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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" music.

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. Hutto]

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!


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