Jimmy Cole Bio - Chapter 1
Jimmy Cole (James Cooke Cole), was born in Gordonsville,VA
on Sept. 16, 1948. The family lived in Orange, VA and moved
to Manassas, VA in 1955, where he was first exposed to Country,
Bluegrass, Gospel, and Western Swing music styles prevalent
in the area at the time.
Many Grand Ole Opry artists appeared regularly at Old Dominion
Speedway, near his home on a farm outside of town. His first
job at age 13 was selling drinks in the stands at the drag
strip on Friday nights, the stock car races on Saturday
nights, and at the country music park on Sunday afternoons.
As such, he was able to see many of his idols in person;
the artists would play somewhere in the metro D.C. on Saturday
night, and then perform in Manassas on their way back to
Nashville or their next venue. Beginning in 1960, WCKW
("Big K") in Warrenton, Va. broadcast a mixture
of country music, which (now Country Music Hall of Fame)
DJ and program director Tom "Cat" Reeder
dubbed "old and new and bluegrass too!" The "Old
Tom Cat" was a hero and later a mentor to Jimmy. Their
friendship continues to this day.
He was first exposed to African American musical styles
through late-night-clear-channel radio stations, especially
the John R Show on WLAC, Nashville, TN; as
well as great Washington, D.C. Soul radio stations WOL,
WOOK and WUST. Jazz was also available on AM
radio in D.C. at WMAL, through the all-night show
of legendary DJ Bill Mayhugh. Segregated tent shows
at the Prince William County Fair provided him with his
first experiences of live Rhythm & Blues music shows,
making an indelible impression with their intensity and
tightness of execution.
Jimmy began learning guitar at age 12, ordering the "Doc
Williams Illustrated By Ear Guitar Course" from
WWVA radio in Wheeling, West VA for $1.00 ("Just
a dollar bill!' Doc would remind you). The "course"
consisted of a chord book and a 45 rpm record with which
one could tune a guitar correctly. "Doc Williams
and the Border Riders" were a popular country group
of the day. Many years later, at Fan Fair in Nashville,
Jimmy was able to meet Doc and thank him for the "lessons".
He also learned much from regionally popular Bluegrass entertainers,
the late Ralph Gheen and his son Jimmy.
Soon he obtained a used $15.00 Sears Silvertone electric
guitar, and began playing in local teen bands, mostly performing
Ventures-style instrumentals, Jimmy Reed-style Blues, and
Chuck Berry-style Rock & Roll. The Folk craze was also
in full-swing, and he noticed that many of the Country and
Bluegrass songs he was familiar with were now called "Folk"
While his first live stage performances of any type were
in "Battle of the Bands" at the county fair, his
first performances at a nightclub were at the Sunday night
Hootenanny sessions at the legendary Cellar Door,
in 1966, where anyone could get in line and sing two songs.
If you got a good crowd reaction, you could stay up longer.
It was at the Cellar Door where Jimmy met and befriended
the then recently-discovered Fairfax County bluesman and
gravedigger, John Jackson, who was the first person
he ever saw put a piece of metal to a guitar string (John
used a table knife). For Jimmy, this was the beginning of
a fascination with slide guitar which continues to this
day. He and John remained friends and occasional co-performers
until John's death in 2000.
[More about slide in a later chapter, when Jimmy meets J.B.
Jimmy began singing because someone needed to do it in the
teen bands, and if you were going to be a "folk"
singer, you needed to sing! Bluegrass and country music
also required good backup singing skills, so he began to
pick up on harmony singing as well. He never could decide
if he was a country, blues, rock & roll, jazz or whatever
singer, so he did them all, and is just a "singer".
Blues, however, is the first of many loves! Stay tuned for
more in chapter 2 and beyond!