14-year-old B.C. blues boy Liam Docherty treats the guitar as homework


By Steve Newton

We’ve all heard stories about guitar players who make their mark early in life, who catch people’s attention because they’ve been playing since they were 11 or 12 years old.

Well, Liam Docherty’s got ’em all beat.

He first wrapped his fingers around a guitar neck at the tender age of four.

And by the time he was seven he could play Slash’s lead licks from Guns N’ Roses‘ “Sweet Child of Mine”.

Now 14, Docherty has an impressive resume that includes opening for the likes of Canadian blues and roots artists Ken Hamm, David Gogo, Terry Robb, and Doug Cox, and performing at the Texada Roots & Blues Festival and the Nanaimo Summertime Blues Festival.

Docherty came by his guitar obsession honestly, as his dad always had one lying around the house. When Liam started taking an interest his father taught him some pop songs that he could busk with at farmer’s markets when he lived on Salt Spring Island. (He thinks the first tune he ever learned on guitar was a Neil Finn song, but he can’t remember which one.)

When he was eight he became seriously inspired by acclaimed Australian picker Tommy Emmanuel, who he saw perform in Victoria.

“He’s kind of what first got me interested in playing blues music and fingerstyle guitar,” explains Docherty, on the phone from his current home in Qualicum Beach. “Me and my dad started taking online lessons, and I started learning more and more about different musicians and learning their songs.”

Vancouver Island dobro specialist Doug Cox is another musician who’s helped nurture and guide Docherty’s promising career. Last year he produced the teen’s debut album, Modern. Magic. Melody., which features seven originals and five blues covers.

“Doug Cox tells me a lot about the music,” says Docherty, “and tells me talented people I should listen to. That’s how I found out about Nick Drake actually, and John Martyn. I play a few Nick Drake songs.”

Docherty’s renditions of Nick Drake tunes like “River Man”, “Horn”, and “Things Behind the Sun” can be seen on his YouTube channel, along with covers of Robert Johnson, Son House, and Big Bill Broonzy. The most recent clips he’s downloaded show him playing traditional instrumentals he’d seen performed by Emmanuel (“Borsalino”) and Celtic stylist Tony McManus (“Out on the Ocean”). He also studies online courses by both of those artists. He likes to learn.

“I kind of treat the guitar as homework,” he says, “but in a good way. I love practicing.”

Docherty’s six-string skills led him to become an “official partner” of Taylor Guitars in March of this year. He had a meeting with the company’s artist-relations director, who sent him a guitar to use on his next album. And the lucky kid doesn’t have to give it back.

“They just manufacture the guitars really well,” says Docherty, who had bought himself a Taylor GS-Mini years ago with the money he earned from busking. That’s the one he got signed by Tommy Emmanuel when he met him at that concert in Victoria. Unfortunately, he played it so much the signature got worn right off.

The day after talking to me Docherty used his newest Taylor guitar to record his online show for the Mission Folk Festival. As well as original compositions, the program includes some classic blues, a Nick Drake song, and an arrangement of “Classical Gas” that he lifted from Emmanuel.

At this point Docherty plays mostly acoustic guitar, but he’s thinking of putting some electric on his next album. In a YouTube video of him playing Stevie Ray Vaughan‘s “Scuttle Buttin'” he shows himself to be quite proficient on the amped-up side of things. He borrowed his 11-year-old brother Ewen’s Strat for that taping, but it wasn’t an easy ride.

“It was really hard to learn,” he says of Vaughan’s speedy 1984 instrumental. “My hand nearly came off.”

Whether Docherty’s future in music will see him remain an acoustic solo artist or go electric with a band is anybody’s guess at this point. We’ll have to see where the journey takes him when he gets out of school in a few years.

“Depending on how my music kind of changes–it might change to a different kind of style, I’m not sure–I might need a band. But so far I’m going to be a solo artist.”

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