Having a Coffee with ……………. Jimmy Bowen

This is fun series in which we ask bluegrass music personalities, some famous, some not so famous, about some of their interests as well as about the music that they love.  

Jimmy BowenThere’s more to former mandolin player and tenor vocalist for the Country Gentlemen Jimmy Bowen than meets the eye. While it is his musical talents on which we tend to focus, Bowen is a very talented actor … and a qualified accountant.

From Charlotte, North Carolina, Bowen got his first guitar at the age of six. As his father was an avid Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, and Reno & Smiley fan he grew up listening to those pioneers. However, at the age of eight Bowen became attracted to contemporary groups such as JD Crowe, Tony Rice, Seldom Scene, Bluegrass Cardinals but, particularly, the Country Gentlemen and the voice of Charlie Waller.

At the age of 12 or 13 he started learning how to sing tenor and practicing songs from the Country Gentlemen repertoire. While in one of the later years of high school, Bowen realized a dream when he got to sing with Waller when the Country Gentlemen were making an appearance in Statesville, North Carolina.

On graduating from school he moved on to study accounting at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, graduating with a degree in 1985.

Bowen had a seven-year tenure (late 1987 – November 1994) with the Country Gentlemen, helping with the recording of two albums – New Horizon and Souvenirs –  before going on to play with Continental Divide, with whom he stayed for almost four years.

In 1998 he formed his own band, Santa Fe, and released three bluegrass albums, two of which were on Bowen’s own label, Santa Fe. Jimmy Bowen & Santa Fe also released Single Down in San Antone, “a new sound combining Country/Bluegrass and Pop music,” according to CDBaby.

Lately, he has travelled with the Country music icon Earl Thomas Conley and doing Americana and bluegrass dates with his band, Santa Fe.

In 2011 Bowen made his acting debut in the FX TV drama, Outlaw Country; he says “I was cast as a henchman, really cool part, I got to kill people and blow up stuff.”

Since then he has done several Toby Keith’s videos and commercials for a few trucking companies. In the television drama, Nashville, he was cast in a speaking part, leading to him becoming a member of the Screen Actors’ Guild.

Since Nashville he has had all-speaking parts with castings and auditions with Robert Redford and Woody Harrelson. He has been called back, and he has had several auditions with Billy Ray Cyrus on a new sitcom he is trying to get going.

What would you like to drink?

“I mostly drink water now.”

Do you want anything to eat as well?

“I love fruit. Pineapple, apples, strawberries, almonds…”

What’s your favorite food?

“My favorite food is Mexican. I love authentic Mexican food. Chips and salsa go a long way with me.”

And what would you have to drink with that?

“I love margarita’s with my Mexican.”

What’s the nicest meal that you have ever had?

“The nicest meat I have ever had was aged filet mignon.”

Let’s talk bluegrass….. Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music?

“I first heard bluegrass music at home when I was a child. My father was a huge Reno/Smiley, Monroe, and Flatt/Scruggs fan. So, was I. Still am, but when I heard the Country Gentlemen at the age of eight, I knew that was it. I always wanted to learn and be a member of that great band. In 1987 I had my chance and I became of member of the Country Gentlemen for eight years. Won several awards singing with Charlie Waller and traveled the country and aboard. Then David Parmley and I hooked up and I became a member of Continental Divide along with him, Scott Vestal, Ricky Simpkins, and Mike Anglin.

Which song do you have a particular liking for?

“The best song in which I favor is Casey’s Last Ride. I sang this song so many of times with Charlie Waller, I love the story it tells and I definitely loved the way Charlie sang the lyrics.”

Which particular album do you like best and why?

“I think the best bluegrass album was the Vanguard album, The Country Gentlemen. The music and lyrics on every song had a story to tell. It would make you laugh, cry, or remember some special moment in your life. The songs were new, fresh, original. The whole album appealed to new audiences because you could relate to the songs.”

Of all the instruments that you have owned what’s your favorite instrument?

“I play guitar and mandolin. I play a Martin D-35, 1974 model and I also perform with a 1991 F-5 Gibson mandolin. I perform both bluegrass and Americana with these two instruments. My most favorite is my Martin. I have had it since I was 12.”

What’s your favorite bluegrass memory?

“My most favorite memory is being a apart of the legendary group the Country Gentlemen. Charlie and I had a father/son relationship. He was wonderful to work with and always a pleasure to be with. The memories are endless and other fine artists that I have had the honor of meeting through the Gentlemen are priceless. My dearest friend, John Duffey was my favorite. I have had the pleasure of performing with many of the past members through the years, such as Doyle Lawson, Ed Ferris, John Duffey, Bill Yates, Bill Emerson and the list goes on.”

How do you keep fit and healthy when you spend so much time on the road?

“In my older years, I have started to try to stay fit. I tell my grown kids that I plan to live to be 150 just to make you mad. Here in the last few months I have tried to eat better, watch carbs, fats, and especially sugar. I am a SWEET TEA nut, but I have stopped that. Eat more organic foods and drink lots of water. Since September 2014, I have tried to average about 3 to 4 hours of working out each week. Seems to be working. When I am on the road, I really have to hunt for good/right food. Grilled chicken, greens, and fruits. Most of the time I have them on the bus with me.”

Are you a sports fan? Who do you follow?

“I love hockey. I am a season Nashville Predators pass holder. I go to all the Pred’s hockey games when off the road.”

What hobbies do you have?

“I guess my best hobby is just riding my motorcycle. I love just getting on the bike and riding for hours. Sometimes, I leave the house and it may be days before I return home. Relaxing.

Recently I have started flying. I am working to acquire my pilot’s license and I love getting in my plane and flying.”

What is your favorite film and why?

“My favorite film is a movie called, The Lords of Discipline. It is about the treatment of Citadel Cadets in Charleston South Carolina. I love it because partly I am a Citadel Grad, class of 85, and I love the story it tells of the out of ordinary military life for a college student.”

Do you get much time to watch TV?

“I do watch TV, but I love movies. I mostly analyze them now.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in bluegrass music?

“My agent has me into acting now. If I wasn’t performing bluegrass or Americana, I would act. I have been doing it for two years now along with performing. I have been cast in a TV movie called, Outlaw Country, cast in several videos with Toby Keith, several commercials, a segment the TV Drama, Nashville, which made me SAG member. So I also joined the actor’s union. Just finished a commercial for Dayton Tires, and have a few auditions with Robert Redford and Woody Harroldson. So, never know where it may lead.

At the moment, I will keep performing bluegrass, Americana and acting.  I enjoy it all.”

Jimmy Bowen lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.