Bluegrassian Questionnaire with Jim Nunally

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Guitarist Jim Nunally is one of those quiet tsunami forces within the bluegrass world. He’s far too humble to put it that way but I’m sure you know what I mean. Every one of us has seen him on stage at festivals and concerts for years, seamlessly adding his expertise to a star-strewn roster of bluegrass noteables. We might have jammed with him, or at least tried to keep up, in some memorable parking lot jams. I was at a vocal workshop when I felt chills up my twelve year-old spine as I understood REAL harmony when Jim, Keith Little, and Kathy Kallick treated us with an impromptu demonstration.

So, read on for a glimpse into the life of one of our most treasured musicians…

1. What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
Knowing my friends and family are healthy and happy.

2. What’s your greatest fear?
The feeling of being trapped in a confined area and not being able to get enough breath.

3. What was your first instrument and when did you get it?
Guitar. I got my first guitar when I was 14. Till then I had used my dad’s guitar.

4. Which living bluegrass person do you most admire?
That is a difficult question. I have performed with John Reischman for about 15 years and I admire him immensely for his talent, patience, care, honesty and giving nature. I have played in the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience about 12 years and I must say I admire David in about the same way. Plus, in those bands I play with such talented musicians, and admire all of them. Not to mention the other bands I play in and those band members.

The fame carried by the stars of bluegrass does not mean that they are the nicest of all musicians, or patient, honest, and giving. I mostly admire those I have the great pleasure to work with.

5. What is your greatest extravagance?
Great coffee and excellent chocolate.

6. When and where were you the happiest?
Probably after my dad quit drinking and we spent many happy hours at home playing music together when I was a boy.

7. What does your home stereo system consist of?
A CD player, a record player, and a radio.

8. Who would be sitting in your dream jam?
The musicians I get to play with all the time. Those are: David Grisman, John Reischman, Nick Hornbuckle, Keith Little, Dix Bruce, Nell Robinson, Pete Grant, Chad Manning, Sam Grisman, Trisha Gagnon, Greg Spatz, Jon Arkin, Jim Kerwin, Bill Evans, Sharon Gilchrist, Blaine Sprouse, Avram Siegel, to name a few. I am lucky that way.

9. Who are you listening to these days?
A lot of different artists.

10. If you could hear any non-bluegrass tune done bluegrass, what would it be?
“Train I Ride,” Elvis’ version.

11. What song hits your heart every time?
“Nothin’ But the Wheel” by Patty Loveless.

12. Please share one of your favorite/most embarrassing on-stage blunders.
I was playing a show in Winnemucca with Nell Robinson. There used to be a billboard campaign on the way there on I-80 that had slogans like “Winnemucca. City of Paved Streets.” or “Winnemucca. English Spoken There.” Every year when I would go to the national fiddle championships in Weiser, Idaho I would see those signs. I asked the promoter of the show what happened to the signs, and he said a local organization, such as the chamber of commerce thought it wasn’t helping the image. Well, I thought, hey, I can think of some good ones. So, I presented them on stage. I don’t think they liked where I was going with the theme. One of them was “Winnemucca. Zero Likes on Facebook.” I think I was booed for that one, some others, too, but I won’t mention those.

13. If you were reincarnated as a person or thing, who or what would you want to be?
Me. I’d like another crack at it.

14. What is your most treasured possession?

15. Is there one bluegrass player tip or secret you’d like to share?
Keep learning new songs.

16. What was the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Pursue music, instead of the welding career I had at the time.

17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of bluegrass misery?
Seeing extremely talented bluegrass musicians not being able to earn a decent living and continue their skill. Many have to stop performing professionally because it is so hard to make a living at it. Yet they are some of the most talented musicians you will ever get a chance to hear.

18. What was the scariest or most unique venue you ever performed at?
I think one of the most unique was performing with Heartland on the USS Enterprise when it sailed from Alameda to the Farallon Islands off the coast of San Francisco. Then they did a complete air show that we watched from the deck, touch-and-go’s, fueling aircraft in midair, dropping sonar beacons with helicopters, launching jets from the deck, and they let us wander around the whole ship on our own.

If you would like to know more about Jim, you can visit his website:

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