Guitarist and musical director, Chris Wrate’s first professional guitar gig was on Oprah, so it follows the same trajectory that his first musical director job was working with Ariana Grande. When it comes to amps, Wrate reveals his game-changing Celestion discovery...
Usually working as a guitarist and musical director to Kelsea Ballerini’s band, Chris Wrate has been kept busy with a different kind of challenge during lockdown.
“I’ve got six year old and we're expecting our second soon,” he says at the time of writing. “My daughter has been asking for a long time to take the training wheels off of her bike, and I thought it was a little bit early. But I was like, ‘well, if there's ever a time for us to have the time to learn, it’s now!’ So a couple of days ago we took the training wheels off, thinking it would take days or weeks or months, and the next day she was up and riding without my help! I was hoping that would last me a while, but she's on to the next thing already,” he laughs.
Originating from Wisconsin and now residing in Nashville, Wrate grew up around the local blues scenes of Chicago and Milwaukee, and it was his versatility as an artist that allowed him to work with a wide range of artists in a variety of genres, from blues, pop, rock, R&B, funk, to country.
Wrate has accumulated a lot of experience in writing and studio recording, however the majority of his work is with other artists as a live or session musician, including working with Ariana Grande and David Foster, and appearing on TV shows such as Oprah, American Idol, The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Today Show and Ellen.
Thrown in at the deep end, his first ever professional gig was on Oprah:
“I was at a school in Los Angeles called the Musicians Institute. I was trying to find a school where I wouldn't have to do any English, history or math homework,” he laughs.
“I found a school that specialised in contemporary music and was really good at placing its students in various fields in the music industry. I did an audition for The Offspring – they needed a rhythm guitarist and background vocalist for one of their upcoming tours. Then I auditioned for an artist called David Foster, and so my first ever professional gig was playing on Oprah with him!”
In terms of his work as a musical director, Wrate says that every artist is different:
“A lot of artists are very opinionated and they want things to be a certain way, and that's kind of your job as well – to forecast what they're going to want to hear. Our job entails learning how to frame everything: how to come up with a range of interesting ideas, how to be on the same page and how to steer the ship for different shows and tours and whatnot. It's definitely always something that's ever-changing and growing, so you’ve got to stay on top of it. The biggest thing is to forecast certain problems and work with any changes to your show. It's a super fun job; I enjoy it for sure.”