarist the following Monday. The grit and schlep of life on the road made no impression. In a Metal Hammer interview, he said, “You’re so busy loving it, you don’t care. You’re never sitting there going, ‘I’m paying my dues, one day I’m going to be in a platinum-selling band.’ You’re just stoked that you’re on the road playing gigs.” By that time he was also playing gigs as part of punk cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

While Shiflett may not have been thinking about platinum selling-bands in 1999, a friend told him Guns N’ Roses were auditioning guitarists and encouraged him to try out. Instead he asked if his friend could get him an audition with another rock outfit also auditioning guitarists. His tryout for the Foo Fighters was nerve wracking, but front man Dave Grohl, who liked Shiflett’s history in the underground punk scene, hired him for their There Is Nothing Left to Lose tour, and he’s been with them ever since. In its review of his first studio album with the Foos, 2004’s Grammy-winning One By One, Rolling Stone wrote, “the band’s latest lead guitarist, Chris Shiflett, has traded distortion for clarity without losing any impact. Potent guitar riffs define every song on One by One.” On each subsequent album, Shiflett’s clean, melodic playing seems a perfect balance with Grohl’s straight rhythm and Pat Smear’s heavier hand.

For a guy who loves playing and touring, you’d think he’d hit the Jackpot of Rock in an outfit that offers more than enough of both. Nah – if you’ve read this far, you know better. In 2004, he got serious about writing his own songs and started what most press called a “side project,” the California power-pop group Jackson United, which put out two albums praised for their straight-up rock sensibility and Shiflett’s knowing way with a hook. Musoscribe wrote, “Jackson United strikes a perfect balance between grit/grime/grunge and spit-and-polish. On close listening, one finds that the multiple guitar lines are always doing something interesting, not merely bashing out the basic chords. There’s enough variety to keep things interesting, enough consistency to keep things cohesive.”

Whether or not he’d appreciate the comparison, Shiflett is like a frenetically curious beagle led around by his ear instead of his snout. When he found himself playing next to the funnel cake booth at Orange County’s 2008 Hootenanny festival, his fond but dormant attraction to Americana, old country, and twangy guitar by the likes of Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson was sparked. Within two years, he’d formed solo act Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants, releasing two albums of country covers before once again penning his own songs, this time in an effort to inject the genre’s sometimes down-and-out vibe with a bit of Saturday night swing. Early reviews of the eponymous single off his 2017 solo record West Coast Town (produced by the legendary Dave Cobb) indicate he’s succeeded. Rolling Stone wrote, “Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett flawlessly blends blue-collar country punk with a catchy Bakersfield bounce. Borrowing the rowdy swagger of Prison Bound-era Social Distortion and the SoCal sheen of Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, Shiflett crafts a sound that is both geographically grounded and wholly his own. ‘West Coast Town’ authentically straddles the line between vintage country cool and the boundary-blurring spirit of modern Americana.”

Call it a side project if you will, but Shiflett’s no dabbler, and in his exploration of country, he invites us along for the ride. In 2013 he launched Walking the Floor, a weekly podcast featuring deep-dive interviews with legendary and current country musicians like Red Simpson, Dwight Yoakam, John Doe, Lucinda Williams, Brad Paisley and Cody Jinks. If the occasional boxer or filmmaker slips in, it’s simply because Shifflet is interested. In writing about the podcast, Pop Matters praised his natural curiosity. “That [Shiflett] comes from what is ostensibly the other side of the musical tracks leads to a fascinating dynamic once the mics are on. He may be a rock guitar hero to countless kids around the globe, but it’s evident that he holds the same admiration and appreciation of the artists he interviews…He allows his guests to tell their stories on their terms. What happens is frequently magical and always illuminating.”

When you’re part of a rock juggernaut like Foo Fighters, maybe it’s inevitable that some of your best and most passionate endeavors get labeled a side project. But if it means getting to do the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do, we’re guessing you’ll do it in small roadside bars or giant stadiums and be pretty happy in either place. Who wouldn’t be, when you’re having such a damned good time?