CD-196 Jessie Baker "Yessir!"
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Jessie Baker serves up an earful of tasty tunes for the 5-string banjo with Yessir!, his debut all-instrumental project for Patuxent Music. Like water dancing on a hot skillet, Jessie's notes come popping from this disc in a way that captures the fire of his two banjo heroes, Don Reno and Earl Scruggs. Still in his teens, Jessie has synthesized the playing of these iconic figures into a style all his own, and carrying that traditional sound well into the future is what this album is all about.
"As soon as a child is born, he or she should be issued a dog and a banjo," says Peanuts comic strip creator Charles M. Schulz. Well, Jessie was born in Martinsville, Indiana in 1991, but "not into a musical family," Jessie recalls. This didn't stop his mom from recognizing young Jessie's potential when she heard him playing a phrase on the piano from Linus and Lucy, the signature tune of the Peanuts television specials. No word yet on the family canine, but don't be afraid to shout "Jessie, where's your dog!" at any of his personal appearances.
Jessie's first instrument was a Harmony guitar given to him by his grandmother when he was ten years old. A couple of months later, a neighbor dropped by with a plectrum banjo and that caught his attention big-time. "I had a ball with it," says Jessie. "I played it for something like four hours and the next day I was begging my parents for a banjo." Soon afterward, with his newly acquired 5-string in hand, eleven year-old Jessie bought albums by Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe and not long after, recordings by Don Reno.
Enter, the Baker Boys: Within two weeks of Jessie's start on the banjo, his younger sibling, Taylor, picked up the mandolin. Six weeks later they performed together at the 2002 festival honoring Indiana native, Lotus Dickey. Later, with the boys' mother, Anna, joining on bass, the musical family had arrived! Over the next few years, the Baker Boys recorded two albums of traditional and original bluegrass, the latest of which you'll find here on Patuxent Music (Lonesome Weary Heart, CD-165).
In January, 2007, Jessie joined the Karl Shiflett & Big Country Show, bringing his talents on banjo, finger-style guitar and vocals to an even wider audience. After a brief stint with Wildfire the following year, Michael Cleveland called on 17 year-old Jessie to join his award-winning band, Flamekeeper.
Yessir! brings fellow Flamekeepers Michael Cleveland on fiddle and Marshall Wilborn on bass together with rhythm masters Dudley Connell on guitar and David McLaughlin on mandolin as the core band with which Jessie's fiery right hand drives the album's 13 tracks. Regardless of tempo (the adrenaline-fueled Johnson Mountain Chimes or the beautiful Jesus Savior, Pilot Me), Jessie's clean picking and keen sense for note placement puts a spark into each performance.
You're sure to hear a lot more great music from Jessie Baker in the coming months and years. He's an excellent banjo player and a gentleman of the highest caliber. Be sure to catch him at a live show every chance you get. It'll be time well spent with a musician well-versed in the roots of the music he loves. - Tom Adams - June 2009