Raised in the coalfields of western Virginia, Jim Lloyd now makes his home in Rural Retreat, Va., where he operates Lloyd’s Barber Shop, a local gathering spot for collecting and trading tunes, stories, and songs. His musical roots extend back through at least four generations of fiddlers, guitar players, dancers, and singers from the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. Jim is known especially for his skills on guitar and banjo. Through the influences of his extended family and fortunate upbringing in the Heart of Traditional Mountain Music, Jim has “old bones” with a knowledge and appreciation for the “old ways” well beyond his years.
In his youth Jim was recognized for his great talent and was part of a 300 person troupe that were contracted to perform in the Marti Gras (Carnaval) in Nice, France in the mid 1990’s. Then he went professional and was the guitarist for The Konnarock Critters.
A 1999 article in volume 6, number 8 of “The Old-Time Herald”, Tommy Bedsoe tells it like this:
“The core of Konnarock Critters band is the brother-sister fiddle and banjo duo Brian and Debbie Grimm, fourth generation musicians who grew up in Konnarock, a small community in southwestern Virginia. Their music is rooted in the tradition of great old-time dance bands. The guitar player, Jim Lloyd of Rural Retreat, VA, is likewise steeped in musical tradition and storytelling. They are young’uns, but old at heart, and they are carrying on the best the old folks have handed them. Al Firth, who plays bass, is relatively new to the band but he is no newcomer to bluegrass and old-time music. It does not get much more traditional than this.
I had just heard the Critters play at the Carter Fold, in Mace’s Springs, Virginia, a venue known for both its for great old-time and bluegrass music performances and its homey, low-tech approach to presenting music and dance. The Critters gave the Fold crowd of 400-plus just what they wanted: shoe-leather burning dance tunes and a warm family show. Clearly, the Critters were at home with this audience of die-hard old-time music fans.
Now, Back to the Future.
The performance by the Critters at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (VPI) was a horse of a different color. It was the second of a three-part series called “The On-Line Front Porch,” brain-child of Matthew Saunders (http://www.dogstar.org/porch/porch.html), a graduate student in VPI’s Theater Arts department. The project was a collaboration of the VPI School of the Arts, VPI Appalachian Studies, Clinch Valley College in Wise, Virginia and the William King Regional Arts Center in Abingdon, Virginia.
In the summer of 1996, Matthew worked as production coordinator for “Living Traditions,” a series of film showings, concerts, and workshops sponsored by the William King Regional Arts Center. The “On-Line Front Porch” idea developed in consort with Polly King Ewell, director of “Living Traditions,” and Critter Jim Lloyd, then music director for the series. Together, they imagined linking Appalachian performers with audiences on the Web in an interactive setting. I suspect that what happened, too, was that Matthew Saunders and his co-conspirators in the “On-Line Front Porch” project could not help but envision the “next wave” of public performance.”
To read the entire article, you can view it at:
Jim was not only a consummate musician spreading old time music with his guitar but also a radio DJ on WBRF radio at Galax and hosted a live band show called “Blue Ridge Backroads” for a year. He then moved to The William King Arts Center and hosted an NPR show “Living Traditions” for 3 years on 50 stations across the nation. It was through Jim’s show, “Living Traditions”, that he worked with Matthew Saunders and Polly King Ewell and became one of the first musicians to perform on the internet.
He is truly an old soul in a younger body and has been teaching the traditional music methods for years. He has won prizes in both guitar and banjo competitions at notable fiddler’s conventions such as Galax and Fiddler’s Grove. He shares his heritage not only by performing, but also as a teacher to many local students ranging from ages 6 to 70. He has taken his knowledge and talents to music camps such as the Augusta Heritage Festival, the Swannanoa Gathering, and Camp Holiday Lake. He has held workshops in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Tennessee, Minnesota, and England. One of Jim’s big influences was Uncle Dave Macon. The background photo (and the one below) is of Jim joking around mimicking one of Uncle Dave’s posters. The amazing thing is that in the foreground picture, he is holding Uncle Dave Macon’s banjo that he was privileged to play.
You can join in and play music in Jim’s annual Black Friday Jam at the Barbershop. Usually the shop will be full of musicians (I’ve been there when there were 35) and listen to or join in and play so many of the old time music that the region created many years ago. It is hard to find a tune Jim doesn’t know and during the jam it is almost impossible to “stump the band” as someone will know it and pick it out to the others. In no time these professionals will be playing and improvising the music in a toe tappin’ manner. This is not the only time you will hear music in the barber shop as friends are stopping by daily and picking out a tune or getting an instrument repaired or trying out one that Jim has for sale. If you play, stop by with your instrument and pick a tune with Jim and the other pickers that are always in the shop.
Jim is an excellent instrumentalist whose work has been documented by the Smithsonian Institute as representative of Southwest Virginia mountain music and story-telling. While accomplished on many instruments, he is known especially for his skills on guitar (finger picking style) and banjo (claw hammer and two-finger styles) . Jim shares his heritage not only by performing, but as a teacher to many local students ranging from ages 6 to 70 on basically anything with strings, particularly guitar, banjo, mandolin, and fiddle. Jim has performed at many regional shows as well as West Virginia’s Mountain Stage, Seedtime on the Cumberland (Appalshop), Birthplace of Country Music Alliance and the Minnesota Old-Time and Bluegrass Festival, just to name a few. Jim has two solo recording projects but can be found on numerous recordings by other fellow musicians. Jim currently is a member of the The Elkville String Band but also plays regularly with Mountain Fling, which plays parlor music often associated with the Carter Family and other early mid-20th century artists. He regularly backs up his friend, Carl Johnson at the IBMA and other locations. He also performs solo and with makeup bands consisting of former students and friends. Whether he is solo or with a band, attending one of Jim’s performances is a real treat has he shares the music and stories that he has collected from life in the mountains. Jim is being nominated for a National Heritage Fellowship Award for his contributions to the preservation of the music and stories of Appalachia.
The article below was written in 2008 about Jim and I think it gives a window into Jim’s background and the philosophy of the music he loves:
By Bryce Little
Jim Lloyd warms up the crowd at Elon.
September 18, 2008
The crowd tapped its feet and sang along with folk musician and storyteller Jim Lloyd Tuesday night in Whitley Auditorium. Lloyd, a Virginia native, captivated the audience with his banjo licks and classic mountain folk tales.
“While my friends were listening to the Rolling Stones, I was listening to a phonograph,” Lloyd said.
He’s been playing Appalachian folk music since he was five and has been in love with it ever since, he said.
His eclectic mix of mountain folklore and bluegrass music embraces an oral tradition and doesn’t focus on the modern technology of music today.
Performing across the South, Lloyd has been featured four times in “Song of the Mountains,” a blue grass concert and television series on PBS.
He has also performed at Dollywood and West Virginia Mountain Stage. Lloyd said he can play as many as five shows a week during the month of August and that they have ranged anywhere from folk music festivals to Bar mitzvahs.
Lloyd alternated his music, such as his favorites gospel song, “I am a Pilgrim,” with his stories.
He told the audience about memorable experiences in his life; from pranks he played as a teenager growing up in the coalfields of southwest Virginia.
One particular story highlights his favorite quote: “Its all right to be weird. It’s weird to want to be weird.”
It was about a confrontation he had with a William Wallace look-alike at the Highland Games in Grandfather Mountain, N.C., he said.
Jumping between two banjos, a guitar and a fiddle, Lloyd performed other folk tunes, including “Opening Pearly Gates” and “The Wreck of the Old 97.”
When Lloyd is not out on the road playing shows, he runs a barbershop in Rural Retreat, V.A.
But even when Lloyd is at work he cannot escape his musical roots: music is played every day in his shop.
“I like to be the same on stage as I am off,” Lloyd said. “I don’t want a stage persona.”
Another of his projects was setting up the stage and directing the first season at the Draper Mercantile as they restored the old store building and opened to present the Appalachian Culture to western Virginia. He asked his good friends, Herb Keys and Wayne Henderson to join him on the first performance at “The Merc”. Here is a video of that performance.
Now for a look through some of the archives of Jim Lloyd’s activities that are preserved on the internet, click on the titles below: