Jim Avett Talks About Family, Nashville, New CD "Tribes"

Artists, Features, Interviews, Jim Avett — By on June 19, 2010 10:13 pm

When asked about his plans for Father’s Day, Jim Avett simply said, “Not a thing. There’s nothing special about Father’s Day as far as I’m concerned. I get the gift of being a daddy every day.”

If you’re ever lucky enough to spend an hour talking with this man, you’ll realize that every day really is Father’s Day in the Avett household. This amazing role model for Scott and Seth (you know, the Avett Brothers) gets our vote for Lifetime Father of the Year.

But in Jim Avett’s world, he’s nothing special — shouldn’t everyone strive for the basic ideals of loyalty, hard work, kindness, and love for family? That should be the rule, not the exception.

Humble, self-deprecating and gregarious, Jim Avett (who spoke with us via phone from his home in Concord, NC) is also a talented singer/songwriter. Tribes, his second release (the first, last year’s Jim Avett and Family, was a collection of gospel tunes) is now out on Ramseur Records.

A true family effort, Tribes was recorded at the urging of Scott and Seth, and features his daughter Bonnie Avett Rini singing gorgeous harmonies on the opening track, “This Will Take Time.” Says Jim, “The themes of these songs are built around experiences in love and living and my thoughts regarding both. Three songs deal with the serious side of love, one is gospel, one is a tragedy, and two are just fun to sing. All are based on true accounts.” Longtime friend and guitarist Ray Morton is featured throughout.

This is an album of engaging stories performed exactly the way country music should be. The only downside is, at only seven tracks, there are too few of them. “I was influenced a great deal by Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Tom T. Hall,” Jim said, “and Nashville and the music of the Appalachian Mountains.” One of the “fun to sing” songs is “Fight With A Bottle of Booze,” which takes the age-old battle with the bottle to an amusing and rockin’ level.

Tribes contains his more recent songs, but there are others in his repertoire that he’s carried around for years before finishing, if at all. “As a singer/songwriter you walk around with a book full of ideas.” Others come quickly, as did “Naomi”, the album’s only tale of tragedy. It recounts the 2003 murder of Naomi Estes by her husband, youth pastor Aaron Estes. Her battered body was discovered a mere three miles from the Avetts’ home in Concord. In the sad ballad, Jim observes that love can be “a cold-blooded thing.”

A North Carolina native with a Methodist preacher father and a classical pianist mother, Jim joined the Navy and later earned a degree in psychology. After taking up welding as a trade, there came quests for opportunities and adventure that took Jim and his wife Susie and little Bonnie to Alaska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and back to North Carolina (adding Scott and Seth along the way).

Jim is philosophical about the nature of talent, fame and the opportunities to spread creativity to a wider audience beyond the front porch. “You can be the best songwriter or guitar player in the world, but you have to work at positioning yourself so that you’re in a place where, if the stars line up, if the right man comes along at the right time, you’re on your way.”

“I told the boys early on,” he added, “play it the way you play it, and if it’s good, if it’s entertaining, then folks will come to hear you. If not, then we’ll sit here on the front porch and entertain ourselves.”

Photo by Elizabeth Lemon

Ten years ago Jim put his own performances on hold while the boys were finding their own voices and an eventual place in music history. “I don’t mind shooting myself in the foot by making a mistake, but if I said something that interfered with them, I would never forgive myself.”

The importance of family was particularly evident during our conversation when suddenly Jim excused himself and called out to his son in the background, “I got ‘em, Scott! You can get ‘em up here if you want ‘em! Come and get ‘em! They’re back in the kitchen!” The Avetts have chickens, and Scott was about to gather the eggs when Jim stopped to tell him he’d gotten them earlier. It speaks volumes grown children (especially successful ones) want to hang around their parents even when they don’t have to.

Jim was also kind enough to participate in CMP’s “12 Questions with …”, a new feature that we recently subjected Derek Hoke and Megan McCormick to. We’ll post her interview here next week.

12 Questions with Jim Avett

1). What’s for supper?
Salmon.

2). List five items currently in your refrigerator.
Milk, orange juice, eggs, butter, canned pickled beets.

3). Buck Owens or Roy Clark?
The quantity of work by Buck Owen was so much more than Roy Clark, but Roy was such an excellent guitar player. Either one; they’re both excellent.

4). What are you listening to these days?
Don Williams. George Strait — he’s one of the few modern guys who I really, really appreciate.

5). What was your first paying job?
Washing dishes at 13 years old.

6). What was your first paying music gig?
Playing a violin on a live radio show. I played Beethoven and Bach.

7). John Prine started out as a mailman. Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?
I can draw, I can paint, I can play the guitar, but I never sat down and said I want to be a musician. When I was in the Navy I said there are some things I want to do before I die. One was to make a recording of my music. Whether anyone is satisfied with them isn’t important, but I’m satisfied with them.

8). Was there a record or artist that changed your life or made a huge impression on you early on?
Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall were the real deal. they could turn a story into a song, and both of them recorded songs that i absolutely love. Probably more than anyone else. They didn’t change my life, but hey changed my style.

9). Which comes first for you, the lyric or the melody?
Neither, or neither all the time. Sometimes the music comes first, sometimes the poetry.

10). What does Nashville mean to you?
Tradition and the core of country music.

11). If you were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame tomorrow, what would be the first sentence of your acceptance speech?
‘I’d like to thank Merle Haggard and Tom T. Hall for helping to get me here’ [Laughing.] No, I’m sure that it would be something to do with my family.

12). What’s next for Jim Avett?
Recording more. We’re gonna put another CD out.

This retired welder, honest singer/songwriter, and well-educated family man is enjoying writing and performing his music more than ever now. “I just got back from playing in New York City. I’ve also played in Nashville, so now I can say I’ve played New York and Nashville. I don’t know if it can get any better than that.”

Despite what he said about doing nothing special for Father’s Day, I suspect Susie and the kids will have something nice planned, although I’m sure Jim would be happy to just sit on the porch and play music with his family and friends.

Happy Father’s Day, Mr. Avett.

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Catch Jim Avett live in support of Tribes later this summer:

8/27 – Charlotte, NC @ Double Door (w/Lissy Rosemont, 9pm)
8/28 – Knoxville, TN @ Barley’s Taproom (w/Lissy Rosemont, 9pm)
8/29 – Raleigh, NC @ Pour House (w/Lissy Rosemont, 8pm)

Visit JimAvett.com for further information.

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