How does one find success in the music business? Am I there yet?
Here I am in a hotel in Sidney BC Canada. Tonight I will perform at the world famous Butchart Gardens with the Canadian based band John Reischman and The Jaybirds. I have produced, performed on, or recorded, hundreds of music projects over the past 39 years. It is amazing, but have I made it? What is “it”?
When I was 8 years old, I remember a neighborhood boy, who was about 16 years old, came to our house and asked my dad if he new anything about “blues guitar”. This would have been around 1967. I remember my father saying, “well you tune your guitar to a chord, like this…” he proceeded to do something to an old guitar we had at our house, “then you need a slide” he walked over to the silverware drawer and removed a butter knife, “then you do this…” he proceeded to play the guitar with a butter knife and his fingers. I loved it. I asked my dad to show me too. He showed me some chords and I worked on it for a while.
My grandfather on my fathers side of the family was a sharecrop farmer from Arkansas. He played the guitar and sang in a high voice. My dad learned to play guitar from him, and learned from the other farm workers in that area. They came to California during the dust bowl to find work to survive, these were the poorest of the poor. With them they brought a kind of rare commodity, music. Of the things I have been given in life, other than the deep love of my parents, this is the most rare and precious gift.
I never studied music in a school when I was growing up. I just learned it at home and spent countless hours practicing and playing in our living room with my dad, who was a mechanic by trade. When I graduated from high school he got me a job working as a mechanic. I learned that trade from him too. That lasted a short time, two weeks, before I decided to go to school to be a welder. My insightful mother, upon learning that I was going to go to welding school, said to me, “Jimmy, have you considered studying anything else” to which I replied “what do you mean?” she said “you are a good musician, you may want to consider music school” my reply “I have to be able to make a living”.
David Grisman Bluegrass Experience:
Grass Valley Bluegrass Festival, 2015
At age 15 I had started to get gigs locally with bluegrass musicians in the bay area. We lived in Concord California, not the hotbed of bluegrass music, yet, there were those die hard bluegrass fans that had to have it, plus back then it was more popular in general. You would hear banjo, fiddle, mandolin, acoustic slide guitar, acoustic guitar, on a lot more popular recordings by folks like the John Denver, The Eagles, Beatles, Buck Owens, Earl Scruggs Revue, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, etc. My background of country music that my dad had taught me, combined with the fiddle music I was learning locally, really set the bedrock for the music I still play today.
So hear I am, in a hotel in Canada. Just came back from Europe where
I performed in France. Over the next few weeks I will play in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, California, Arizona. I would have never dreamed I would be doing this for a living, doing something my father taught me, my grandfather taught him, my mom recognized I was good at, and for people all over the world. How strange. I guess that is a sort of success in the music business. Have I made it?