Jake Eddy is among a new generation of bluegrass musicians who are making a name for themselves on social media. Jake’s videos on Instagram and other platforms garner thousands of likes and even more views thanks to his technical skill, wit, and charisma. But Jake is not a mere internet sensation. His bluegrass roots run deep through his family in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where he grew up playing with local traditional music legends. While touring with the Becky Buller Band, he made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry stage, which led to Jake and his brother Carter accompanying bluegrass/jazz/klezmer mandolin legend Andy Statman on the Opry. Jake stays busy with a full teaching schedule in addition to his time on the road with Andy, his own band, or as a solo act. BGS caught up with Jake to learn more about his early interest in bluegrass, his experiences in music school, and his upcoming Yamaha custom guitar.
How did you get into playing music?
Eddy: My grandpa was a picker, and my mom played, and I had two cousins that fiddled on the Opry back in the ‘70s on my dad’s side. So it was just kind of the usual thing for bluegrass people from my region. I was just surrounded by pickers and wanted to be one.
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When did you start on the guitar?
Banjo was really my very first when I was a kid. I started working on guitar simultaneously. Because of the technique, or maybe the lack of technique, being taught by old-timers around here, playing the banjo became uncomfortable and a little bit painful, and I could feel like it just wasn’t the best fit for me in the long term. I still do play banjo on some sessions and stuff like that, but as far as touring, playing banjo, it’s not in the cards for me. I prefer to play guitar anyway, so it’s okay.
When did you decide to make a career out of music? Or did it just sort of happen?
Yeah, it was pretty natural. I did the family band thing a little bit when I was real young. And then I got a call to go play banjo for Melvin Goins when I was in middle school. That experience was awesome, like going to bluegrass school. It was really crazy and had some great and terrible things both going on. But it was really cool because my parents let me go on the road under the condition that I would bring an adult with me at all times. They had played music so they were hip to what it can be like on the road. The deal ended up being that my grandpa would chaperone me on the road. So he came with me, and on the first show, Melvin had this blowout with the bass player, and the bass player quit. And I tell Melvin, like, “Hey, my grandpa is a bass player.” And he filled in on one show with us and got offered the gig. So we actually were both in the band for two years together. It’s a great memory, and it grew me up really fast, but it was cool.
That’s a great story. It’s hard to explain to other people what that experience is like as a kid. All the good and bad and how much you learn.
You can imagine. You know, those old-timers. It’s a different lifestyle.
How long did you play with Melvin?
I think it was two years. I think I got hired when I was 14. I think I was in 7th or 8th grade and probably quit when I was in the 10th grade or something like that.
Did you end up going to music school?
Yeah, I did music school for a little bit, and I was a horrible student. The usual, playing a bunch and giggling a bunch, but not going to class a whole lot, and just decided that it seems silly to me that a lot of the really great players I knew at music school were not doing very well at school. And a lot of the so-so players were passing with flying colors. So it just started to seem silly.
It’s definitely funny to go to school to theoretically get a job that you already have.
Yeah, man, that was the thing. They would get on me about attendance, and I would be like, I’m playing gigs. And I get it that you can’t bend the rules but I figured it wasn’t a fit for me.
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Where were you going?
I was going to Ohio University in Athens. It’s this little, cool, artsy, open-minded kind of bubble in Ohio. And OU Music School, in my eyes, was a place for a lot of your local music educator-type people, but it also had this population of disgraced jazz players from CCM, which is a bigger school in Cincinnati. So there were some good players floating around, but just a weird scene.
Were you studying jazz then?
Technically the degree was Guitar Performance, maybe? Or guitar something. But yeah, I was in the jazz track, so all my ensembles and all my instructors were jazz players, and I had played that music a bit before. I learned things in music school, but if given the opportunity again, I don’t know if I would have gone that way.
You’re playing with Andy Statman now, right?
Yeah, a bunch. Man, it’s cool. I assume you’re hip to Andy’s playing because, like, all the mandolin nerds love him. He’s the coolest. I hired him to cut a couple of tracks that I wrote, and we ended up really hitting it off and we hung out some and decided to do a couple of one-off shows. And it just snowballed into doing some tours. Andy is Orthodox Jewish, so he doesn’t work weekends, so our touring is limited in some ways. But we’ve gotten to play quite a bit and we’re about to go out again in the spring, it’s looking like, and we got a record coming out on his label, so, yeah, some things happening there for sure.
What’s the material you play like?
Andy’s a huge Monroe buff, so there’s a lot of nights where we’re playing things like “Evening Prayer Blues” or “Tombstone Junction” and all these Monroe tunes, but they can quickly take a musical turn and he’s a pretty deep musician. It’s definitely traditional material, but it’s through the lens of a pretty free approach, I think is the way I’d put it.
What was your practice regiment growing up? How do you think you got so technically good?
I’m sure in a lot of ways my brain is totally broken and that’s why this has worked out for me. I think a lot of musicians are that way. I think if I was completely normal, I’d probably just like music in a hobbyist, healthy way. When I was a kid, I hesitate to put a number on it, but I’d say when I was really into soaking up everything, I was probably playing eight or 10 hours a day. That’s before school, after school. I would try to skip a class here and there to play, or I would skip lunch or I would fake sick at a gym and go get the guitar. I was always working an angle to be playing more. And then after school, playing until bedtime and playing gigs with the family band on the weekend.
It was an extreme focus on picking. I think I was lucky just being exposed to music a bunch. I worked really hard at it, but my parents made it seem cool and made it seem accessible. And I think that plays a pretty big part as well, right? There are still some days where I’ll go in my studio for eight or 10 hours with the metronome on full blast just going crazy in there. And then when it’s done, you feel totally drained. I feel like my brain is melted. That’s not how I tell my students to practice. I tell them to do something that’s manageable and that’s part of their normal routine. But I’m certainly not following that advice.
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I’ve always felt like if somebody wants to get that good, they’re going to do that regardless of what tools they have. You can’t really convince someone to be that obsessed with it.
Yeah, man, I think so. It’s a blessing and a curse kind of thing. But I still feel a ton of amazement and wonder by the guitar and by music. And that’s the secret thing you can’t teach anyone. I still think music is so mesmerizing and just so damn cool.
You’ve been working with the Yamaha custom shop on a guitar. Can you tell me about that?
Yeah, I don’t have it in my possession yet, but I have a prototype that’s really good. I played some of their prototypes at the Fretboard Journal Summit in Chicago last year. I thought it was a good guitar and one of the better ones I played there that weekend, which was really surprising because Yamaha doesn’t historically have a huge reputation in the bluegrass world. So they called me and sent one and then they had me come down and play at IBMA. It’s just one of those luck things. Bumped into the right guys and it kind of snowballed. I went out with Jordan Tice and filmed some promo stuff for a new model and demoed the guitars. I think my custom’s going to be done any day now. They’re cool, man. And they’re not cheap guitars — these are nicer models. They’re not trying to be old-sounding guitars by any means. It’s modernly voiced and it’s cool.
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When you say these guitars are “modernly voiced,” what did you mean by that?
In one sense it sounds new. It doesn’t sound particularly dry and woody like an old guitar might, but it’s really slick and it’s loud and it’s balanced. It’s great up the neck. It has a little more sustain than something like my old D-18. Talking about guitars is kind of like talking about wine tasting or something. It’s hard to explain.
Yeah. I always find the word choice very funny and completely arbitrary.
It means nothing but you can hear the differences when you play them. They’re really fast. When you play the note, it’s right there. It has good attack. It’s super-even and balanced. Those are the main kinds of things I like out of my D-18. But it’s a different voice. I think when the demos and stuff come out, it’ll make more sense when people can hear it.
What did you go for in your custom model? I feel like people are always really specific with custom instruments and I have no idea what I would ask for on something like that.
Yeah, I went with things that I knew were good. I think a lot of people, when they get a custom build, they have the tendency to try to be cutting-edge or to be a smarty-pants about it and be like, “Oh, I want this certain type of wood from this certain type of tree with the grain like this.” I just went for a mahogany guitar, spruce top. It’s really simple and lightweight. I think you can get carried away wanting a special guitar more than you want a good guitar. There’s no inlay on it. And I really pushed them for a double pick guard. I don’t know if they’re going to go for it because a lot of the aesthetic stuff is controlled by the guys in Japan. But fingers crossed. I’m excited to get it in my hands. If it’s anything like the prototypes, it’s going to be pretty sweet.
Photo Credit: Madison Thorn