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Jim Wood and Ben Ayers, in Flat Creek, TN. Photo by Dr. Bradley HansonMaster fiddler and guitarist Jim Wood has spent a lifetime accompanying traditional old time, bluegrass and contest fiddlers throughout the Southeast, and is today renowned for his innovations in the regional style. He states, “My father, Jimmy Wood, was one of the most respected fiddle accompanists east of the Mississippi River. Between the two of us, we have accompanied practically every fiddle champion from the region.” Wood has won 15 state fiddling championships and holds the all-time record for winning the Tennessee State Championship five times. A consummate traditional musician, he has won over 160 contests on fiddle, mandolin and guitar. While adept on multiple instruments, he chose to teach back-up guitar because of the dearth of qualified accompanists at most regional contests and musical gatherings today. His Apprentice, Ben Ayers, was born and raised in Winchester, TN, and has performed and studied music since the age of eight. Under previous instruction of Josh Philpott and Wood, Ben learned music theory and fell in love with traditional music. In 2011 he received a scholarship to study jazz at Middle Tennessee State University and graduated in 2014 with a major in Recording Industry Management and minor in music.

Interview:

Jim Wood, fiddler and guitarist

Describe the traditional art you are teaching?

I am teaching guitar and tenor guitar accompaniment for old-time and contest-style fiddle music indigenous to the Middle Tennessee, Northern Alabama, and Central Kentucky.

How did you learn this skill? Who taught you? How long have you been practicing it?

I learned the essential elements of these styles by attending jam sessions, dances, and fiddler’s conventions in the Southeast region beginning in 1974. Also, my father, Jimmy Wood, was one of the most respected fiddle accompanists east of the Mississippi River. Between the two of us, we accompanied practically every fiddle champion from the region. At some point during my evolution, I began to develop new approaches to these styles, and my innovations became woven into the fabric of the regional style. I should mention also that I have won fifteen state championships (including holding the all-time record for the Tennessee State Championship at five times), and in my contest career I won over 160 contests on fiddle, mandolin, and guitar.

Why do you believe that it is important to preserve and pass down this art form?

These styles of guitar and tenor guitar accompaniment are sophisticated and represent the state of the art in traditional fiddle music, and as such, they are not easy to learn without instruction. Fiddlers who play these regional styles and their accompanists have a symbiotic relationship where one must have the other in order to perform the music at their highest level. As time has passed, the number of experienced, skilled guitarists and tenor guitarists has steadily diminished to the point where there is practically a dearth of qualified accompanists at most regional contests and other musical gatherings.

What is the importance or role of this art form in your community? Where do you share your art form with others?

These styles of guitar and tenor guitar accompaniment are sophisticated and represent the state of the art in traditional fiddle music, and as such, they are not easy to learn without instruction. Fiddlers who play these regional styles and their accompanists have a symbiotic relationship where one must have the other in order to perform the music at their highest level. As time has passed, the number of experienced, skilled guitarists and tenor guitarists has steadily diminished to the point where there is practically a dearth of qualified accompanists at most regional contests and other musical gatherings.

Have you taught before?

I have taught thirty-five students who have either won national or state championships on either fiddle, guitar, mandolin, or band competitions. I have taught over 1000 private students since 1980.

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