Hooked on Bluegrass

Jim Chayka

I credit a lot of people with getting me hooked on bluegrass. I’ve always enjoyed a range of music, and have met a lot of players and enthusiasts who have in some way or another nudged me toward bluegrass music. My twin brother, Doug, was the first to really get me into playing music, so a lot of my appreciation goes to him.

As a gifted painter ever since he was a small kid, my brother always was drawn to all sorts of artistic pursuits. He had been tinkering with the guitar for a few years, and when we were in college, he traded one of his paintings to a luthier for a beautiful hand-made guitar. We both listened to a lot of different types of music, and especially loved the acoustic sounds of Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt, and lots of other country, folk and Americana artists. We both traveled around a lot after college, and when we were living together in Berlin he taught me a few chords and later gave me the guitar. We spent a lot of nights jamming with all these Europeans who loved everything from Bob Dylan to Pearl Jam, and I learned a lot about music from those experiences.

When I later moved to San Francisco I continued to play those same tunes on that guitar, until one Christmas a friend wanted to surprise me with a new guitar. Not knowing much about guitars or what they cost, she went to the 5th String in Berkeley and was blown away by the cost of all the pro-grade Martins, Gibsons, and others that were there. The most accessible instrument, price-wise, in the store was an open-back banjo with a plastic rim. One less string than a guitar, the banjo seemed to her like an approximate fit…

Well, I never even considered playing the banjo. Not that it didn’t appeal to me immediately, it was just that it wasn’t on my radar. At all. However, once I started fooling around with it I was hooked right away. I went back to the 5th String and met my first banjo mentor, Phyllis Bowen (former owner), who taught me my first chops and introduced me to the world of traditional bluegrass. I bought my first bluegrass CD at her suggestion too- Foggy Mountain Banjo by Flatt and Scruggs. I’ve since had some great music teachers and mentors who have encouraged me along the way, and now have some students of my own. I’m hooked for sure, and look forward to many more years of the same!

(posted 2/1/2009)

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