It takes two

Jim Hurst and Missy Raines are among the most highly regarded players in acoustic music today. But there’s something else about Hurst that Raines likes even better.

“He listens,” she says.

The bassist adds, “He’s a very mature player … incredibly sensitive to what’s going on, what’s best for the song, and what I’m doing. And he tries to play off of that.” Raines has garnered back-to-back Bassist of yhe Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association (1998-’99), in a field crowded with such esteemed players as Todd Phillips and Mark Schatz. She’s toured with Trisha Yearwood and Holly Dunn, and graced the cover of the January/February ’99 issue of Flatpicking Guitar magazine.

Hurst and Raines met while both were playing at a music-awards show in Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium. They’ve worked with Claire Lynch and The Front Porch String Band since 1995, on tour and on that group’s Grammy-nominated release Silver And Gold (Rounder, 1997). Hurst played on Raines’ self-produced CD, My Place In The Sun (MR 1998), and she returned the favor, adding licks to his Open Window (N.N. Guido, 1999). As a duo, they’ve been mixing acoustic blues, swing and bluegrass for several years in concert, and are currently working on their first album together.

Raines grew up in West Virginia, and learned some piano and guitar before moving on to acoustic bass at the age of 12.

“My dad brought [an acoustic bass] home, and I had never been around one,”she rememers. “I was playing with different friends in the neighborhood and liked [the fact] that no one else was playing it. It was fun.” Without the benefit of formal lessons, Raines gradually mastered the instrument. “I just started playing bluegrass,” she says. “I jammed with everyone I could, every weekend. In my teens, I started listening to some jazz and branching out into different kinds of music, and I really started thinking about the bass more seriously. I got some books, and started looking at technique and watching other players, but I came about it all in a very unorthodox way.”

My Place In The Sun reveals the bassist’s passion for many styles of music. “Just For a Thrill” and “Reedology” are strongly jazz-influenced pieces; “Silver Lake” is funky, with a horn section. Raines also tackles the swing classic “Jersey Bounce” and the traditional bluegrass of “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road.” “I’m into just about anything, but traditional bluegrass is still a big favorite of mine,” she confesses. “On the CD, I just put in songs and people that meant something to me, and different styles that I wanted to include. Considering what I do for a living, I need to keep a little something for everyone. In our show as a duo, we don’t stick on one thing: We jump around. I think the variety helps a lot.”

Raines has been playing bass for 25 years now, and the song “Levels” shows off her technique of “double-stops”: “I had this friend in West Virginia who spent a lot of time trying to teach me how to play blues guitar. I did learn the technique, but I never really took it anywhere. So I thought I’d do something on the bass that was a little bit of a blues thing, using the thumb back and forth just like you would on the guitar. It was really just a tribute to him, and wanting to create a style for myself on the bass.”

Hurst, meanwhile, drove long-haul, big rigs for 12 years, and describes himself as “somewhat of a roustabout.”

“I’ve got a million-and-a-half accident-free miles under my belt,” he boasts, further reporting, “I’ve got family, but I love traveling. That’s why being a road musician kind of fits. Because I love to play music more than I do drive trucks.”

Marrying necessity and invention, he wrote his banjo-and-fiddle feature “A Minor Infraction” while out on the road: “I came up with the melody in my head while I was driving down the interstate, and at one of the first truck stops, I pulled over and worked it out on guitar,” he remembers. “Whenever I had an overnight run, or the times I’d be gone for a couple or three weeks, I would take [the guitar] if I could even squeeze it in, because I can’t hardly do without it.”

Hurst taught himself guitar by watching his father and older brother play; at age 22, he took a series of lessons with a jazz guitarist. “That was mainly to get some formal instruction to scale,” he explains. “I had been playing Chet Atkins and Merle Travis and Jerry Reed-style things, along with the Doc Watson and Clarence White things, but I didn’t really understand it. Learning the scales helped me.”

When he first moved to Nashville, Hurst was primarily an electric guitarist. But on Open Window, he parades his diversity, blending gospel numbers like “I Can Tell You the Time” with traditional bluegrass tunes like “Tall Pines.” He plays beautifully on “The Pearl of Pearl, Ky.” (written for his mother), and waxes funky on the Jerry Reed instrumental “Little Bit O’ the Blues.”

“We did that song in one take, so there’s a thing or two on there that’s not perfect, but we really captured a groove. As far as an all-around guitar player, there’s nobody better than Jerry Reed,” Hurst asserts. “When it comes to technical ability, he does as much as anybody on one guitar. It’s kind of sad that no one knows about his guitar greatness. I’ve got 25 albums of Jerry Reed’s stuff, and some of it is commercial-country stuff — it’s got a lot of humor — but some of the guitar work is astronomically difficult. It’s a challenge.”

Hurst is looking forward to getting back on the road with Raines. “Missy is an absolute treat,” he confides with a smile. “When she and I get together, the musical communication is almost effortless. There are times on-stage when we make mistakes at exactly the same time — and the audience doesn’t even know. It’s not planned, and we just look at each other in amazement. We have a lot of fun.”

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