Interview with Jake Krack

By Gaili Schoen

At the age of seventeen, Jake Krack is a seasoned performer and recording artist. He began fiddling at the age of six years, focusing his passion on old-time Appalachian music and ahs studied 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.

G: I read on your website that you started off with classical violin lessons. What brought you to old-time music?

J: Well my dad was trying to teach himself to play when I was about 4 years old. And I was at the age where I wanted to imitate everything my parents were doing. So dad cut me out the shape of a cardboard fiddle and I so-called played on that until I was 6. And when I was 6, dad found a man who wanted to trade a fiddle for something. And dad carved limestone. So dad carved him a limestone birdbath with a fiddle in the middle of it and traded that for my first fiddle.

G: Were your arms long enough to play it?

J: Yes it was a quarter size. So we found a teacher who taught classical at first, it was Suzuki, you now.

G: Suzuki can be kind of rigorous, how did you feel about it.

J: At first we all thought it was a big mistake. But now that we look back at it, That gave me everything I needed for when I started with the old masters here.

G: You live in West Virginia?

J: Yes, we have been living here for about 3 years, and before that we lived in Indiana. In Indiana I found an old-time teacher named Brad Leftwich, and heís the one who introduced me to the West Virginia Music and he gave me a tape of Melvin Wine, who lives here in West Virginia, and I started learning Melvin Wine tunes. So Brad kept saying, if you could go to one festival, go to Clifftop, in West Virginia, Ďcause Melvin would be there. So we went down there to Clifftop, to the Appalachian String Band Festival . We played a little bit and met some people and the whole time we were waiting for Melvin. Brad had given me a picture of Melvin and Mike Seeger and my goal was to get an autograph of Melvin. So Melvin came and we talked to hi a little bit and told him Iíd played the fiddle, and he asked, ďWell, do you know any of my songs?Ē And at that time I think I knew two, so I played those two tunes. And Melvin got me up to play at a workshop he was playing at that year and he invited me to his house, which was about 480miles from my house in Indiana, and we didnít think we could swing it. Melvin was 85 at the time. So we went on and brad taught me some more of Melvin tunes and some other fiddle tunes, and the next year Clifftop comes around and we go down and thereís Melvin again. Well Melvin again asked dad when he was going to bring me to his house. And it was the second time asking us and we thought weíd better do it before he gets too old Melvin was 86 at the time and is now 93. So we went down to Melvinís in September, Clifftop was in August. And then I got a scholarship to the August Heritage Center in West Virginia to take a week-long workshop from Brad and Melvin. So we were in West Virginia again for a week in October and had a wonderful time. And we came back, and after a little we called to so see how he was doing and he said, ďIím glad you guys called, Iím getting married and I want you to be here!Ē So we go back down to Melvinís house for the wedding in November, and we got to coming here quite often and we got to enjoying it so much. Then I got a $5,000 grant to come down to West Virginia for a year from the Indiana Arts Commission. And so we came down here about once a month for a year and I was studying under Melvin and I was going to festivals and everything.

G: Wow, your parents were driving you down? They sound like good people.

J: Well, my mom and dad say that if it were hip hop music or something, you probably wouldnít see them at every festival with me, but we all happen to enjoy it, so we all take part and do it together.

G: Why do you think you never picked up the electric guitar instead? What is it that you love about old-time music?

J: Well, everything! I like the sound of it, and I love playing it, and itís just the people you meet when youíre doing it that make it fu.

G: Yeah, definitely. So do you play every day?

J: Yes, about an a hour a day. For a while I was practicing more like an hour and a half, but since I got into my sophomore year in high school, it got harder and harder to practice an hour and a half and finish my homework, so I had to cut it back.

G: When youíre practicing, do you play by yourself or with someone else whe youíre practicing?

J: Well you know when I started out with Brad, he said, ďYou know you really need someone on guitar to practice with to keep the beat for you so you can get your rhythm down.Ē So mom was the most viable candidate, so we all worked on mom, and she started to learn the guitar, and now she practices with me every night.

G: Wow, you have very devoted parents!

J: And over the years Dad got interested in making and repairing fiddles. HE went to the Indiana University School of Music to learn how to make and repair fiddles from Tom Sparks.

G: Wow, so youíve had a big effect on your family!

J: Well, we affect each other. Dad has made the two fiddles I play. The first two fiddles he made I play, and theyíre professional sounding fiddles. And weíve got a mobile fiddles shop. We put the fiddleshop in a trailer and we take it to festivals and things. So I sit there and play fiddles for 14, 15, 16 hours a day, and as Iím doing that, dad is fixing fiddles and selling them. We go to festivals all over West Virginia a few in North Carolina and Virginia also.

G: Are you going to be playing some festivals this summer?

J: Iíll be at MT. Airy in North Carolina the first week in June. Mid-June Iím going to the Glenville State Folk Festival in West Virginia, and the Ripley Arts and Crafts festival at the end of June and the beginning of July in Ripley, West Virginia. IN August Iím going to Clifftop West Virginia fro the Appalachian String Band Festival and Iíll be there for a week, and the second week in August Iím going to the Galax Old-Time Fiddlers Convention in Galax, Virginia.

G: Youíve made some CDs havenít you?

J: Yes, Iíve just finished my sixth CD; itís called Hope Iíll Join the Band.

G: Wow, that must be some kind of record 6 CDs by the age 17. How old were you when you made your first one?

J: I was 11, but donít let the age fool you. Dad says the music was just as good and just as hard driving on the first one as it is now.

G: You know I loved your website. It has photos of you growing up with your fiddle, and some great photos from festivals, and it has samples from your CDs. Is your best place to find your CDs?

J: Yes, and you can find all of the dates for the festivals I mentioned also.

G: Ok, I canít help myself from asking you, what are your plans for the future? Are you going to start touring, or go to college? Whatís your plan?
J: My plan is to go to college. I donít really want to be on the road all the time. If youíre not playing, youíre on the way to playing somewhere. To me that doesnít look fun. Donít get me wrong, I love playing. But Iíd rather jam and keep it for fun. So Iím gonna go to college and get a degree in some science like chemistry or something.

G: Wow! Chemistry, thatís quit a departure.

J: Yes, itís quite a bit different than playing the fiddle.

G: Wow! Chemisty, thatís quite a departure.

J: Yes, Iíve thought that I could take some folklore classes, and Iíd probably learn a lot, but theyíd maybe have some chapter about old-time music and Iíd be sitting there gritting my teeth, so I donít even want to do it.

G: Do you still take fiddle lessons?

J: Well Iíve told you about my first two mentors, Brad and Melvin. Melvin is 93 now.

G: Thatís great, heís still alive!

J: Yes. My next mentor was 80 year old Lester McCumbers. And he lives just right up the road from us now. And my latest one is Bobby Taylor, and heís in his 40s, and he lives in St. Albans, West Virginia. Theyíve all helped me a lot, and Iíve studied under all of them for years.

G: Well, here in Los Angeles if you want to learn to play old-time music you have to look long and hard to find other musicians to play with. It sounds like in West Virginia, people are playing it all over.

J: Oh yeah. Itís all over. You know sometimes Iíve been criticized for playing just like my mentors, but that was the point. To learn to play just like them, to keep the tradition alive and to someday pass it on. At the same time Iím blending these different styles into my own. Thatís one of the many areas Bobby has helped me with.

G: Well yes, in many ways weíre all just the sum total of all the influences in our lives.

J: Yes. And Iíve studied with each of these guys for years, and I donít stop seeing them. We have friendships, we know each others families. You donít just learn old-time fiddle music from them, but you learn about the hardships in their lives, and the good times. And just about every tune that you learn from them, thereís a story that goes along with it. Thereís a memory from when they learned it, and what was going on at that time.

G: Well, I think itís really exciting that youíre carrying on the tradition. We need more people of your generation getting involved.
J: Well there arenít many.

G: Go tell your friends to start practicing!

J: Well my friends all know what I do. When we were younger they didnít quite understand what it was. In Indiana it was a big deal. But here, everyone says, ďWell, my uncle and my dad and my grandfather all playĒ so itís no big thing. And I like that, I donít want anyone making a big fuss about my playing fiddle. My friends all say, ďJake, we love music, and weíll go out and buy your CDs, but nobody elseís. We like it as long as youíre playing it.Ē And theyíre all starting to understand my ties to this music. Theyíve pretty much stopped asking me why I donít play sports.