The following is an interview with Musician and songwriter Jimmy Fleming looking back on special circumstances of his beginnings in music and things that happened that brought him to his first Musical form, Bluegrass.
“I have often said I never knew life without music in it. My parents were both heavily into what on one hand was a conflict of musical tastes. Dad being a Buck Owens, Johnny Cash Buddy Holley fan. My Mom listened to about anything and everything current. They had one place of common Ground that being Bluegrass.”
It’s one thing to like a musical style and another to be an insider with the artists that made the Music.
Where did you first hear Bluegrass Music?
“My exposure to it was different In that I was seeing it live be that at people’s houses during Jam sessions or at full-on Bluegrass Festivals.” “The Kicker was that I was not listening to your local bands, I was growing up under a foot of the Legends.”
Jimmy was even at the age of 5 and 6 often Backstage at Major Events such as The annual Festivals at the Stanley Brother’s Homeplace in McClure, Virginia.
“My Dad worked in the clothing industry as an executive and sold a lot of Suits to many of the acts of the time as it was the tradition of these bands to look dignified without being overstated. He was the Vice President of the company and the President and his wife were actively involved in that music scene, which Lead dad to become friends with People Like Ralph Stanley, The Marshall Family, and Bill Monroe.”
“The Lion’s share of the time was spent with The Marshall Family. They were a Gospel band and Having started their careers as teenagers with their Mother and Father being involved, by the 1970s had already made a name and had become close personal friends with the likes of Ralph Stanley. Their family became our extended family.”
“The amusing Truth of it all was my Dad being a person of the organization was asked to step in as their concert schedules were absolutely insane. It was like someone with a Blindfold on threw darts at a map. They might have to be in Kentucky and Virginia and then back to dates in Ohio and turn around and be in Georgia in the space of 2 weekends. There was also the matter of driving an RV and some hesitation of members of the Group to attempt driving one-lane backwoods roads where if you made the slightest error you may roll off a mountain and be Meeting Jesus before you expected. Dad took his driver’s test in a Log Truck in rural Kentucky, so he knew how to do this act of precision.” My Mom worked the record Table for them and Had the personality to do that job as well as diffuse any Grumpy audience or Band member for that Matter.”
What made you dedicated to the Guitar?
“Well, I was initially interested in the Banjo and Learned it to a small degree. There were two playing styles on the five-string banjo. The Original Frailing style that was Truly an ancient form of playing was Taught to Dave Marshall by Ralph and then taught from Dave to me. It’s more widely referred to as “Clawhammer”. No finger picks, you are literally running your bare hands across the string and snapping at the 5th string with the thumb, it could and often did draw blood. Then you had a different tuning more know as the Earl Scruggs style. I got the “Clawhammer” down which I use on the guitar today if I drop my pick and have to continue playing until I can get another guitar pick. I wasn’t very proficient in the 3 finger roll of the Scruggs approach. So the interest in the banjo was already kinda going away.”
“The Guitar was something I began to play around with but not seriously yet. Around 1977 even though I was only 5 going on 6 I had already been able to absorb a pretty good bit of knowledge of what was happening around me. I had been through some interesting things with Bill Monroe and had been to Ralph’s house a few times but it was that year I had really zoned in. I had been around Ralph Stanley’s band many many times and during the time frame, he has a guitar player and singer that was one of the best singers I recall hearing anywhere. He also was very Charismatic, Big smile almost always and he just really stood out. His Name was Keith Whitley”
Somehow or another I stumbled across him in the backstage area in Xenia, Ohio and he had his guitar what I thought was “Torn apart” I just kinda stood there wondering what in the world he was doing. It wasn’t the first time we had talked, but this was different. He looked up and say’s How is ya doing there Captain? I just walked a bit closer and said “ Did you break it?” The 5-year-old mind considered a broken string was a Catastrophe and the banjo or Guitar was done for. Ruined. Ha!” So Keith sat me down and patiently explained the reasons and process of Changing Guitar Strings.”
The timing of it was perfect because shortly after Keith Left Ralph and Joined J.D. Crowe and the New South by 1978. This was a transition because he had not yet gone to Nashville and become the Country Legend he ultimately became. So I suppose it’s fair to say I got into the guitar more because of Keith, he was too cool for school. “
How did you decide to move away from Bluegrass and into Rock Guitar?
“I continued on learning the speed and trickery of being a lead Bluegrass Guitarist and we continued in our Travels with these players so I got to be Proficient by the early 1980s. Then the Bomb Dropped. That Bomb was The Rolling Stones. 1982 they released the live film from their 1981 Tour and the VCR was now coming into people’s homes. I saw that Movie and in a combination of other bands such as Rush, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, and the film Woodstock I now wanted an ELECTRIC GUITAR!”
How did a Bluegrass back ground help Becoming a Rock player?
“Well I didn’t analyze or recognize it until later but there’s a kinship in the Blues and Bluegrass, Bluegrass in certain situations is just faster. That became helpful because playing an acoustic guitar aggressively makes your hands strong. The speed and dexterity came to the dance when I got an Album Called “Couldn’t Stand the Weather” by a guy named Stevie Ray Vaughan in July of 1985 and he came to Play Columbus, Ohio September of 85 and I saw in that 2 hours my ambition for the rest of my life.”
“Now this scared the Daylights out of my Parents as Keith Richards was NOT the kind of Role Model they had in mind. So that began the journey, I did get Electrified.”
“I don’t want to be a Dr. or Lawyer, I wanna learn how to do THAT!”