Jim Roberts has been a highly passionate member of the Elon music faculty since joining in 2007. He teaches drum set, 2 courses on the music of the 1960's and 1970's and he is the director for the Elon World Percussion Ensemble. He has performed and/or recorded with such renowned artists as bassist Victor Wooten, drummer Futureman, The Horse Flies, and Billy Dean to name a few. His career illustrates a lifelong passion and dedication to music, rhythm and sound. He brings a wide range of experiences to his teaching studio.
His passion began at a very age, beating on pots and pans and anything he could find. This innate interest in music has led him to explore numerous musical genres over the years. He bought his second drum set at the age of 12 with his own money from working in tobacco in eastern North Carolina. He played in rock bands in high school as well as the school’s concert and marching bands. He absorbed the popular music of the 1960’s and 1970’s by acquiring over 1000 albums and tapes in his collection. He also studied piano in high school. His experience in marching bands led to his participation in East Carolina Marching Pirates and a top 12 Drum Corps International drum corps. Over the years the list of musical interests expanded. It included West African Djembe, Zairian Soukous, Afro-Cuban Folkloric percussion, alternative rock, jazz, progressive rock, roots rock-n-roll, singer-songwriter, soul, rockabilly, funk, rhythm and blues, classical, bluegrass, old-time, world influenced music and more. Music from cultures across the globe became and remains one of his strongest passions. In Nashville he earned, a diploma in Audio Technology from SAE Institute of Technology in 2000. He also became a producer and studio musician, operating Kalimba Studio from 2000 till 2007, recording a wide range of music well beyond the country music genres for which Nashville is noted.
He earned his undergraduate degree in Music Education in 1981 at East Carolina University. He studied with Harold Jones, a nationally known educator and performer. During his time at East Carolina, he made winter rehearsals and was a member of the Crossmen Drum and Bugle Corps (summer of 1979 – 1980). He completed his Master of Music at Northern Illinois in 1985 in percussion performance. He was a student of Rich Holly and Robert Chappell. He also performed with the NIU Steel Band, the oldest university steel band in the country. Upon graduating, he taught high school band at Southern Nash Senior High School in eastern North Carolina from 1985-1987. In 1987, he moved to Durham, NC and became a freelance musician which began with a summer job as a performer with the North Carolina Symphony. He also taught corps style drumming to high schools throughout eastern North Carolina and adjudicated in numerous marching contests. He began playing in local groups once he relocated to Durham. During that time, he began an intensive study of West African djembe, dundun, congas and other African based percussion with Djembefola Khalid Saleem. He also met and began a lifelong friendship with percussionist Steve Bloom of Washington, DC through whom he developed an intense passion for Afro-Cuban music. He continues to play and perform with Steve to present day.
In addition to studying with Khalid Saleem, he traveled to West Africa in 1991 and studied music in Senegal and The Gambia with various djembe and balafon masters. This was a time of great growth and professional advancement. He toured nationally with the Chuck Davis African-American Dance Ensemble. He performed and was exposed to traditional djembe ensemble music of West Africa. He began organizing community dance classes and workshops. With this knowledge he has pursued a career that integrated world music with classical training and contemporary popular and folk music forms. He was the percussionist for Mbonda Afrika, a central African and Zairian Soukous band from 1990 to 1992. Starting in 1989, he also began playing regularly for Footloose; a contra dance in the area which he still performs and tours nationally with to this day. Since 1991, he began teaching drum classes in his home as well as at various festivals. He has taught workshops at Grassroots Festival (Ithaca), Augusta Heritage (West Virginia), The Black Mountain and LEAF Festivals (Black Mountain, NC) and the Eno River Festival (Durham, NC) and various others workshops around the country.
In 1995, Jim made a major life transition by moving to Washington, DC and then immediately to Nashville, TN where he started the next phase of his career. He was in search of more playing opportunities in both live and studio music. He got it. Within two months of moving to Nashville, he got a job with Billy Dean, the opening act on the 1996 Reba McEntire tour and was playing weekly in town with the Wooten Brothers band in between gigs. He toured nationally with Billy Dean and performed at the Grand Ole Opry in June of 1996. From 1995-1999 he traveled to Ithaca where meet a number of musicians associated with the Grassroots Festival, a large festival organized by the members of the roots Americana band, Donna the Buffalo. In a period of three to four years, he had performed with a number of Ithaca based bands including The Horse Flies, Hank Roberts (cellist for Bill Frisell), The Burns Sisters Band, and Donna the Buffalo. Through the festival in 1995, he met the members of the Hix, an alternative old-time band which featured the renowned fiddler, Chad Crumm. The next weekend, he met them at an old-time music festival at Clifftop in West Virginia and took 1st place in the non-traditional contest. He became the drummer in the summer of 1996 and performed with them for several years. During this time, The Hix performed at Merlefest near Wilkesboro, NC where Jim was invited to perform at the “Jam on the Hill”. Other artists participating in the jam that day were Sam Bush, Tony Rice, Futureman, and Victor Wooten. In recent times, Jim has been invited to sit in with Sam Bush and Victor Wooten when they were in the triangle area.
In the years after performing with Billy Dean, Jim remained busy in Nashville performing and recording. He recorded with Victor Wooten on his albums What Did He Say? and Ying Yang. He also played on Victor and Steve Bailey’s Bass Extreme, Cookbook album. Additionally, he played with Victor on a Taylor Guitar compilation project called Wood and Steel 2 which also featured guitarist Reggie Wooten. Jim began producing his own works in 1998 with the release of Ancient Hand, Tranze is the Danze. This collection of alternative neo-contemporary, traditional works features artists Beth Nielson Chapman, Victor Wooten, members of the Horse Flies and others. He also co-produced Two Traditions: Balaphon, Banjo, Fiddle and Drum with the Horse Flies of Ithaca, NY in 1999. This project features traditional fiddle music with ethnic percussion performed in a contemporary fashion. In 2000, Jim graduated from the SAE School of Technology. He completed a 9 month audio engineering and music production program which covered analog, digital, small and big console recording. After remodeling his house, he opened up Kalimba Studio, a state of the art mid-sized tracking and mixing room. The renovation included tearing down an old barn and hand planing 100 year old oak, cherry and chestnut wood which became the walls of the main tracking room. Futureman, a futuristic inventor, composer and percussionist recorded on his album, The Seamless Script in Jim’s Kalimba studio in 2002. Along with his brother Victor Wooten, he is a member of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones. Jim played percussion on the epic 25 minute work, The Seamless Script, the title track along with tabla master Aloke Dutta. In 2002 formed the Afro-pop group Cape Town and released Waka Waka with South African singer Paul Petersen. Other production credits include 3 albums with American-Irish fiddler Cady Finlayson (Shine Like Silver, Harp and Shamrock, Irish Coffee). Additional projects include Secret Commonwealth, The Uninvited Guest which was nominated for Best Celtic Album and Best Celtic Song in the 2004 Just Plain Folks Independent Music Awards, Sons of Steel, produced by Andy Narrell and Tracy Thornton and Chere Lunn Raw. In 1997, he co-produced the critically acclaimed album, Highway 90, by Shane Theriot, the former guitarist for the Neville Brothers, Leann Rimes, Boz Scaggs and others. Jim also worked with former Cyndi Lauper producer and Thompson Twins member, Jan Pulsford. In 2004, he performed at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival with both Theresa Andersson and Larry Siebert. His time in Nashville was busy, productive and helped Jim understand the intricacies of the music business.
In 2006, Jim returned to the triangle area of North Carolina to begin a new phase in his life. In the summer of 2006, he was an accompanist for the American Dance Festival in Durham and toured California with his old band Footloose. He married Susan DeLaney in 2007 and began teaching percussion students at Elon in the absence of Professor Jon Metzger who was on sabbatical. When Dr. Metzger returned, Jim continued to teach drum set and founded the Elon World Percussion Ensemble which specializes in music influenced by the traditions which stem from the African Diaspora. In the winter of 2008, Jim created his first course for Elon entitled Woodstock, Hippies and Other Enduring Legacies: The Music of the 1960‘s and 1970’s. This course has been at capacity since its inception. This class parallels the music of the era with the many culture and societal changes of the times. In the spring of 2013, realizing the need for more history of the era, Jim began a more in-depth course called Beyond the Beatles: The Transcendent Music of the Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. This class is has also been met with enthusiasm as the class explores the waves of British artists who filled a crack created by Beatlemania in 1964. Timelines are created in both classes to give the student who is typically born after 1990 a better understanding of the development of popular music that continues to influence the artists of today.
Since 2008, Jim helped formed the band Craicdown (craic – gaelic term for fun, party – pronounced crack) with accordion extraordinaire David DiGiuseppe and front man Rob Sharer, a wellspring of Irish folk tunes, songs and popular music from his many years of European travels. Together, they have recorded one album called, Roads. Their music is called, “world acousticana”, a hybrid term coined in reference to their world travels and roots music experiences.
Jim continues to lecture, perform, teach, record and live in the Chapel Hill area of North Carolina where he commutes to Elon twice weekly. He has maintained a private teaching studio in Chapel Hill since 2007 teaching djembe, congas, drum set, drum classes and guitar. He performed twice for concerts recreating music from Will the Circle Be Unbroken, the groundbreaking 1972 Nitty Gritty Dirt Band 3 album set which exposed a new generation of players to traditional, country and music of Appalachia. In September 2013, he will be performing with an Elon faculty band opening for Carmine Appice, the former drummer for Vanilla Fudge. They will be performing all tunes from the Led Zeppelin catalog. He will also be performing in a Gram Parsons tribute concert with triangle musicians at the Cat’s Cradle, one of the oldest live music nightclubs in North Carolina. He continues to perform contra dances with Footloose. In the summer of 2013 he has started doing gigs with nationally known touring artist Lipbone Reading, a charismatic artist and writer from Greenville and New York. More information can be found at www.jimrobertspercussion.com and www.Craicdown.com. Recordings for Ancient Hand, CapeTown and Two Traditions can be sampled at cdbaby.com and Apple Itunes.