Musician and Alabama Chanin friend Jake Fussell grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and was exposed to traditional roots music while accompanying his father, folklorist and writer Fred Fussell, on numerous documentary fieldwork trips throughout the South. Through these journeys, Jake became a guitar student of the late Georgia blueswoman, Precious Bryant, and honed his skills playing with local string bands.
I was introduced to Jake and his music years ago by Butch, Maggie’s dad. A late night conversation was followed with a mixed CD, and since then Jake’s music has been in constant rotation on the Alabama Chanin studio playlists. His sound captures a unique aspect of the Southern voice and history – so much so that Jake played my one and only fashion show in New York in 2005.
Jake currently serves as bandleader of The Yalobushwackers, the house band for Thacker Mountain Radio, Oxford, Mississippi’s weekly live-audience literary radio program. In recent years, he has appeared on Prairie Home Companion, toured, and recorded as sideman for several musical acts, most notably as guitarist for Memphis gospel singer Reverend John Wilkins. Jake is also working with our friends at Dust-to-Digital to curate an anthology of Mississippi blues and gospel field recordings made by noted folklorist William R. Ferris.
Jake recently completed his master’s degree in Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, just one of his many accomplishments that I am in awe of. His thesis focused on Native American and immigrant musicians in the South, and the playlist he curated below displays his knowledge of these early recordings, along with other lesser-known gems.
Name: Jake Xerxes Fussell
Instrument(s) you play: Guitar. Sometimes I play the bass if somebody asks me to, which is actually rather frequent these days.
Place of Birth/Hometown: Columbus, Georgia
Presently residing: Oxford, Mississippi
AC: When did you start playing music?
JF: I started playing drums when I was 6 or something like that. You’d have to ask my big sister, Coulter…she had to endure all that noise. But, around 11 or so I started messing with stringed instruments a lot: ukuleles, guitars, and the upright bass. When I was 13, I began learning how to fingerpick and that opened up all kinds of musical universes. In high school I would drive out to Precious Bryant’s place in Talbot County and learn things from her. I also played in a bluegrass band and with some country musicians here and there around Columbus and Phenix City (Alabama). And then I traveled around a lot and started picking up songs and tunes from all kinds of people in addition to old recordings. That’s pretty much kept me going. I’m still seeking out these things.
AC: What are some of your proudest moments as a musician (or in your life)?
JF: I was proud of myself when I learned how to play Blind Blake’s “West Coast Blues”, but that was a long time ago and I’ve just about forgotten it, so now I’m looking for the next proud moment. Mainly I’m proud of other people. I did cook a pretty tasty pork shoulder the other night…I guess that’s something to be proud of!
AC: What do you do when you’re not playing music?
JF: I like to look at YouTube a lot. It’s fascinating. Now that I’m done with school I can read whatever I want, so I’m enjoying that. I like to walk around. I enjoy traveling as much as I can. Also I collect all kinds of things. But mainly I’m pretty much a music man, so beyond that I’m probably not all that interesting.
AC: What makes your heart sing?
JF: These songs and a good glass of wine!
Photos courtesy of Jake Fussell.