Hey guys, today I’m really excited to be interviewing Jake Stogdill!Jake, for those who don’t know you, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Thanks for reaching out. This will probably be a short interview because there’s not much beneath the surface of “Jake Stogdill,” haha. Plus, I always feel weird talking about myself, but here goes I guess.
I live in a deep holler in the Ozark mountains of Missouri with my wife Michelle and two kids Nevaeh and Noah.
My interest in music didn’t start until my mid teenage years, which is late in life compared to most nowadays. I see kids still in diapers on the internet now who play better than I ever will.
My interest in music is mostly credited to my dad, who was a very good banjo player. I still have his first banjo, a 1927 Vega. His brother found it in the trash behind a restaurant in California, and my dad acquired it as part of a bundle deal. The only reason he bought it in the first place was because he really wanted the hunting rifle that his brother would only sell if he bought the rifle AND the banjo at an inflated price. So since he had the banjo at that point he figured he better learn to play it. My dad and mom were always very supportive of my playing and always tried to afford me opportunities that they probably couldn’t actually afford if you know what I mean.
Before I got in to music I was a Yo-Yo champion and traveled around competing and doing demonstrations. When I got into high school though I realized that girls were more interested in guys who played the guitar, and my yo-yo skills weren’t as admired as they once were. Ha! So I made the switch and even gained the hand of my lovey betrothed as a result. Mission accomplished. I do still toss the Yo-Yo around every once in a while. We had a yo-yo ministry of all things which still gets requested from time to time, and I’ll break it out during a bluegrass show on rare occasions too.
In my early years of playing I got to play a lot of cool shows and big events with my dad and our band Crazy Mule. Weird stuff too I mean. Like one time we did a show with Jerry Mathers (Leave It To Beaver) and Miss Missouri for an awards banquet. I was even fortunate enough to fill in with some of the Dillard’s (The Darlin’s on the Andy Griffith Show)…who are among my musical hero’s. My dad and I grew pretty close to Dean Webb (RIP), the mandolin player, and we all had a lot of laughs over the years. Playing this music has given me the opportunity to get to know a lot of my hero’s. “Most” of them incredibly nice and down to earth people.
I focused a lot on contest style playing early on too, and even managed to win one every once in a while (pure luck.) I had pretty much given that part of it up, and hadn’t competed at all in over a decade. But then just this past year I decided on a whim to try my hand at another one and got lucky again. Maybe this time the winner was decided by sympathy vote? On a serious note, what I always liked about playing contests was how it forces you to work hard and push yourself to give the best you have. It’s a great way to become better technically and imaginatively.
Moving forward in time, as soon as I got old enough to drive I began working at music stores, recording studios, and giving private lessons, along with playing in a band. This kind of thing has really been my way of earning a living ever since. I eventually went to work at one of the largest online bluegrass retailers in the world as a setup specialist, earning several factory luthier certifications from company’s like Gibson and Taylor Guitars, and worked my way up to eventually be the General manager of the store. During this time I built up my YouTube channel and Facebook page to a fairly respectable number of followers and viewers, and I’ve gotten several professional job offers along the way to play music full time. But it would require “up and leaving” my home and family so it never seemed worth considering. I’m way too rooted for that kind of lifestyle…plus I prefer my own bed and bathroom.
Things went on like this for a long while, just normal life…until a few years ago when the bottom fell completely out from under us. Within a few short weeks, the company I had worked at for better than a decade closed its doors suddenly, my mom had a massive heart attack but survived, and my dad passed away unexpectedly from a stroke. He was 63. I felt like a mule had kicked me right in the gut. I needed to find a new way to make a living and to take care of my mom too. To add insult to injury, about another week after this all happened I ruptured my left leg and couldn’t walk for 3 months. And it’s not like I didn’t have anything I needed to get done under the circumstances. Haha.
During this time, God taught me a whole lot about humility. If it weren’t for the outpouring of love and support from so many people we wouldn’t have made it. It was the only time in my life where I was truly helpless. There was literally nothing I could’ve done in my own power to overcome these obstacles, and that’s a very humbling experience. What would unfold over the next year I couldn’t have seen coming with some of those fancy magnifying goggles.
Enter Banjo Ben Clark. We casually knew each other from internet land but had never really talked much on a personal level, and he called me right after dad died and we visited for a while. We have a lot in common, and it instantly felt like we had a brotherly bond. As things began to unfold, he and his family would soon be taking a vacation very near me. We met for lunch and the topic of starting the “Banjo Ben General Store” came about organically. It started so small…like we were going to sell one set of strings to one of his students and use the profits to buy one stick of bubble gum and another set of strings. Haha. Honestly though, that’s not too far from the truth.
From there it began to grow and grow, and has become a real life bonafide music store. To the point that my wife works with me here now, as well as other friends and family. We are a tight knit unit who plays hard and plays harder! Or wait, how does that saying go? One of the things that makes this store special over all others I’ve known is the commitment to treating every customers order as if it’s our own. If we wouldn’t be happy with it, we won’t send it out. The crew here is a big part of why that philosophy works, because in addition to Ben and myself we have Josh who is a great luthier/builder, and Adam who is a certified banjo slinging gangsta. Even Michelle and Kirstie, who handle more of the clerical things, are well trained in the products we carry. So the bottom line is we feel like we know our customers because we are our customers. Seriously, Adam rarely takes home a paycheck because he trades it all for banjo stuff.
Anyway, that pretty much brings us up to date. I’m playing in a new band now called “Spillwater Drive” with some incredible pickers. We’re having a ball and playing a ton of big festivals this year. We have an album soon to release too. And I’m teaching guitar again this year at the second annual Banjo Ben Cabin Camp, so if that’s half as much fun as it was last year, then it will still be twice as much fun as should be legal. So anyway, that’s “a little bit about myself” in long essay form.
Wow, lol I love giving out information in long essay form…. So you started on guitar, did you teach yourself or take lessons? And did you start in bluegrass or a different style?
Good question. I started on guitar, yes. My dad showed me the basics to get me going and from that point on I was self taught. I did attend a couple of one day guitar workshops early on but those weren’t any kind of steady lessons at all. Aside from that I had no formal instruction, and I guess I was probably of the last generation to have to do it with no internet too. Haha. I imagine if I had the internet back then like we do today it would’ve made things much easier. Fortunately though this area I live in is a real hotbed for talented musicians. So there were tons of jams and shows to attend to be able to hone your skills.
…oh, and yes, it was always primarily bluegrass I was interested in. Especially in the beginning. I’ve since branched out some into other genres but bluegrass is always my default setting.
Cool. So did you get in a band pretty quick, and what bands have you been in?
Yeah, pretty quick with my dad in our band “Crazy Mule.” Aside from many the offers I’ve had to play in bands, I really only dedicated myself to two. That first one and now my new one “Spillwater Drive.”
I’ve heard spillwater drive, y’all are great. What other instruments can you play?
Guitar is my main instrument, but I also dabble in mandolin, banjo, and bass. On the banjo I specialize more in the old timey clawhammer style ironically, even though I don’t play that style much on any of the other instruments I play.
So who are some of your guitar picking heroes?
Too many to list. Literally everyone who is anyone would probably make my list in some way or another. And my list has changed over the years…at least where I place emphasis on which elements of bluegrass guitar are more important. Initially, as a youngster – someone new to the music, most of us are impressed by the technical ability of it all. The speed, precision, and brightness of flatpicking. So that’s what draws us in. But as I’ve matured over the years I realize I missed a lot of subtleties in the beginning. Like tasteful arrangements and tone (think David Grier, Russ Barenberg, etc.) And above all I’ve DEFINITELY shifted to caring more about rhythm playing. I’ve since come to the conclusion that I’d rather be a good rhythm player than a picker. The rhythm guitar sets the tone for the whole band. And it’s most fun to play too because you get to be more reactive to what’s going on within the band. As such my list of inspirations goes well beyond who most folks would think of as a killer guitar player. People like Jimmy Martin and Del McCoury (and many others) on strictly more the rhythm side of the scale make my list because of their sense of timing and emphasis.
But some of my all time hero’s who can do it all within a bluegrass context are folks like Tony Rice, Tim Stafford, Kenny Smith, Josh Williams, Clay Jones, Clay Hess, and on and on. Those are some of the more recognizable names on my list of the ones that are both great “offensive and defensive” players as it would be related to sports. Again, there are too many to list, but these days especially you gotta be bringing heat in the rhythm department for me to be interested in it much. If somebody is a great picker but rather dull on their backup then it usually doesn’t do much for me personally, and although I can applaud their abilities, they don’t usually get me in “the feels.”
And who are five musicians who you think are underrated or don’t get the recognition they deserve?
Whew. That’s a tough question for me to answer these days. In the age of the internet it seems easy for anyone to get their playing out there and get some recognition, to an extent anyway. Plus I stay so busy with work in my little bubble that I don’t have a good broad perspective anymore on who’s getting recognized and who isn’t. There is one guy just a short distance up the road from where I live though, he has a port-a-potty business and is one of the greatest tele pickers I’ve heard. Haha. True story, his name is Denny. I imagine there are people all over just like him who are as good as you’ll ever hear, if only you’d ever be able to hear them.
So what are a few of your favorite albums, and how have they influenced you?
Again, this is probably another one of those questions where there are too many great albums worth mentioning for me to be able to give a decent answer. I’ve thought about this for 20 minutes and simply cannot narrow it down to less than 30 or 40. My brain just doesn’t work like that, haha. I’ve been playing for 21 years now, and have been listening my whole life. I have probably listened to and studied hundreds of albums during that time. So there are literally dozens and dozens of albums that I have an equal love and respect for, and that have influenced me. I will say that during my initially few years of getting in to this music, back when it was all very new and exciting, two bands I couldn’t get enough of were the Bluegrass Album Band and Blue Highway. I found their albums to be a clinic in how a bluegrass band is supposed to work. There is also a more regional band called Lonesome Road who I tried to copy a lot. These bands along with the Dillard’s (for completely different reasons) seemed to be my first blueprints
Ok cool. So what’s your favorite album that you’ve had part in making or played on?
Any of those old albums I made with my Dad. They’re the most sentimental now. There was also a collaboration album I did with some pretty esteemed musicians a few years back, it had Jed and Harry Clark on it, Daryl Price (played with Roy Clark) Jake Simpson (The Lil Smokies) and other great guest musicians too. That a was a fun one. Right now we are in the process of finishing up an album with our current band Spillwater Drive. I’m really proud of it so far, all the songs on it are originals…and these guys can really play so very well too. I’m excited to see what becomes of it. It may even find its way onto coffee tables in 5 or 6 houses as a coaster. That’d really be moving up in the world for us.
So what equipment are you using right now? (Instruments, picks, etc)
It varies depending on what mood I’m in. I often say that “I change my gear about as often as I change my underwear…which is once every few weeks.”
Lol, I’m sure your bandmates and coworkers appreciate that…..
Right now I’m using medium elixir phosphor bronze strings (they last me longer when doing shows regularly, especially during the summer) a Lakota strap, McKinney Elliott capo, and a variety of “tortoise shell like” picks ranging from the ultex variants to the Bluechips etc…typically I prefer a traditional tear drop in around a 1mm-1.2mm thickness.
…oh, my bad…forgot the most important part. Haha. Guitar wise I am currently playing a Recording King RD-328. I like anything in a good Dreadnaught style Martin copy. It’s really the golden age of instruments these days in a sense, because back when I was learning if you wanted a guitar that sounded like a Martin, you pretty much had to go and buy a Martin. But now with companies like Recording King, Eastman, and Blueridge to name a few….you really can get something about as good (from a performance perspective) for 1/3 the price. But I have a small collection of nice instruments too that I play from time to time. I guess I figure if the inexpensive ones sound as good, why drag my other ones out in the elements?
Cool! So can you tell us about your instrument collection? (Not just guitars, anything remotely musical, even if it’s a kazoo or a saw….lol)
I have a modest little “collection” if you want to call it that. A few of those imported guitars like we were talking about, a couple of prototype custom Williams guitars that my dad and Charlie Williams designed/built. We sold a ton of those while he was making them. Then I’ve got a couple old Martins laying around somewhere, an Old Gibson J-45 that belonged to Dean Webb of the Dillard’s, an Eastman 515 mandolin, a couple of my dads old banjos (even his first one) and his dobro, an upright bass I acquired early on that my dad and David Hayworth rebuilt after hauling it out of an attic in several trash bags because it had just disintegrated, so most of my stuff these days are those kinds of sentimental pieces. And I’m sure there’s probably a million harmonicas and kazoos and jawharps scattered around here too. Haha!
Awesome! So how did you first get into lutherie? Your dad?
Actually, not really. The first company I worked at had a need for those kinds of skills so I eventually worked into it that way. I had always done my own setup work from early on, because it interested me. Like anything else, I’ve always been of the mindset if you’re going to do something try to learn as much about it as you can. You’d be amazed how many new instrument owners don’t realize how often they are going to need to do something as simple as tune their instrument. Especially if it’s a banjo. Haha. I’ll get calls like that all the time.
Ha, yeah basic maintenance is a valuable skill. So do you ever build instruments or just set up and repair?
I’ve never built one from scratch, no. Always been pretty much busy full time with repairs/set-ups that I didn’t have the time to build anything. You know what they say, a roofer always lives in a house that leaks, because they spend all day at work doing that kind of stuff and don’t much feel like doing it after they get home.
Is there any question that I haven’t asked that I should have?
Man, I can’t think of any. You did a great job I think. Sorry if some of my answers are less than stellar. I thought hard about all of them and I just don’t think of some things in the same way many folks do. Haha. Let me know if you do think of any more questions and I’d be glad to at least “try” to answer them. Thanks.
Oh, so what’s next for you? Anything new you’re working on, or more of the same awesomeness?
Haha. Well, I don’t know about any of that. But exciting growth is happening this year. Lots of big things in store for the General Store, got the Banjo Ben Cabin Camps coming up in a couple months I have to teach at, our band has a new album coming out soon, and we’re playing lots of big and exciting shows this year. So lots to look forward to.
Alright well thanks for taking the time to have a chat with me, and I wish you all the best in your upcoming projects! (And I look forward to meeting you at camp)
Y’all be sure to check out everything Jake is doing at these links:
Band website: http://www.spillwaterdrive.com/
Band Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/spillwaterdrivebluegrass/
Jake’s YouTube: https://m.youtube.com/channel/UCWg481tAsuS0D_P4DcilD6g
Jake’s Work: https://store.banjobenclark.com/