Picker’s Paradise is a haven for all things acoustic, and soon the musical emporium will host one of Americana’s most accomplished and revered guitarists. From bluegrass to blues to folk, Jim Hurst is a master of all things Americana, which he translates through his acoustic guitar. Pulling from muses ranging from Jerry Reed to Merle Travis, Hurst has made a name for himself as a session musician for musical acts such as Sara Evans, Trisha Yearwood and Clare Lynch & the Back Porch String Band. The seasoned musician will be stopping by Picker’s Paradise to share both music and knowledge, and he was gracious enough to give Lagniappe a preview of what to expect.
SC: Americana is such a broad term these days. What do you think about how the Americana label is used in modern times?
JH: Honestly, I wish it were a better received term, because I think it serves a purpose. I think boxes are made for merchandise, so I understand the resistance to acceptance of the term Americana. There used to be a radio station in Georgia near Dahlonega that was a really good station for Americana. There have been several stations that include that term in their description, and a lot of artists do as well. I have done it over the years, and I go back and forth about it. I think it’s different than folk and different than country or bluegrass and different than singer-songwriter. I think it serves its purpose, but if we could just put everything under one name and let the artist’s name separate everything. People are used to boxes and divisions. When they go to the music store to find a country album, then that’s what they’re looking for. They’re not looking for blues or folk. They’re looking for country. I get it. I think for folks like you who have a lot of CD’s available and different kinds of records available for your playlists, I don’t know if you separate things like that. I’ve been to some stations where they sort it by artist name. I guess it’s just whatever works for you. It’s really a benign thing to me, but some folks don’t accept it well.
SC: I was introduced to the flat-picking style of playing guitar several years ago. What was it about flat-picking that appealed so much to you?
JH: First of all, I grew up in a household where my dad and older brother played. They both used a flat pick. Back then, they didn’t really call it flat-picking. They just called it playing the guitar. That shows my age, but age is a good thing. It’s better than the alternative. When I sat and watched my dad play, he played similarly to Mother Maybelle Carter of The Carter Family and Doc Watson and Norman Blake. He had that rhythm that was a natural thing for a guitar player from the Appalachians. I picked it up early on from watching my dad and brother using a pick and other people who would come over to play with my dad. That’s how they did it. Then, I started to get interested in Merle Travis and Doc Watson playing finger style. So, a friend of my dad brought over a thumb-pick, and I started playing finger style.
The term “flat-picking” kind of came after folks like Dan Crary. He took a flat pick and made it a little more complex. His approach to melodic lines and cross-pick kind of things not only as filler. He also used it as a different way to play melody lines. When you use the term “flat-picker” these days, it’s more associated with the bluegrass guitar player who plays with a flat-pick, and it’s not just rhythm or a Carter style, where you’re playing a melody while you’re playing rhythm alongside of it. In the case of Dan Crary and some after them, they used that as the solo effort, and it’s only what you’re playing as opposed to the rhythm. It’s the same tool, because you’re using a flat pick, but I think the terminology was used separately at different times. Jeremy Martin used a flat pick, but he started with a thumb pick. When he played with a flat pick, he played rhythm and never took a solo, but he they stilled called him a flat-picker.
SC: Your new album is called “Looking Glass.” You do solo guitar and voice on it. For someone who is such as session musician, what’s it like to go into the studio and work on your own stuff?
JH: It’s really freeing. It doesn’t pay the same. I have to pay myself. It’s like being a plumber. Most plumbers don’t pay themselves. They pay their bills and give the rest of the money to their wife. When they work on their own plumbing, they don’t get paid for that. When I work on my own project, there are great things with that. There’s also a lot of responsibility. Of course, I’m the one that has to pay all the bills, because it’s my effort. I don’t have a label contract or anything. When I go into the studio, I have to pay for the studio time and pay the engineer and pay the mastering and to get it replicated and the artwork. A lot of it, I can do myself. When I do session work, I do what the producer asks me to do. The producer will hire me, because he or she likes what I do on the guitar. They know what to expect when they hire me to come in. When they hire me, particularly, they’re usually looking for a certain style that I happen to possess. I try to do that the best I can without fitting what they’re asking for. When I do my own recording, I’m the producer, and I’m the one choosing the material. I know who I want to play with, if I play with anyone.
SC: You’ll also be doing a guitar clinic at Picker’s Paradise. What will that be like?
JH: That’s a good question, Stephen. Every clinic seems to be its own kind of thing. What I mean by that is that one clinic might be more bluegrass oriented and the next one might be across the board from bluegrass to blues to folk to jazz. The next one might be more finger style compared to flat-pick. I try to give basic information, but I tailor it to who’s there. If all the people there are thumb pickers, I don’t pull my flat pick out. If it’s a mixture of flat-pick and thumb pick, then I try to give everybody something. If it’s more bluegrass, then I stay with bluegrass. If it’s more of a finger style, country thing I stay in there. Depending on who comes to the workshop, I will do my best to give enough information to folks. I like to give people enough information, so they will be a better player afterwards. They’re not going to realize that today, tomorrow or next week. The things I share are things that I use in my own musical growth and things I’ve learned at other musical camps. I try to make people better fishermen, as opposed to giving them another fish. If I give people that they can work on their own playability, then they can structure that to a point that they can grow with the fun of it.
Date: Thursday, Feb. 26 at 8:30 p.m. (workshop at 6 p.m.)
Venue: Picker’s Paradise, 35056 State Highway 59 in Stapleton,
Tickets: $10 at the door/$50 for workshop