Sam Jackson

Bluegrass music comes from the heart…

Interview with Sam Jackson, festival MC and bluegrass personality

© Lilly Drumeva-O’Reilly

In August 2013, I was based in Bowling Green, Kentucky and travelled to a small bluegrass festival in the area. There I met bluegrass singer/mandolin player Tina Adair and made the acquaintance of Sam Jackson. He is a popular MC at many bluegrass festivals, including Bean Blossom, Indiana (Bill Monroe’s home festival) and Poppy Mountain, Kentucky. Later, in October, Sam came to my hotel in Nashville and gave me this interview.

What is your involvement in bluegrass music?

Currently, stage manager and master of ceremonies at many festivals. I host a radio show as well. I worked with Ronnie Milsap, Marty Stuart, Junior Brown.

Tell me about your mc work?

I have emceed shows all over the United States, from the far north to the south, east and west. But I don’t travel to the very far places anymore. I can’t stand the differences in humidity.

Do you get paid?

Of course, it is my livelihood.

Are you nervous before you go out on stage?

No, not anymore. I know most of the bands by now, they are my friends. The first time when I presented at The Ryman Auditorium, I was nervous. All the legends were on stage…

You are also an artist and songwriter?

Yes, I had a band. We played the Station Inn in Nashville.

How did you hear bluegrass music?

My uncle played the Dobro. My grandfather was an old time fiddler. There was a gentleman down the road who played guitar. They used to gather and play for hours. There might not have been a dozen words all night, they just played music.

What do you like about bluegrass music?

Because it comes from the heart. Bluegrass has a soul, it is “the white man’s blues”. When our ancestors came to this country, there were no photographs, recordings or radio, television. So with them, they brought their memories. And they were either of the best or the worst of times, of marriages that have made it or marriages that were broken, of children that have lived or that have died. They put their memories in the form of songs, so that they can be passed on to their children and their grandchildren and on and on.

Yes, but bluegrass is man-made music?

It has Scottish and Irish origins, as well as elements from the blues, country and western. You may say that Bill Monroe invented it in 1946.

You have met Bill Monroe, what kind of person was he?

He was a very unique individual. He didn’t have much conversation. He spoke in short lines. I asked him ones “From all the sidemen that you had, who was the best one? He said – Jimmy Martin was the only man who could take me to my limit.” That’s the greatest compliment that anyone could every have. I knew them both. It was a love-hate relationship between Jimmy and Bill.

Besides bluegrass what other music do you like?

Country music from the 40s and 50s, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Marty Robbins.

Thanks for coming Sam, good luck!

Lilly Drumeva