Go to Jim Cox - Part 2 >>
I was fortunate to be able to sit down with Jim Cox last July and get his thoughts on playing bass and his contributions to the Bluegrass community. He’s an un-assuming musician who played in the Baltimore / D.C. area during the bluegrass boom of the 50’s and 60’s. He played with a number of pioneering acts including the Country Gentlemen, the Stoneman Family, Buzz Busby, Frank Necessary and Al Jones and he even did some work with Pasty Cline. He now resides in Richlands, Virgina playing with friends at nursing homes and other venues for fun and providing entertainment for those who aren’t as fortunate to get out and about. He’s a great musician and a wonderful friend. Hope you enjoy the interview...
Jim with Hazel Dickens, Bud Dickens and Tim Bryant
BD - So let’s start at the beginning… where you were born Jim?
JC - I was born in Vansant, Virginia.
BD – Vansant?
JC - Well My Mom says Vansant but the midwife that delivered me put Whitewood on my birth certificate
BD - Whitewood?
JC - So I had a little difficulty there.
BD - Yeah that’s quite a way from Vansant, that’s close to Richlands. So what year were you born?
JC - 1930
BD - That’s a while back
JC - 80 years ago.
BD – So where are you living these days?
JC - Richlands, well Doran… actually Red Ash, I guess you’d call it the Red Ash area. I live over there with Reamus and Linda Keen.
BD - When did you start playing the upright bass?
JC - I actually played the electric bass before I played the upright,
BD – Ok… well we won’t hold that against you [laughter]
JC - Well I played with a rock group too [laughter]
BD - Where were you playing with a rock group?
JC - Up there in the DC area.
BD - What took you up to Washington?
JC - Well thats where I got out of the army. I just got a job with the state and I didn’t come back here..
BD – Okay so you’re in the DC area. Let’s start talking about the folks you played with. How did you come to play with the Country Gentlemen? or Charlie Waller or whoever?
JC - It was an accident really, I had borrowed a friend of mine’s bass and I was determined I was going to learn to play. Charlie said that was the best way to learn to play… just bring it in and sit in with us… there were only three of them playing when I went to see them. Charlie said the best way to learn is right on the stage! Charlie used to be a bass player. He played bass for Buzz Busby.
So they talked me into bringing that thing in. Well they actually went out and brought it in for me, .and I started out real light playing one with them. Then by the end of the night I was getting the hang of it.
Bluegrass was much faster than what I had been playing you know.
BD - Right, right.
JC - I got used to it and started playing pretty well and by the end of the night they gathered around me and said Jim how would you like to be our regular bass player. We need a bass player and John Duffy says “You keep perfect time, so we’d like to have you be our regular bass player”.
I said you have to be kidding [laughter]
I couldn’t believe they were asking me to join them after just a few minutes of playing. I had just borrowed the upright because I had heard Roy Self play and I loved the way he played those bass breaks, you know?
BD - Right.
JC - I thought I’ve just gotta learn how to do that. But I never could do it the way he did it, I never could get that certain lick that he had on it. All The bass players, the Stonemans, and everyone else I ran into could do that.
BD – Wow. So how long did you end up playing with the Country Gentlemen?
JC - I don’t remember exactly but I think about 5 or 6 years. Something like that.
BD - You played a while with the Stonemans too, right?
JC - Yea.
BD - How long did you play with them?
JC - I’d just back them up when they were short a bass player. They’d just call me when they were having family feuds and Jimmy wouldn’t go play you know.
BD - Right
JC - So I’d take his place until the family feud got healed
That was good experience too, to play with them, cause they were all good musicians. John Palmer had that lick too, He could play that with Reno. He could play Grandfathers Clock like nobody else! Really!
I wanted to play like that, but I never could. I could never get that same slap. They use the back of their hand to hit the string and make it slap. I sort of pull the string and let it hit the neck. I’m just the opposite… to make it slap
They use that E string for the slap, but I never could, I don’t know why… could be something in my wrist, but they could do that and it was beautiful the way they played, especially John Palmer when he’d take a break.
BD - So would you say John Palmer was one of your biggest influences?
JC - Oh Yea! But Roy Self was the one that I wanted really wanted to play like. He was the one that got me into it he was playing bass with Bill Harrell and the Rocky Mountain Boys and I’d go over on Sunday nights and watch them playing in person. They played at that place over in Maryland…it was right at the end of Pennsylvania Ave… it was called Home Stretch.
BD - Home Stretch?
JC – Yeah a place called the Home Stretch where there were a lot of different groups that played. It was a club, a pretty good size place. It had a dance floor and everything. There were quite a few people that played there and when Bill Harrell and those guys would get on stage people wanted to dance. They’d turn into a rock group real quick. Carl Nelson would start playing the piano and Bill Harrell would start doing rock songs. Eddie Adcock was playing with them he could do some good Elvis and they did a lot of good stuff like that.
They had a different sound you know but when he’d take a break on that bass, I guess I was what you would call envious, you shouldn’t be envious of anyone but….
BD - Well it’s easy to appreciate good talent and know what you like to hear.
JC - Yea but I think I was a little bit envious because boy I loved to hear him play. And I’d drive a pretty good ways back over there on Sunday nights to hear them.
BD – So just to follow up, were there other musical influences in your life… people who inspired you to play and the people that had a sound that you really liked?
JC - Well when I was just the age to go in the service Lefty Frizzell was my idol. I loved to hear him sing. I tried to copy him singing but I didn’t have a voice like he does. I could never do it that way. I just sing what ever comes out.
BD - Would you give anybody credit for helping you become such a good bass player?
JC - I would have to say Roy Self and John Palmer. Two of my favorites.
BD - They were the ones you really looked up to?
JC - Yeah.
BD – So tell me a little about Patsy Cline. I noticed when the guy introduced you on the stage over at the Tazewell County Fiddlers Convention when you got your lifetime achievement award he had mentioned something about Patsy Cline?
Jim receiving a lifetime achievement award at the Tazewell County Fiddlers Convention
JC - Well now Patsy was playing in the Gaithersburg Armory and they asked me to come and play bass but the band I was playing with wasn’t really Patsy’s band it was just a band to back her up.
BD - Well yea, but to be able to play with Patsy Cline is something in itself!
JC - Well I’m glad I got to do that but see she was just getting started and she had recorded that one record that was playing on the juke box a lot…”I Go Out Walking After Midnight”
Patsy Cline's Debut album with the hit "Walking After Midnight"
BD - Did you get to play that with her.
JC - Yea, yea
BD – That’s great. So let’s get into your instruments a little. What was the first upright bass that you had ever owned?
JC - It was an old Kay.
BC – You like the old Kays?
JC - Well Roy Self had a Kay. I guess that’s why I leaned towards one. His sounded so good. I asked around to see if anybody I knew had an old bass. I was looking for an old one and a young boy that worked with me at Belvoir said his uncle had an old bass at home in a closet. It didn’t have any strings on it or even a bridge or anything like that. I think the nut was gone too. He wasn’t sure what else was wrong with it, but it wasn’t playable then.
Well I said I would come over there and look at it. So I went over and his son was looking for an electric bass and I thought if he’s got something decent maybe I can make a trade with him. I had a Kay electric bass… an old Kay I bought from somebody… it blew up speakers real easy. [Laughter]
Couldn’t keep speakers cause speakers weren’t as good as they are now.
BD - Right, right.
JC - Now they’ve got fantastic speakers
JC - But anyway, I went over there and looked at that and the finger board had come un-glued and slid off the neck.
BD - Oh Man!
JC - And it had gotten damp somewhere along the line, but it was a Kay and it looked fairly good. The body of it looked real good.
I told him I thought I could fix that up and make me a nice bass out of it. I said what would you take for it, he said “Well my son’s looking for an electric bass”.
I said “I got a Kay, an old Kay electric bass with a amp and I’ll trade you both of them for the bass”
And it worked out. I mean he was just tickled pink.
BD - Glad to have it?
JC - Yea, yea.
JC - I took that thing home. I asked John Duffy what he used to glue instruments with. He said he a used that… uh what do they call it, its dark looking… you mix it up with water?
BD - Hyde glue?
JC - I don’t know what he called that, anyway he told me just get some of that in like a little paint can you know.
BD - Right.
JC - So I bought some and mixed it up like he told me and glue that finger board back in. It would almost be the color of the instrument you know, the neck or the piece you know when you got through mixing it up. Weld Wood! that’s what they called it… Weld Wood.
BD - Oh Weld Wood, yea I’ve heard of that stuff.
JC - Weld Wood. So I clamped it, he said clamp it good and tight. As tight as you can get it, and I clamped it real good, put that finger board on and got me a set of strings, good strings and a bridge…
BD - You had it all together for your next gig.
Go to Jim Cox - Part 2 >>