Interview: Bloomington IN Herald Times 9/18/2011

Local Performer/Teacher Jim Richter Speaks Mandolin

The following interview was published in the Bloomington Herald-Times 9/18/2011:

H-T Report 9/18/2011

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our occasional series of Q&As with local musicians comes courtesy of Ron Kadish and Pat Harbison, local musicians themselves.

Q: What are your current projects, musical and otherwise?

A: Musically, my current focus is finishing a solo album I began three years ago. It’s mandolin-centric with mostly original eclectic material. I play all parts/instruments (mandolin, guitar, banjo, bass, uke, cello) except for the half featuring local pals and national artists. Two of these are Grammy-winner Mike Compton (mandolinist formerly with John Hartford and recently with Elvis Costello) and Andra Faye (of Saffire: The Uppity Blues Women).

In addition to this, I perform locally (south and central Indiana) primarily with Gordon Bonham and teach mandolin and banjo. I’m recognized nationally as a blues and rock mandolin educator. I recently held my inaugural mandolin camp here in Bloomington, having attendees from as far away as Toronto and Virginia.

Q: What is your main work focus? If it’s music, what do you do musically/financially to make it your career?

A: Though I’m dedicated to all things music, I maintain a “traditional” career. I do this for two reasons: my family and practicality. My wife and three boys need a father who works a regular schedule, is routinely home, and provides a reliable income. Additionally, my father taught me early on to develop contingency plans. I have worked in mental health for over 20 years and am currently a second year student in the Masters in Counseling program at the IU School of Education with the intent to become a licensed therapist. My psychotherapeutic interests lie toward music or humor therapy and have actually begun incorporating elements of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy into aspects of my music instruction. This was a teaching focus at my mandolin camp in July.

Q: Where are your projects based? Do you tour or have more of a local focus on your music making?

A: Though I limit my performance to the central/south Indiana area, I consider myself a “national” artist. I have successfully used the Internet (and outlets like YouTube or music-oriented websites like to get my music and vision to those within my demographic. Blues mandolin is a niche within the niche of mandolin-dom. I expect to do very well with sales of my CD when released, due to this online connectivity. For example, when I had my camp, only three students of 12 were within a 90-mile radius. The remainder came from out of state.

Q: How did you end up in the Bloomington area?
A: Same story as many of us: I started IU in 1986 and fell in love with the town. I’ve left occasionally only to find myself returning. Q: Tell us about your musical background. Who/what inspired you to get into music?

A: I started playing guitar and banjo in my teens around southeastern Indiana, strongly influenced by the Beatles and New Grass Revival. When I came to Bloomington, the Ragin’ Texans kicked my ass, as did Bob Lucas. Hands down, the biggest influence on my playing was Gordon Bonham. I spent many nights at the Bluebird watching him play and stealing licks. This developed into a friendship and musical collaboration that continues today. Mandolinist Mike Compton proved very influential in the past 10 years as a mentor and friend. Many know Mike as the mandolinist from the “Oh Brother” and “Cold Mountain” soundtracks and many recent T-Bone Burnett productions. There’s a “complicated simplicity” to his playing. Truly a person from the “less is more” school of thought.

Q: What is your dream gig?

A: There are fantasy gigs (of which I have many) and dream gigs (based somewhat in reality). Of these dream gigs, being invited to instruct at David Grisman’s Mandolin Symposium in San Diego would be one. Or, if John Mellencamp hears of me and demands my presence on his next recording project, I wouldn’t refuse him.

Q: Is there a local musician or group that you would like to collaborate with? If so, who and why?

A: I’ve been fortunate to play with many great local musicians, most of which are blues-based (which truly is my focus). What I would like to do is find musicians with the blues, rock and bluegrass background that I have who can play my original music. I don’t know who those musicians are, but I’m sure they’re here.

Q: What, in your opinion, is the biggest issue local area musicians are facing right now?

A: This is hard for me to answer, as I don’t see myself competing for gigs (as music is not my livelihood). However, what I have found to be an issue is a lack of clubs willing to play the music I like to listen to and play. Players’ Pub has proven one of the few clubs of the last decade to dedicate itself to roots-based music, whether that is R&B, blues, bluegrass, or the songwriter showcases. Bloomington needs more. This was one of the reasons I began promoting acoustic-based shows with national acts when I returned to Bloomington in 2004. I felt if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t happen.

Q: What do you like/dislike about being a musician here in the Bloomington area?
A: This is a conundrum, as what I like, I also dislike: There are too many excellent musicians in Bloomington!

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Keep up with Jim Richter online at