Jake Krack: 17 of 22
By: Jeff Pierson
Jake Krack has been playing the fiddle for most of his life.
He began fiddling at the age of six, under some of the most respected master
fiddlers of the Appalachian region such as Melvin Wine, Brad Leftwich, Joe
Thompson, Wilson Douglas and Lester McCumbers. He recently completed an
apprenticeship and continues to study with renowned West Virginia fiddler Bobby
Taylor through the Augusta Heritage Center of Davis & Elkins College
At age 22 Jake’s list of accomplishments reads as if he has
been playing for 40 years. In 2002 Jake took first place in the under 60 fiddle
contest at the Vandalia Gathering held in Charleston, West Virginia. In 2001,
for the second year in a row, Jake placed second in the same category at the
Gathering. In May 2001, Jake received the “Performing Artist of the Year” from Tamrack, The best of West Virginia. In August 2000 Jake performed on Public
Radio International’s “Mountain Stage.” In March 2000 he gave a 60-minute
concert performance on the Millenium Stage at the John F. Kennedy Center for the
Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. representing West Virginia for the State
Days Series. In 1999 he was profiled by CNN on the television show “CNN & Time”
and was featured in an article for the New York Times as well as the subject of
several local news stories. In 1998 he appeared on National Public Radio’s “A
Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor” as a finalist in the Talent from
Towns Under Two Thousand Contest.
I sat with Jake at the 2007 Appalachian
String Band Festival to talk with him about his beginning inspirations and the
future of his music in West Virginia.
Jeff Pierson: When did you first realize you wanted to play music?
Jake Krack: Between the ages of four and six, I was interested in anything my
parents were doing at the time. Dad happened to be teaching himself how to play
the fiddle. So when I was four he made me a cutout of a fiddle from a cardboard
box, and I pretended to play it. Dad taught me my first tune, Ida Red. At age
six I started taking beginning violin lessons while Mom and Dad searched for a
fiddle teacher. When I was nine, we found a fiddler by the name of Brad Letwich.
When Brad introduced me to the music of Melvin Wine and Lester McCumbers, I
realized a special connection to old-time fiddle tunes and the men who played
it. I was very fortunate to have these men take an interest in me and help me
along the way.
JP: What drew you towards old-time music?
JK: My family was interested in, and enjoyed , fiddle music of all sorts.
Through connecting with Brad and his introduction to the old-time mountain
music, I knew old-time fiddle was what I wanted to learn. As I got older and met
the likes Melvin Wine, Lester McCumber, Bobby Taylor, Wilson Douglas, Glen Smith
(all West Virginia master fiddlers), and we became friends, it became obvious to
me that this was the music and these were the people I wanted to get to know. As
a result I apprenticed for nine years with Melvin, and Lester, and around seven
years with Bobby. This older music has always seemed to strike a chord in my
heart and soul.
JP: What is different about WV Old-Time music?
JK: I learned early on that the old fiddlers in West Virginia seemed to have
their own unique sound. This was a great treasure that West Virginia was able to
share. The different bowing styles, different tunings, and different versions of
the same tune varied greatly between the older fiddler. The haunting tunes they
played, learned from fiddler so long ago, seemed to have their own signature.
They learned many of their tunes within their own “Hollers” which kept the music
somewhat is isolated. This was before radio and four-lane highways influenced
their music. This was the mountain culture. It is this connection to the past
that, in turn, connects with my heart and soul. My first fiddle teacher, Brad,
instilled in me the importance of getting to know these men and their families
before they were all gone. And now most are gone I want to pass on to others who
these men were so it doesn’t get lost. They are too valuable to forget. Many of
these fiddlers were fourth and fifth generation players. For example Bobby
Taylor is a fifth generation fiddler, and his father Lincoln Taylor is a fourth
generation fiddler. I was fortunate to have some time to know Lincoln before his
passing two years ago at age 94. Lincoln played the opening, and title tune, on
my CD Hope I’ll Join the Band.
JP: How do you approach a recording vs. live performance?
JK: Preparing for a recording and alive performance are very similar. First, I
have to decide on the tunes to be recorded or performed live. Then the tunes
have to be practiced wit the other musicians who will accompany me on the
particular project. The main difference is when I record I have to set up a
recording studio, design the CD cover art and liner notes, arrange for the
manufacturing of the CDs, and set up promotion for the CD such as my web page or
CD release parties and the like. When I perform live, the promoter usually
handles all the promotion and sound system requirements. Live performing is less
work. I really enjoy the interaction between the other musicians in both cases.
But with live performances, I have the additional benefit of receiving the
immediate reaction of the audience and the opportunity to interact with the
audience. In either venue, I always want to excite or inspire the listener.
“Over the years I have had the pleasure of having many young fiddle students in
various workshops, but Jake Krack is the only apprentice I have had in which to
pass on all my styles of fiddling. Until Jake, I thought I would take to my
grave all the techniques I had picked up from the legendary fiddler such as
Clark Kessinger, Mike Humphreys, Ed Haley and countless other fiddlers. These
are technical styles, and just recently, young students are mastering these
styles and carrying them on to future generations. I can not fully express how
very proud I am of Jake, for all his accomplishments. Now graduated from Berea
College, many CD projects completed, winning most all regional fiddle contest,
and currently teaching fiddle, he is truly a West Virginia state treasure. He
holds in his hands more than 100 years of West Virginia traditional fiddle
styles, and it’s wonderful to see him passing these on to his students. He has
accomplished a lifetime of achievements, and is still under the age of 25. He
started teaching in June and has more than 30 students, which is a great
statement for the respect he has earned for his ability. He constantly is
getting better, the sky seems to be the limit for his future success. I know I,
along with all Jake’s other teachers, rest more easily these days knowing our
legacy Jake has already established for himself through is personal style.
November 2, 2007