Saturday jam sessions a chance to ‘learn how to play’

Tom Loewy

Jim Stone started playing the guitar in 1950, but the demands of life caught up with him.

Stone got married, started a family and went into the farm business. There was no time for learning chord progressions or idle strumming.

Ron Pruess bought his first guitar when he got home from Vietnam in the late 1960s.

But the instrument barely made it out of the closet.

Pruess held down a job while he finished his college education. Then he went into business while the guitar remained silent.

The set-aside desire to make music never left Stone and Pruess. That’s why they and eight other musicians were in Cherry St. Guitar Company’s showroom at 11 a.m. for a Saturday morning tradition.

“This jam session kind of evolved on its own to a certain extent,” said Bruce Nelson, owner of Cherry St. Guitar. “Some guys who came in regularly on Saturday mornings started sitting down together.”

Jim Lindberg, Terry Mitchell, Les Roberts and Jack Vest formed the core of the Saturday morning jam session. The tradition is four years old.

“It has become a kind of word-of-mouth thing,” Vest said. “The first year or so, we basically had four people. Then others started to show up. We have people come in and play who are talented musicians and we have plenty of beginners. Everybody is welcome.”

Pruess, who is 60 but determined to stay 43, was one of the first to show up Saturday. He held a banjo and watched while Vest strummed his guitar and Roberts tuned a mandolin.

“I stumbled into this about a year and half ago,” Pruess said. “I was taking lessons from Charlie Hayes and I hooked up with this group.

“See, I had gotten hooked on bluegrass. Hooked big time. So I figured learning how to play the banjo was something to do.”

By the time the 78-year-old Stone sat down with his guitar, the jammers’ ranks had swelled to nine with guitar players Jani Tiska and Denzio Thuline and an acoustic bass player known as “Shakey” sitting in. Lindberg manned a steel dobro, while Mitchell blew harmonica.

Tammy Rankin joined later, played Roberts’ mandolin and added blues-driven vocals.

“I always liked country music,” Stone said. “I started taking lessons because learning to play was a good way for me to pass time.

“I come and play with the Saturday-morning group because it is a pleasure to sit down with people. I could never play in front of an audience — I would be pretty nervous — but I learn something new every time I come here.”

As the session wore on, the musicians traded instruments and took turns selecting the songs. By noon, two men with Friday night heavy under their eyes and a pair of women carrying shopping bags wandered into the showroom. They stayed to listen.

“The Saturday morning sessions are great for seasoned players and great for up-and-coming players,” Nelson said. “It’s low-key compared to something like an open-mic night.

“You can take lessons and sit at home and play along with records, but getting the experience of playing with other people is important. When you sit down with a group you learn how to interact in an ensemble. You learn how to play.”  

The Register-Mail