Artworks 2007

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 apprenticeship program.
    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.

Bobby Taylor
November 2, 2007