In Memoriam: Rusty Russell

In Memoriam: Rusty Russell

Rusty Russell, a Nashville-based guitarist, songwriter, photographer, and writer who accompanied notable country and jazz musicians in studios and on stages for 35 years and was a Vintage Guitar contributor for two decades, died March 27. He was 66 and battled lung cancer.

Born in Casper, Wyoming, he moved with his mother to Denver, where he attended grade school and began studying trumpet. They later moved to Midland, Texas, where his mother married Charles Miller, who proved an exemplary influence through Russell’s adolescence as he finished high school in Wichita, Kansas, along the way excelling on the trumpet and earning a scholarship to play at Wichita State University.

While a student at WSU, he one day heard George Benson’s “Breezin’” and was spurred to ditch the trumpet (and scholarship) and devote himself to learning guitar. He soon after joined a band that played the Denver/Front Range area. There, he befriended a local musician named Fred James, who later coaxed Russell into moving to Nashville. After moving circa 1990, he landed a gig playing guitar on tour with Louise Mandrell.

Settling into the Nashville scene as a player, songwriter, and music teacher, he started writing humorous pieces in various periodicals as a freelancer, expanded to a local-music column in MusicRow, then wrote for radio shows and the Grand Ole Opry, leading to his appointment as Nashville Editor of Guitar Player. In December of ’96, the publication assigned a story on the 1997 Elvis Presley tribute album All The King’s Men. He accompanied guitarist Scotty Moore to Ron Wood’s home in Dublin, where Moore recorded the final song along with Wood and Jeff Beck all contributing guitar parts. The historic nature of the trip inspired Russell to capture images of the people he covered; a self-taught photographer, he then began shooting for Getty Images and The Tennessean. He also continued to gig locally, backing aspiring musicians in various studios and live venues, and for years served as a volunteer for the Nashville Musicians Association. In both roles, he became a mentor to many.

His first work for VG was a live photo of Brad Paisley in the March ’02 issue. He then shot Marty Stuart and wrote about Stuart’s “Clarence” guitar for the April ’04 cover. For the October ’10 issue, he gathered top Nashville players and repair pros for a discussion on the impact of a flood that destroyed a major guitar-storage facility that May, and the work done to restore instruments in its aftermath. In August ’17, he interviewed Songbirds Guitar Museum founder David Davidson as well as Vince Gill and others for a piece highlighting the facility. Other assignments included cover sessions with Gill (February, ’12), Dan Auerbach (August ’17) and Greta Van Fleet (September ’18). The November ’19 issue included more photos of Gill’s collection, and his final work for VG was an examination of Barney Kessel’s ES-350 (February ’22).

Russell and his wife, Lynn Questell, moved to Tulsa in early 2020 following his cancer diagnosis. He is survived by Lynn, a sister, and extended family.

This article originally appeared in VG’s July 2023 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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