“Soliloquy of a road musician”-by Jim Hurst
Being a road scholar - which is additional learning to this high school graduate - is something I am proud of, even if it is entirely possible and highly probable that I will never receive any certificate of completion or feel that I’ve ever learned enough to stop. Willingly at least.
Wonderful experiences, beautiful scenery, great food, new acquaintances & old friends… are all part of this wonderful journey. So are complications and frustrations, disappointments, travel planning, replanning, and replanning, fatigue, pains, colds, profit & loss, and loss. Many, many more things than I need to share here go into and alongside my ongoing efforts to be a musician, singer, songwriter - creative artist-at-large.
Of course leaving home is part of this. Time away is hard, very hard, sometimes excruciating, because when I commit to any dates - I follow through with that. My wife and kids have had to commit to it with me in that sometimes dad was not home. They allowed me to do what I needed to do, and sometimes felt disappointed I'm sure. But they never asked me to stop. Wow. I've always felt supported trying to play music, something I feel I was built for... but I do regret being away for a few important things. I say 'a few' because I was there for most of them.
Playing music for a living is something I really never planned for... no, really. I saw myself as a woodworker, carpenter, factory worker, and truck driver, and played music on the side. That is what I thought was the best way to live my life, to be a husband and father. I sometimes wonder how things would be different if I had the 'drive' early on to do what I do now. If I'd have moved to Nashville 10, 15, even 20 years earlier than I did... how would it be different? How would I be different? Musically, who and what would I be now and where would I be? Would I be a better musician, artist, songwriter, composer, producer, performer? Would I have health issues? Honestly, I don't really want to know the answers to those questions... really. I do wonder though, if creatively I'd be more advanced and/or happier.
Who I am now is fine with me. Yes, I've learned from mistakes (mostly) and I have followed opportunities to be where I am, and the opportunities came my way. Playing music for other artists makes me a 'sideman' and I did my best to do my best for each artist I played for / with. I didn't move to Nashville to be a sideman necessarily, but, thanks to my wife Judy, we moved to Nashville so I could be a career musician. It was her idea.
Yeah, we moved to town in 1988, took me until 2010 to figure out I wanted to make MY music, My terms. Well, let me tell you, that was not an easy decision. I enjoy being a good sideman, playing well for the 'artist' so they can be the best they can be on stage... meaning not worrying about the guitar picker. I feel good about offering that to the different artists I worked for / with. But now, after all those dedicated years, I need to dedicate to ME. Try to convince folks who I think I am - how good I think I am. THAT is the hard part. Well some of it anyway.
Which brings me to my soliloquy. I want to try and share what my life as a musician means to me. How being an artist, performer, composer, producer, recording and touring for MY musical efforts, and who and how good I think I am. Or not. Yeah, that.
It takes courage to step in front of anyone and sing a song, play an instrument, share words / lyrics, etc. In a sense, you're asking for affirmation, something to make your courageous effort not feel so... naked - if you will. Before I moved to Nashville to be a full-time musician, I played for smaller audiences for the most part. Yes, there were a few bigger events, but they were the exception, and nothing being played was my original material. And, my bandmates: family and friends - were onstage also dealing with the same emotions and we handled it as a team... I guess I was the 'captain' but only in spirit, and age. That is different than what I do now.
In a 'leap of faith' in 2010, Judy and I decided that my being a sideman was unhealthy. Physically too, and maybe more importantly. But as a would-be artist, it was stopping my growth and hindering what was meant to be, really. What was / is meant to be - what IS that?
Do I have what it takes to do the thing that the artists I've been a sideman for did / do and have done for years / decades? I have desire. I have original musical ideas. I have stories to tell, guitar techniques to share, develop and share. I want to do what others do, but in my voice, my words, my music. My recordings. Now what?
We ‘set sail’ at the end of March 2010 for whatever destination would come our way. My way - musically and career-wise. I had one gig on the calendar in 2010. One. It was as a vocal instructor at a week-long music camp in TN. I was looking forward to that. Well, the crash of 2008 hit the music business at the end of 2009 and 2010... so the music camp felt it in the number of students who didn't sign-up for the week. My class was cancelled and so, there went my ONE gig for the foreseeable future. Judy decided to help me, so she started calling folks and trying to book gigs for me as a solo. I actually told her "good luck honey, no one knows me as an artist, and you'll probably get a bunch of 'no thanks'... sounds positive, eh?". Well the first call, she booked me a gig. And she kept doing that, until the rest of 2010 had a good number of gigs and I felt I could breathe! 2011 was even better calendar-wise. NOW I had to bring it. Solo. Uno mano. Me. Reality and self check in the mirror, then opportunity.
Opportunity. Opportunities. Bring it or go home. I started working on my songs, writing new material (wrote 5 in one day), started imagining what my performance would be like, what it needed to be. I'll be honest - initially, it was 'panic city'. I had a few songs I had recorded solo and had some good comments and feedback for those. So, I felt like I could at least work on it, improve on number of songs, and start finding money for a new recording. Recording a solo CD. Well, that took a while, a couple years. Hard to get folks to hire you without a recording. But there were those who did, and I am so thankful for that. I'm still working to do this... I feel like "I am more like I am now than I was a while ago". And so it goes.
Let me back up for a moment. Our wonderful daughter and son grew up and became independent / moved out before all this going out on my own decision was made. I admit, I was a bad 'empty nester'... I knew I had to let go at some point, but I held on tight. Wasn't good for them to fledge and to have a dad hanging on. I've apologized for all that, but it was what is was. That said, my career change also was not as hard to do because Judy and I were just us. No family to provide for, etc.
I continue to make efforts to be a successful musician, singer, artist, songwriter, producer of my own music, but to assist others in theirs as well. I work (record, tour) mostly as a solo performer, but I've recorded and produced others' CDs, and have done some short tours with a few efforts (Jim Hurst Trio, Claire Lynch Band) etc. and I am having fun. Diverse is key.
Diversity. So now, I am really working on my career in different ways. Keeping the calendar full is a challenge for anyone doing this. If you are a superstar - the challenge is when to book time off for yourself to go on vacation, etc. I wouldn't know much about that. However, I do book off important family dates and events so I don't miss out anymore. That only works if I know about the date early on, I sometimes miss things that come up without much lead time.
Inspiration. It comes when it does. A lyric, a melody, a groove, a guitar riff, banjo roll, mandolin melody, bass line… and it hits me sometimes in the middle of the night (as it was for my Open Window tune 'Alarm Clock'), or being tired facing a long drive home in a foggy rain (my JHT-1 tune 'Keep Me Awake'), or my song for my mother (JHT-1 song 'This Waltz Is For You') co written with Keith Little and Dawn Kenney. But I can't tell you how many melodies and lyrics I failed to capture that are now in the wind somewhere... wow. Case in point: I just recently had a great 2 weeks in Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Germany, and arrived home for 1 1/2 days before heading to Canada for two weeks. I slept in my bed for one night, and as I woke up - still snug and not wanting to arise yet, A cool guitar tune started finding me, and I was digging the possibilities - but my lazy backside didn't want to get up to grab my guitar and my recorder. AAARRRGGGHHH! Gone. Well, not entirely, I did kinda recall this thing and I'm working on it... thankfully!
One last thought. I intend to be a musician until somehow or another I can't. Maybe God puts an end to my playing, my ability to think, or brings me home. Either way, I feel very blessed to have my guitar as my oldest friend, which introduced me to many, many of my other best friends, and I desire to keep on keeping on.
Road Scholar? I think so. (Recorded on my solo CD Looking Glass). Maybe not so much as so many others including the guy I heard the song from first, Lee Roy Parnell, who co-wrote it with a couple others. Maybe not ever as much as folks like Merle Haggard, or Jerry Reed, or James Taylor... but in my own courses... I am that. I am a road scholar. And with all the ups and downs, in and outs, and everything in between, I'm good with that. I cherish it.
By Jim Hurst 2019 – All Rights Reserved