by Bil Jones
On a live music stage most weekends sits a man behind a mechanical marvel of wood, levers, rods, pedals and strings. Gliding a steel bar with one hand and plucking the strings with the other he cajoles a most unique sound, almost effortlessly it seems, in time with the other musicians. The man at the helm of this fantastic instrument, the pedal steel guitar, is North Carolina musician Jim Ashton.
Originally hailing from Derwood, Maryland Jim picked up the guitar at the early age of 12. He quickly moved on to the banjo three years later after hearing the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 release ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken’. This three album merger of rock and traditional country music was a considerable influence on Jim and eventually led him to such banjo masters as Tony Trischka and Courtney Johnson. The pedal steel guitar came to Jim’s attention next after hearing Jerry Garcia’s wonderful arrangement on the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song ‘Teach Your Children’. He then proceeded to learn to play this complex instrument and immersed himself in the music of steel greats Buddy Cage and JayDee Maness. Rounding out his initial musical influences were artists such as The Byrds, Pure Prairie League, and The Grateful Dead among many others.
Jim hit the stage and spent time honing his craft in the nearby local music scene of Washington, DC thru his early twenties. The vibrant musical offerings of the area such as Danny Gatton, The Nighthawks, Tom Principato, and Seldom Scene provided him with a background which has given him a unique and genre crossing style. After spending time in DC with his first band, Ambush Pass, Jim’s talents led him to a summer playing music in Colorado and then on to New York for a few years. A visit to a friend in North Carolina in 1983 brought him to the area and he successfully auditioned for The C & M Traveling Show which later morphed into the band, Long Rider. Jim spent three years traveling across the nation with the group but eventually decided to leave the road behind and finished out the 80’s playing first with Danny Baker, better known as Unknown Hinson, and then the Carter Brothers Band.
The 90’s opened with Ashton performing a house gig at Country City USA in Charlotte and then moving across town to the house band at Coyote Joe’s. The road beckoned and Jim once again set out, this time landing in Nashville, Tennessee. After a stint playing in the country music capital of the world he moved on to Myrtle Beach and was then invited to join the Davidson, North Carolina based progressive bluegrass band, Cast Iron Filter. Jim toured with CIF from 1999 to 2002 before taking over pedal steel guitar duties at The Frontier in Gastonia. He would eventually lend his talents as the house band leader the following year and held the position until 2011.
Currently Jim is sought after as both a session player and producer in the studio. His recent release, ‘Banjo’, is a collection of original tunes that appeal to a wide variety of music enthusiast. It has garnered rave reviews and has been in rotation locally on WNCW 88.7 FM. Jim is also much in demand on the stage and currently divides his time playing with Jonathan Birchfield, Nashville artist Lacy Green, and Gaston County based Stepside Deluxe. When he is not writing, recording, producing or playing music, Jim teaches private lessons in the Hickory area.
Jim Ashton considers himself incredibly fortunate to work at something he loves. He has invested a lifetime dedicated to his passion for music both on and off the stage – a passion which he says still burns hot to this day.
You can catch Jim Ashton live Saturday March 23rd, 2013 at Freeman’s Pub in Gastonia performing with Stepside Deluxe.
Jim Ashton’s CD ‘Banjo’ is available through;
CD Baby – http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jimashton
Jim Ashton can be contacted via email at [email protected]