Hello everyone. You are going to really enjoy this interview with my friend Jim Downs. He has been around the bluegrass circuit for a good many years and has a very interesting background. He is currently the VP of our HABOT club and is a lot of fun to pick with. You can tell he really loves jamming just by his smile not to mention his great musical talent. Give him a hello next time you see him.
BB: Introduction – Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
I was born in Marshall, MO. My family is primarily from a farming background. We moved to Kansas City when I was 8 years old and I grew up in the Turner, Kansas area. Sue was one of my next-door neighbors, and we grew up together playing basketball and hide and seek. Somewhere around high school we fell in love and
we have been together ever since.
BB: When did you get started in your musical journey?
Jim: Music was a way of life in our family, (my mothers side) all my aunts and uncles played music, most professionally. They all played at dances and live radio, and all the family get together’s were big jam sessions.
BB: What happened after that?
Jim: My grandfather would take my brother and I to the barn dances where he played every Saturday night, we were only 5 or 6 when this started. These were truly barn dances, the place was heated with two big pot bellied stoves and the toilets were outside. It was actually a barn with a cement floor. (It is still there today)
BB: Where did you go from there?
Jim: I learned to play guitar with a hand me down guitar and when we were old enough to start in school band I learned to play saxophone. At the ripe old age of 13 I got my first job playing for money, at the same barn dance I grew up at. I made $10 a night playing from 8 till midnight. (Things haven’t changed much as far as my pay goes) I did get a free pop and hamburger after the dance.
BB: What happened after the next?
Jim: In high school I played in a band called the “Kansas City Sound”. We played rock a billy, Chuck Berry and Elvis stuff at dances all over the KC area. I played tenor sax and electric rhythm guitar. (Yes I had long hair) When I got married I quit playing for a long time, kids and career became my priority. Then about 1980 Sue bought a mandolin for my birthday, it was always an instrument that I was fond of. I learned to play the mandolin and began following bluegrass from that point on.
BB: How did you get into Bluegrass/Old Time/Other Music?
Jim: Old Time music has always been part of my life. I grew up on Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, so bluegrass is not too far away from that. I always tell people that bluegrass is just country music on steroids.
BB: What is your favorite Bluegrass Band or Artist? Who influenced you the most?
Jim: I don’t really have a favorite band or artist. I like so many it is hard to choose. Audie Blaylock and The Gibson Brothers are way up on my list for current artists. And of course all the old timers are great.
BB: How many songs have you written?
Jim: I have not written any songs yet, but I see that happening in the near future.
BB: What advice would you give to young people wanting to get started in Bluegrass?
Jim: My advice to young people starting out in bluegrass is, DO IT YOUR WAY!
Try and find young people to play with, go to events where young people hang out, and play, play, play. DO NOT LET THE OLDER PEOPLE DISCOURAGE YOU.
It’s OK to be different for a while, you will return to the roots of bluegrass in due time.
BB: Anything else you want to say to wrap up this interview?
Jim: As most people who know me know, I am very involved in the local bluegrass movement. I really enjoy the people in bluegrass and intend to keep doing it for a long time
Thanks for reading this interview and if you know of anyone else who would like to be interviewed just let me know. Bill