One of Jimmy Baker’s earliest music memories is squeezing into a rocking chair with his father, listening to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio, and a particular song he recalls by Ernest Tubbs that caught his attention.
“For some reason, I always thought the title was “Driving Them Nails in My Coffee”, but it was “Driving Them Nails in My Coffin.” The irony is that I’m not much of a country music fan today, but that song made a impression on me as a kid” , Jimmy remembers.
Jimmy Baker was born in March of 1963 in Montgomery, Alabama. His family included his parents, sister and grandparents. He began taking piano lessons and singing in church around the time he was 9-years old. He was often called upon to lead the congregation in songs which were performed acapella.
Outside of church, he was becoming interested in the music of Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and songs from Elton John’s Captain Fantastic , the first album Jimmy ever purchased. Jimmy says, “I always wanted to play the piano like Elton John, but the teachers would put sheet music for Beethoven or “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” in front of you.”
Influenced by the music he was hearing, Jimmy’s interests shifted to guitar, and there was a particular moment that he recalls that helped spark his interest.
“We spent the night on Christmas Eve at some friends’ house, and they had a guitar there. I picked it up and saw the chord charts. The guy who owned the guitar came in and showed me where you put your fingers. I kept playing with the guitar that night and I think that was where the fire started. At some point later, I kind of passed him and got into bar chords and other things pretty quickly. ”
By the time he was fifteen, Jimmy learned to play guitar mainly by ear. A year later, he was singing lead and playing guitar in several local bands, performing tunes by groups like Rush, Led Zeppelin, “and some stuff that was over our heads, for a three piece band.”
Jimmy later attended a couple of Christian colleges and Auburn University in Montgomery before arriving at Auburn’s main campus. On something of a whim, and at the suggestion of a friend, Jimmy decided to travel to Boston to attend summer classes at the famed Berklee School of Music. While there, Jimmy studied voice, guitar and music theory and had a chance to see and perform with fellow students like Al Pitrelli, who went on to play guitar with Alice Cooper and The Tran-Siberian Orchestra and Jim Odom, who became the guitarist for the acclaimed Louisiana-based band LeRoux.
He returned to Alabama and Auburn, where word of his attendance at Berklee helped earn him a gig with a popular local band called Sailor, which toured the southeast. The band’s guitarist Allen Hinds, whom Jimmy calls “the most incredible guitar player I’ve ever seen”, was leaving for some bigger aspirations. Hinds went on to record and perform with the likes of Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole, Christopher Cross, Amy Grant and Gino Vanelli, to name a few.
One of Jimmy’s own brushes with musical fame happened while playing a late night gig in Atlanta. He recalls, “We were playing at the Tin Roof and this guy came up on stage. He was shoulder to shoulder with me and he was playing this killer guitar stuff. He wouldn’t sing, he wouldn’t say a word. He would just kind of smile. Suddenly I realized, ‘Man, that’s John Mayer!’ He was playing this Hendrix-type, killer stuff. I told him he needed to play that on his albums! This was just as he was starting to come on to the scene. From there, he later went on to win a Grammy.” Laughing, Jimmy says, “I’m never gonna wash that shoulder again.”
In addition to playing the guitar and singing, Jimmy also plays the bass and keyboards in a couple of local bands, including Jimi and The Firedogs. He also plays for his church and writes contemporary Christian music. He’s in the process of working on material for an album.
Jimmy and his wife have 4 children and live in Montgomery.