who is he?

Jim Ohlschmidt is a guitarist, singer, performer, songwriter, session player, and producer who began strumming chords in 1967 in Sheboygan, Wis. Since then he has worked as a soloist, in bands and accompanying performers throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota (The Velveetatones, Lorenzo Menzerschmidt, Boxcar Scholars), as well as Birmingham, Alabama (Mae Robertson, The Martini Shakers), and Cincinnati, Ohio (Stardevils Trio). Jim plays a mixed-up bag of old-school blues, swing, Americana, rockabilly and country, and he is equally at home on electric or acoustic guitar, as his many recordings demonstrate. Jim currently performs with his own group, the Jim Ohlschmidt Band, and also with BBMC (Brown Baer Music Club), Dave Steffen & Craig Neuser, Michael Ammons, and Gordon Thorne, on Minnesota's "North Shore." Jim also plays solo dates in Sheboygan around the Midwest, performing many of his own songs and instrumentals, along with the music of Mississippi John Hurt and other country blues artists.

“Lost Jim” Ohlschmidt - A Musical Journey From Wisconsin to Mississippi 

I grew up in the city of Sheboygan, Wis. and in the late 1960s I began playing the guitar. Like many  young folks, I was swept up in the popular music of the time, which included not only rock from both sides of the Atlantic, but also folk music, and perhaps the most seminal of influences - blues. 

In the early 1970s I heard three guitarists who have been (and continue to be) an enormous influence on me and my particular music direction. They are John Fahey, Mississippi John Hurt, and Merle Travis. John Fahey was the first fingerpicking guitarist I listened to intently to learn the basics of this wonderfully eclectic and adaptable style of playing. Fahey played mostly original instrumental compositions that borrowed heavily from pre-war country blues and blending in other sounds and influences to make bold, visionary artistic statements. He also played in open tunings on acoustic guitar, giving the instrument a rich sonority and different tonal possibilities. The music of John Fahey opened a world of music to me that I am still exploring and using in my work today. 

When I first heard Mississippi John Hurt’s “Last Sessions” LP, I was mesmerized by his beautiful fingerpicking sound. Unlike Fahey, who played with a forceful, deliberate attack on the strings, John Hurt’s picking sounded to me like a river, the notes flowing in a soulful, rhythmic stream coming from somewhere ancient. His voice and his songs convey a calm wisdom, although at the time I had no idea where John had come from (other than Mississippi) or what his life had been like. I knew that John’s playing was beautiful and fundamental, and I went about trying to unravel his picking to learn how to play like him. 

It wasn’t until 2004 that I began recording John Hurt’s songs after I visited Hurt’s hometown of Avalon, Mississippi, on the Eastern edge of the Delta. So much has changed in Mississippi since John lived there (1892-1966), but the landscape around Avalon and Carrollton remains mostly the same. I made many trips to the area in the following years, and got to know pretty well some of the folks who lived on the same old dirt roads John Hurt walked on. I ended up recording four CDs of John’s songs, and I’m even mentioned in a recent Hurt biography. I play a few of John’s tunes every time I perform, and everywhere I go people enjoy his music. 

The fingerpicking style of Merle Travis has been another life-long study. The instrumental album Merle made for Capitol (The Merle Travis Guitar) in the 1950s is a touchstone for many fingerpickers. It was actually the recordings of Doc and Merle Watson that first alerted me to Travis songs such as “I Am a Pilgrim” and “Lost John.” Once I heard Merle, with that amazing thumb, I was hooked on the the rhythm and power of his right hand, and all the jazzy chords and blues licks he was playing with his left. 

Travis was a master songwriter in the golden age of Hollywood country and Western music, and he was also the folk troubadour of Kentucky coal miners. Travis grew up in Muhlenberg County, KY which at the time of his birth was the nation’s top coal-producing region. The playing of Merle Travis, often called “thumbpicking,” has become part of my fundamental approach to guitar playing whether I am playing solo or in a combo. I aspire to write songs that are as well-conceived and clever as his. 

Of course there have been numerous other guitarists since the early `70s that have had an influence on my music. I have been fortunate enough to have known and to work with several great bluesmen such as Jim Brewer and W.C. Clark, not to mention the incredible talent of the musicians I work with regularly around Wisconsin. It has been a long musical journey since the days of sitting with a record on a turntable, lifting the needle and up and down to figure out how this or that lick is played. John Fahey, John Hurt, and Merle Travis have been the major signposts for me along this journey - a journey that never ends. 

My own recording career began in 1976, when I produced my first solo acoustic LP “Behind The Eye.” It was recorded at Sound 80 Studio in Minneapolis back when Leo Kottke, Cat Stevens, and Bob Dylan had recorded there. In 1980 I produced another LP of acoustic guitar duets with Manitowoc guitarist Paul Kowalski which we recorded live at the John Michael Kohler Art Center Theater in Sheboygan. 

Other than an album I recorded in the mid 1980s with a country-rock band I was playing with in Milwaukee (“Farther Along” by Phil Delta and the Delta River Band) I did very little recording until 2004 when I began recording John Hurt’s music. I’ve done four CDs of Hurt’s songs, including one with country blues guru Stefan Grossman, who knew John Hurt back in the early 1960s. I have also recorded a number of instrumental CDs, including “It’s The Wood” which was recorded in Nashville and was produced by the late master guitarist Pete Huttlinger. “Old Box New Tunes” is my latest solo acoustic CD of all original songs and instrumentals performed on a vintage 1943 Gibson J-45 flattop. 

For more information and bookings please contact Jim Ohlschmidt by phone at (205) 586-8671 or by email at lostjim.ohlschmidt@gmail.com

Lost Jim circa 1976                        photo by Rick Gustafson

Lost Jim circa 1976 photo by Rick Gustafson