Jim Bunkley interview. Recorded in Geneva, Georgia, 1969. Bunkley discusses his life, music, and brief work in a medicine show in Southwest Georgia. Courtesy of George Mitchell and Fat Possum Records. From "Blues in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley" by Steve Bransford.
George Mitchell: Where were you born?
Jim Bunkley: In Talbot County.
Mitchell: In Talbot County. Right around here. When did you start playing guitar?
Jim Bunkley: I came up, my brothers had one, and me and my sister used to get up on a chair because we couldn’t hold it, it’d be hanging up. Just get up there and play it. He’d have—
Mitchell: —Hanging it on the wall?
Jim Bunkley: Yep. He’d have the thing hanging upside the wall up there, and we’d get up on a chair and get up and play and learn how to play it.
Mitchell: How old were you when you learned how to play it?
Jim Bunkley: Did you say how old was I?
Jim Bunkley: About, oh, I was about eight or nine, eight years old. Something like that. She was about nine or ten.
Mitchell: So you started playing when you were that young. What kind of songs did you play back then?
Jim Bunkley: [Laughter] It’s been so long I can’t, I just can’t hardly tell you. You know I used to play a heap of them pieces that Blind Lemon used to play.
Mitchell: Mm-hmm. So you must of heard those records, one of those?
Jim Bunkley: I heard them when I was young. Now that was way back y’all too. He played one about “Bad Enough Blues.”
Jim Bunkley: I [laughter] that’s right. He played that.
Mitchell: Can you play that one now?
Jim Bunkley: I, I know I can’t get that together [laughter], but I’ll try to think of it. The problem is about it, when you sing ‘em you got to sing ‘em just like that. You know, just like you sang it this way this time, you got to sing it the same way the next time.
Mitchell: Well not all the time.
Jim Bunkley: Well, just whichever way you think is the best way—
Mitchell: —That’s right—
Jim Bunkley: For the sound, that’s the way you have to play.
Mitchell: So you learned off Blind Lemon records?
Jim Bunkley: That’s right. [1.59] Way on back yonder too. A long time ago.
Mitchell: So did, ah, where all did you play? Just around your house or anything?
Jim Bunkley: Oh we just played around, you know. After we got up everyone in the family could play.
Mitchell: Now what do you mean by that?
Jim Bunkley: Let me see, about one, two [counts quietly]. Five boys and four girls.
Mitchell: All of you could play guitar?
Jim Bunkley: Every one of them.
Mitchell: What about your father? Did he play?
Jim Bunkley: He could play. That’s right.
Mitchell: What about your mother?
Jim Bunkley: She played piano.
Mitchell: So you had a whole music family.
Lottie Kate Bunkley: Mm-hmm. I’ll say.
Jim Bunkley: He, he'd play guitar in—
Mitchell: —how come you think it is—
Jim Bunkley: films too.
Mitchell: How come you think it is that all of y’all are such good musicians?
Jim Bunkley: Say how it?
Mitchell: Why do you think it is that you have a whole family of good musicians?
Jim Bunkley: I just don’t know why all of us, everyone one and all of my kin people, played. And all my boys can play.
Mitchell: Well how many people around here did you teach how to play?
Jim Bunkley: Well they just hear me playing. They just saw. They just learn anyway [inaudible] after me.
Mitchell: Well now, you were telling me at town that you used to play for medicine shows or something.
Jim Bunkley: Yes I did. One was a Tex show I used to play up there. I win a prize up there and he wanted me, up here at Johnson City, and he wanted me to go to uh, go to Buena Vista with him. He was going to leave Johnson City and go to Buena Vista, wanted me to play down there for him.
Mitchell: Did you go?
Jim Bunkley: I didn’t go down there. I had, I was in the rough then. I had a great big ole white cowboy hat.
Mitchell: Oh yeah?
Jim Bunkley: And I got up there, would get up on the stage and crack a lot of jokes and then play. I win all that money too.
Mitchell: What kind of shows were they?
Jim Bunkley: You know these was. . . what kind of show did he kept? It was pitch'uh show. A pitch'uh show and then, uh, certain nights, he’d have the peoples come in, you know, to have a prize with him. Guitar players, or dancers. Like that.
Mitchell: Was that a long time ago?
Jim Bunkley: Yeah, well, it's been a pretty good while ago. That was where I win on that, uh, “Rockin’ Chair" blues. I win the prize up there.
Mitchell: Well how do you, how do you make up a song?
Jim Bunkley: Well I just get it together, you know. Just, you can just sit down and you just know it and just write it. Just write on bullets and just match it up. Get you about four matched up, and then just go over and get you a tone, you know, to match up where that'll run out and then you take the guitar and play it. Well see you know it just like you learn a speech.
Jim Bunkley: Well you learn a song the same way. Just like you sing. So you know exactly how to play a few words there. That the way I learned.