The last time The Signal caught up with Canyon Country rock ’n’ roll guitarist Devin Bronson at the end of 2002, he was rocking out onstage at The Roxy in West Hollywood, playing to a packed house with Kelly Osbourne’s backing unit as she showcased her debut album, “Shut Up.”
By Stephen Peeples
Since last September, the 21-year-old William S. Hart High School grad (Class of 2001) has been rocking out onstage playing lead guitar in Avril Lavigne’s road band, joining rhythm guitarist Craig Wood, bassist Charlie Munoz and drummer Matt Brann in time for the world tour backing pop-punk singer/songwriter’s second album, “Under My Skin,” which was released last spring.
Bronson, son of pro musician Dana Bronson and KHTS AM-1220 executive Sharon Bronson, spent a few weeks at home during the holidays on a short break between legs of Lavigne’s tour, and while home filled us in on the two action-packed years since the Roxy gig.
The Roxy show was early in Bronson’s stint touring with Ozzy’s singing offspring, which lasted the better part of a year. “It was pretty intense,” Bronson recalled. “We played on just about every TV show, and went all over the world — my first trek around the globe,” he said.
Along the way, Osbourne’s band shared the stage with major stars such as Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child, Nelly, Audioslave, Queens of the Stone Age, and, yes, Avril Lavigne.
“In Europe, we opened for Robbie Williams, probably the biggest star there is, internationally,” Bronson said. “It was the biggest tour to happen in England, and we did three nights at Knebworth Field, the largest concerts there ever. So we got to do amazing stuff like that with Kelly.”
While Osbourne’s album wasn’t very well-received by critics, Bronson said the tunes, among them her cover of Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach,” were still tons of fun to play live. “Obviously the songs were meant to sound a certain way, and you didn’t drift too far from the basic structure,” he said. “But what I liked most about playing with Kelly was that she gave us a lot of room to add our own stuff and give the songs our kind of feel. That really made it a lot more fun for us.”
All things must pass, of course. “Kelly went into acting from there – she has a show on ABC, and that really didn’t involve us in the band,” Bronson said. So in late summer 2003, he packed up his gear and headed home to Canyon Country.
Before Bronson had a chance to unpack, though, he got a call from a friend who’s in the superstar Canadian band Treble Charger. “They’re huge — their records go platinum there,” Bronson said. “My friend is also producer and manager of the band Sum 41. So he called and we were just talking. I told him I was off the road and would probably be doing something else soon, and he said, ‘Well, the guitarist in my band just quit, and we have an arena tour throughout Canada that starts next week. You wanna do it?’
“I said, ‘Yeah, sure!’ In less than a week I learned their songs, then flew to Canada and did the tour,” Bronson continued. “Then, after the last gig, Treble Charger asked me to join the band and start working with them on a new album.”
So, in September ’03, Bronson headed back to California for a little time off before sessions were to begin. “I started doing stuff with some different people while I was home,” he said. “I also taught guitar at Lowe’s Music for about five months, then flew to Canada and started working on the Treble Charger record.”
In July ’04, just as that project was getting started, Bronson said, “I got a call from Avril. I’d been friends with her and her band for a few years. When I was with Kelly, we toured together. Avril just asked me if I wanted to join her band. I started working with her the first week of September.”
Bronson was replacing exiting lead guitarist Evan Taubenfeld in Lavigne’s group, a change some of her young fans weren’t crazy about at first. But Bronson says if any of Avril’s fans were bent out of shape, he wasn’t aware of it, or concerned about it. “That wasn’t even on my radar screen,” he said. “I never considered it an issue. I’ve never gotten anything but positive feedback from them.”
Bronson’s first concert with Lavigne was a one-off show taped live at the legendary Radio City Music Hall in New York City. “It was a big rock and fashion show for the Fox TV network,” he said. “Avril and Johnny Rzeznik of The Goo Goo Dolls were going to sing ‘Iris’ [GGD’s No. 1 hit from 1998]. So Avril’s band had to learn the song, but Johnny was supposed to have a mandolin player there. Well, something happened and the mandolin player couldn’t make it. Someone said, ‘Well, Devin — then you play the mandolin.’
“I’d never played one in my life,” Bronson continued. “And I had to learn to play the song on mandolin the night before the show. Then I’m onstage at Radio City Music Hall, playing a damn mandolin. The place is full of people. Everyone gave Avril and Johnny and us a standing ovation, which I didn’t see anyone else get that night, so I guess we pulled it off. I was pretty proud of myself.”
Certain wise guys remarked that now Bronson could play all of Rod Stewart’s mandolin-driven hits, too, like “Maggie May” and “Mandolin Wind.” Bronson laughed. “I’m sure it was a disgrace to anyone who actually plays the mandolin, but it worked.”
After Radio City, he said, “We did all of Europe, the U.K. including Wembley, and an entire U.S. tour. We also did a New Year’s Eve show for NBC, ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’ and ‘Good Morning, America.’ Avril and I also did an acoustic set on ‘Live with Regis & Kelly.’”
On this most recent break, Bronson played on a couple of sessions for other artists. “I just did some sessions for a heavy-metal band, and played on a song by a female singer named Elizabeth Nicole that’s much more acoustic pop,” he said. “Danny Wilde from The Rembrandts produced the track and asked me to play on it.” That Bronson can move so easily from one style of music to another is testament to his versatility.
And mandolins aside, Bronson has an axe for just about any musical setting. He has more guitars than he can count, but uses about 15 of them most frequently. “Mostly Fenders and Gibsons,” he said, with a Gretch and Washburn or two in the mix as well. “I just got a ’52 Fender Telecaster reissue and a Jackson Randy Rhoads model electric. But my main guitars are probably the Fenders. My favorite acoustic? A Taylor 814-CE. I just like everything about it.”
After his holiday break Bronson returned to work with Lavigne. At the end of January the band was in concert in Vancouver to benefit victims of the tsunami disaster. Lavigne shared the bill with other popular Canadian artists including Sarah McLachlan. This month the band appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” “Ellen” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“In March we’re off to Asia,” Bronson said.
After the “Under My Skin” tour wraps up, will Bronson remain with Lavigne’s band, and work with her on her third album?
“I can’t comment on that,” he said.
So, bottom line, what’s the coolest thing about being in Lavigne’s band — the music, the big audiences, the money, the traveling, the after-hours chill-time with Avril and his bandmates?
“It’s all those things,” Bronson said. “Any one of them being off track could derail the whole thing. Avril is an amazing person to work with. It’s impressive to see just how talented she is. You’ll never see her lip-synching like Ashley Simpson did. Avril is credible. It makes you proud to work with someone like that.”