I first met Jim Shank at Humboldt State University in 1987, we were both in the Redwood/Sunset dorms, if I’m not mistaken. He was the guitarist, music writer and pretty much the only one who could play his instrument really well in our band, WD-40. My memory is kind of hazy, but I’m fairly sure the band ended when Jim broke his arm skating. After that Jim and I mostly ran in different circles, although music and skating would allow us to cross paths occasionally. After college we went our separate ways and it wasn’t until several years ago, through the tragedy/comedy that is Facebook, that we reconnected. I had asked him to do an interview quite a while back, but we both forgot about it. Recently I asked him again and he agreed to do it. As far as I know Jim is a very different person than he was in college, but there are some constants, I think, that would include him being one of the kindest people I have ever known and of course music. I have already interviewed two of the three guitarists I have played with so this will make a trifecta, the final puzzle piece.
Howdy Jim and thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. So, do you remember things differently about the circumstances of how we met and what was going on with you at that time?
Let’s see, I was in Redwood on the top floor. You guys were on the ground floor, right? Jason Bakutis was a mutual friend. I kind of knew you, Sang, Gage and the other guys from just hanging out. Not sure how I got recruited into WD-40. That was a couple years after the dorms, right?
Why Humboldt State?
I don’t know. I kind of had hippie leanings and thought it would be a cool school to go to. Plus it was far from the city and parents, etc.
You’re an old LA head aren’t you, born and raised, like me, what was it like growing up in the LA area?I lived in Torrance (South Bay LA) since I was in 6th grade. So basically middle school and high school. Before that I’ve lived in Oceanside, CA (North SD Co.) and also eastern Oregon during my grade school years. LA was pretty different. Living in the “beach cities” people were a lot more fashion conscious that what I was used to (like OP shorts, Lightning Bolt shirts and Vans shoes). I did get exposed to the “new” music that was going on at the time. Oingo Boingo played at my high school gym dance while I was still in 7th grade. My neighbor got me a ticket. I remember there was a punk rock guy there that had a home made t-shirt that said “Oingo Boingo Sucks!” on it. After that, a friend in my Boy Scout troop had a couple punk records that I borrowed. It was Dead Kennedy’s “Fresh Fruit” and Black Flag “Jealous Again”. Still my 2 favorite punk records probably. I was also listening to Rodney on the ROQ on Sunday nights (after listening to Dr. Demento on KMET).
Husband, Father, skateboarder, surfer and musician, where do you find time for it all? How would you describe yourself?
I am a just a family guy that tries to still have fun hobbies. I don’t really do all that stuff that much except for the music part. I surf maybe 2 or 3 times a month depending on the surf. But I play the banjo every day (or mandolin or guitar). I practice with one band or another once or twice a week and maybe gig twice a month as well. Usually Saturday daytime gigs.
You are a fellow music lover and you’ve never let genre hold you back, I’m curious about what was your earliest exposure to music and how did that affect you?
My earliest exposure to music is probably from my sister who is 7 years older. I still remember listening to 45’s on the small record player. I remember “Ballroom Blitz” by Sweet and “Rockin Robin” by the Jackson 5. Later around 4th grade I got into the band KISS along with other friends who were into them. That lasted into 5th grade.
Are there genres that you find distasteful or others that maybe you’ve grown to appreciate?
Hmmm. I can appreciate a lot of different genres of music even if I’m not really into it. I probably like “rap” music least of all but I do appreciate some of it. I guess I don’t really like much modern commercial music whether it’s rock, pop or country. I like authentic music. I have come to appreciate old country music a lot more. Especially from the early years (40’s and 50’s). I even have come to appreciate early Bing Crosby stuff.
Don’t be shy now, what is relatively the worst band, in retrospect, you have ever been a fan of? What made you see the light?
I don’t know. I guess I could say KISS but even they have some good songs that I still can appreciate. Thinking back to all the music that I’ve liked or been into, I can still enjoy some of it. Even if for only short periods of time.
At what point did you make the transition from listener of music to wanting to play an instrument? What made you pick up a guitar (or was that even the first instrument you played)? What was your first band experience like?
Well I’d have to say I wanted to play guitar because of Ace Frehley of KISS. I took my first lessons when I was still into KISS. I kept taking some basic lessons even after I wasn’t into them anymore. But then punk rock made me want to play guitar more. Playing punk guitar is hard because you have to be fast and really on time. My first band experience was just playing with a friend who played drums probably in 7th grade. I think we played “I’m Not a Loser” by the Descendants and maybe some Bad Religion song.
Did you have anyone you looked up to, or who sort of showed you the ropes in life or music?
There have been people I’ve looked up to growing up. Peter Loggins was an older punk rock skater who was really cool and respected us younger skate punks.
Are there any particular bands that have had a lasting impact or have shaped you as a musician today and why would that be?
The Grateful Dead had a big impact on me because they really showed me how fun improvisational music was and also gave me a love for bluegrass music.
How about that first time you hit the stage yourself in front of an audience, what was that like?
Must have been at a high school party. Pretty exciting. People dancing and yelling and having a good time. It was fun being able to get people on their feet and see them enjoying our music. Kind of a rush.
You’ve probably been in a lot of bands, can you possible name them all? Or how about just the memorable ones?
None of my high school bands had names. In college, I played in a Grateful Dead band (no name) but I also played in WD-40 (with you). That was a lot of fun opening for those bigger name punk bands that came through town like the Vandals, DOA and MDC. I also played in an instrumental surf music band called “11 at 17”. We played a Surfrider Foundation benefit and maybe one bar gig.
What instruments do you play, how was the transition from guitarist to banjo player?
I played guitar since about 5th grade. Acoustic and electric but mainly electric. I started playing banjo around 1997 after I got married. I was really hard because of what you have to do with the right hand. Its a constant 3 finger roll that has to be “in time”. The left hand is similar to guitar so I had a head start there. The mandolin is a lot more like guitar but different chords and scales. But the technique is very similar. Closer to guitar than playing the banjo. Those are the main instruments that I play; guitar, banjo and mandolin.
If I’m not mistaken, you are playing in two bands right now, one sort of a Grateful Dead jam band and the other Moonshine Cadillac, a bluegrass affair. Give me the lowdown?
I was playing with an electric band that did a lot of Jerry Garcia Band songs. We were called the Rum Runners and we played regularly since 2010. We haven’t played much since last fall though. I just grew tired of playing bars late at night and moving heavy equipment around. I’ve also started a bluegrass band called Moonshine Cadillac in which I play banjo and sing harmony. We’ve been practicing for maybe 3 years now (with different member changes) but we’ve only been gigging for about a year. We’ve come a long way as far as improvements in how we sound. I used to be a bit embarrassed but now I”m starting to be happy with our sound. We still need work though. I also sometimes fill in with another bluegrass band on mandolin.
Do you have any records/CDs for sale and where can a guy get those?
No. We haven’t gotten that far yet. No plans on making any recordings yet. We are more concentrating on our live performance and building a local audience.
You seem to be pretty busy with Moonshine Cadillac, any future projects in the works? Any upcoming shows?
We play about once a month at a coffee house. We played a backyard party about a week ago and also a mini bluegrass show out in the Valley a few weeks ago. They’ve all been fun gigs.
What new stuff spins on your turntable these days?
You mean the iPod? I pretty much only listen to music in my car going to and from work (which is like 45 minutes each way). It’s pretty much all bluegrass these days. From the old classic stuff like the Stanley Brothers, Flatt & Scruggs, and Bill Monroe to more modern stuff like Dan Tyminski, the Boxcars and the Lonesome River Band.
Any additional words of wisdom? Anything to the young musician? Or perhaps to the world and humanity in general?
I would say to a young musician that you should play the music that you enjoy and that challenges you to be a better musician. The people you play with make a big difference too. Try to play with people who are better than you if you can. And in a band context, “it’s not all about you”. The overall sound of the band is more important than the individual members.
Thanx again Mr. Shank!