Guitarist and songwriter Jeff Stanley of Ashland knows his way up and down the frets. - Bob Pennell

Jeff Stanley at Boomtowne Saloom

This world is full of guitar players, and the Rogue Valley is no different — you can hardly throw a rock without hitting one. A huge part of the guitar's appeal lies in its ubiquity. It's the most commonplace and accessible musical instrument of Western popular music.

Every accomplished player approaches the guitar uniquely. Most play to their own strengths. There aren't many pickers out there with a virtuosic grasp of the entire guitar neck. Most of us simply colonize a small portion of it and then set about finding ways to force our own style onto every song we play.

Jeff Stanley navigates a guitar neck with uncommon fearlessness. He has the ability to play outside of his comfort zone without letting on to his audience that he is in uncharted territory. He can follow his own improvisations up a blind alley and then escape without damage. He regularly strays from those portions of the guitar neck that he knows best and trusts his instincts and musical ear to guide him through the wilderness.

Though he recently has cut back on sideman gigs to more fully focus on his own songwriting and bandleading, Stanley spent years playing with seemingly anyone who asked him to sit in. About six months ago, he was playing regularly in four different bands and rarely had a night off. His ability to make bands sound better without forcing his own style onto their songs has always kept him in high demand.

His own band — billed as Jeff Stanley and Friends — plays everything from tightly crafted, power-pop and country to ska numbers and esoteric jazz instrumentals. Stanley's wide-ranging tastes and influences make him hard to label.

Stanley assembled a strong rhythm section with bassist Jacob Ackerman and drummer Matthew Kriemelman, who have the chops to follow him wherever his playing may lead.

This is an easy band to listen to, and music lovers should mark the following dates on their calendars: Monday, March 18, at The Wild Goose, 2365 Highway 66, Ashland, and Saturday, March 30, at Boomtowne Saloon, 105 W. California St., Jacksonville. Stanley will play an acoustic set with singer Shannon Harris (Lovebite) from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 1, at Bombshell (a vintage-clothing shop), 340 A St., Ashland.

Stanley's solo, acoustic work is as exciting to watch as the electrified music he plays with his full band. He has a great penchant for abandoning chords to play acrobatic guitar solos that leave audiences breathless, waiting to hear how the solo will resolve itself back into the main body of the song.

Stanley is like a cat: He always lands on his feet.

Stanley grew up in Ashland, but with an international twist. His mother trained Peace Corps volunteers, and the family spent time in Kenya and Papua New Guinea. He took up the guitar at age 16 — just as the family moved to Papua New Guinea — and took his first guitar lessons via mail order on cassette tapes.

Back in the United States, Stanley studied music at the college level and developed his prodigious skill with of intense practice.

Stanley lived in Sydney from 2003 to 2011, earning a living playing and teaching guitar. Now that he's back home in Ashland, his goals are simple, he says.

"I want to enjoy what I do, and I want other people to enjoy what I do," he says. "I want to connect with an audience "… I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I'm going to keep trying."

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