The late J.T. Corenflos receives Guitar Player of the Year award

·3 min read

Jun. 28—J.T. Corenflos kept playing his guitars in Nashville recording sessions into late September of last year.

He put health problems aside, determined to continue adding his catchy lead guitar licks that made recording artists' songs special. Sadly, the lung disease the Terre Haute native had coped with for years soon claimed his life on Oct. 24 in Nashville, Tenn. He was 56 years old.

His final year of musicianship left an impression.

The Academy of Country Music has awarded Corenflos the Guitar Player of the Year for 2020. The ACM Honors Awards were released this month, but will be formally presented on Aug. 25 in the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. Those special awards include categories not included in the televised ACM Awards show in April, including those for the industry's outstanding studio musicians. The ACM board of directors selects the winners of the Honors Awards.

Corenflos won the Guitar Player of the Year in a field that included four other nominees — Derek Wells, Ilya Toshinskiy, Jedd Hughes and Kris Donegan.

It's the second ACM Guitar Player of the Year award for Corenflos, who also won it for his work in 2012. He also was nominated for the award 12 other times — 2015, 2014, 2011 and every year from 2002 to 2010. Past winners of the top guitarist award include icons such as Brent Mason, Chet Atkins, James Burton and Roy Clark.

When Corenflos won his first ACM, he recalled being "scared to death" for his first Nashville performance with Grand Ole Opry great Jean Shepard in 1982. Corenflos was 18 years old and had just moved from his hometown of Terre Haute to Music City. "And tonight I win my first ACM, and I'm scared to death," Corenflos quipped at the awards program in 2013.

Through a 38-year career in Nashville, Corenflos became one of the recording industry's most sought-after session guitarists. He performed on nearly 75 singles that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Music charts. His contributions graced hit songs and albums by country singers such as Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson, Luke Bryan, Martina McBride, George Strait, Carrie Underwood, George Jones, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts and others. Rockers including Bob Seger, the Doobie Brothers and Sheryl Crow also benefited from Corenflos' studio virtuosity.

Upon Corenflos' passing last fall, Bryan praised his creativity, skill and courage.

"He was a soft-spoken genius that let his fingers do the talking," Bryan wrote in October. "He has played on countless records of mine, and many times turned a good song into something unique and special. And at the end of the day, he made big, old hit records.

"For most of the time I knew J.T., he was battling health problems related to the hand he was dealt," Bryan continued. "Talk about a fighter. Some days, he could barely pick his guitar up. But when he played, he played like it was his last time, and for everyone in the room it was a beautiful thing to watch."

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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