Getting Outten: A heart-heart with OBX musician Graham Outten

Outer Banks musician Graham Outten is an in-demand performer. In the next seven days alone, you can find him at Pamlico Jack’s in Nags Head, Stripers in Manteo, Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills, Hurricane Mo’s in Kitty Hawk, JJ Brewbaker’s in Nags Head, Aqua in Duck, and at Secret Island in Nags Head.

Craving attention isn’t what drives Graham Outten to head to a venue, set up his gear, attempt to connect with his audience, (sometimes, in what can be trying physical conditions), and then reverse the process after three hours. He does it because he loves music. He’s good at it, too. With that comes an inherent value and stature that is different than a host of occupations, because of the “giving” nature of it.

Like me, Graham chooses to put himself in what is sometimes an untenable situation: Solo artist. No bandmates to hide behind. Just you, your instrument and maybe some pedals and gizmos. You succeed alone in the best cases, and you fail alone in the worst.

I was lucky enough to have Mr. Outten submit to my third degree. See for yourself what drives him:

Q: If you’re not a native, what brought you to the Outer Banks?

A: Born and raised on the beautiful beaches of Southern Shores. It’s a privilege to call myself a “local.” The crowds and music scene on the Outer Banks keep me coming back each year. Never a dull moment.

Q: How would you describe your music?

A: It varies, depending on who I am playing with. In a band, it’s a late-’60s soul-rock, jam band thing. Solo, I am all over the spectrum — from country, to reggae, rockabilly, soul/blues. My original material tends to lean towards Americana folk.

Q: Who is your greatest musical influence?

A: As a vocalist, I’m attracted to the soul/blues powerhouse singers. Joe Cocker, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Chris Robinson, Susan Tedeschi, etc. That gritty, gospel, Baptist church feel just touches my soul.

Q: What is it about music that touched you?

A: Music is the fundamental release that one needs to survive. It’s a chance to escape the harshness of the world and really immerse yourself into good vibes. A great song can totally change the course of your day and that just blows my mind.

Q: What was the first concert you attended? Did it light a fire under you to be a musician?

A: The Virginia Beach Symphony on the fourth of July when I was six years old. A performance that did light a fire was a Joe Cocker Tribute at Lockin’ in 2015. It was one of the most moving and damned near religious experiences I have ever had the privilege of listening to. After that weekend I was never so excited to play a bar 20 people.

Q: Are you self-taught?

A: Primarily self-taught, but other musicians showed me licks here and there. As a singer, most definitely not self taught.

Q: Besides guitar, what other instruments do you play?

A: As a kid, I picked up the harmonica. Just playing around the house to annoy my siblings.

Q: How many different musical projects are you involved in?

A: Generally, I am solo artist and have had friends sit in with me. I also play weddings and private party events with other musicians. The OBX is a melting pot of musical talent, so the options are endless.

Q: What’s your favorite venue to play on the Outer Banks?

A: Having to choose one is like picking your favorite child. My top three: Outer Banks Brewing Station, Mike Dianna’s Grill Room, and Tap Shack. All three are just incredible.

Q: Musicians usually play for those “moments” when everything clicks. Do you have a favorite moment?

A: Recently, I played a gig and it was just a regular 6-to 9 dinner gig. I can’t remember which song it was, but I noticed it got really quiet. My eyes were closed. I notice how quiet it is. I open my eyes, and about 50 people were recording me on their phones right at the front of the stage. I finish the tune, and the place just erupts. Those moments mean you have connected with the crowd. That’s why I do what I do. I love that.

Q: What do you do in the off-season?

A: The colder months are for writing and learning new music. Playing music full time and having a 9- to 5 job can be a challenge. I’m vacation planner at Atlantic Realty, which I do year round.

Q: Was there a person in your life that motivated you to pursue music?

A: Gotta give props to parents for always driving me to rehearsals and lessons when I was younger. I have also had many inspirational teachers over the years.

Q: If you could perform with anyone, living or dead, who would it be?

A: Susan Tedeschi. There’s something about the honesty and intensity of her voice that inspires me. I think it’d be sick to harmonize with her.

Q: What one song have you heard that you wish you’d written?

A: John Sebastian’s “Darling Be Home Soon.” Beautiful. Something about the simplicity of loving someone so much that a simple conversation will just make your day. Rare thing.

Q: If you could choose a time period in which to perform music, what would it be, and why?

A: I would have liked to have been in the ‘40s, actually. Something about the big bands and the huge sound that they produced with some big singer in front, appeals to me.

Q: What are you listening to?

A: I love contemporary rock/blues. Right now, Leon Bridges. I dig his smooth, gentle sound but with just so much soul. Also, The Wood Brothers. Very unique, stylistically. Bluegrass meets Southern Rock.

Q: The music business can be tough. Ever consider quitting?

A: Every December, when my season dies down for a couple of months, but every year, I soldier on. At the end of the day, I’m a musician. I was given a gift to entertain so that’s what I’m gonna do.

Q: Where were you the first time you performed onstage and how old were you?

A: My first serious solo was when I was 10. I sang “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” with my elementary school chorus.

Q: When you write a song, is it positive or negative inspiration that drives you?

A: I do enjoy writing the more melancholy tunes because I dig the “darker” minor keys. I do try to draw in from more happy experiences. So it really just depends on how I am feeling at the time.

Q: Your favorite album?

A: Right now, I am really feeling The Wood Brother’s “Live at The Barn.” That performance is just brilliance.

Q: Your favorite song?

A: “Cover Me Up” by Jason Isbel. The lyrical side of this song as well as the awesome harmonies, damn near brings me to tears. Simply brilliant.


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