Instrumentalist Jay Rudd of bluegrass band Swamptooth is interviewed about performing at an early age, his progression into his love for bluegrass, and much more.

What are some of your earliest musical memories?

I started singing in church choirs at a young age. As far back as I can remember I was visualizing myself playing music on stage. Whenever I saw a band I wanted to be up there with them. I was fascinated with images of the recording process as well. Listening to music was a total obsession.

I got my first guitar at age 12. It was rough going until a friend showed me power chords and I started figuring out how to play Ramones songs from a live album. I was practicing hours a day and couldn’t get enough. In high school I led the youth group band in my church and started a rock band with some friends. I’ve always loved performing.

Who are some of your musical influences?

I went through a lot of musical obsessions on my way to bluegrass. In high school I was mainly into punk and metal and then a friend turned me on to Modest Mouse which got me into a mellower sound. Around the same time I ran across My Morning Jacket which got me moving towards the twangier side of things. Sufjan Stevens was a big influence as well and he was the reason I first got a banjo.

The banjo itself was a major influence. I got interested in old time music and started playing in a folk punk band called I Want Whisky while I was in college in Atlanta. The singer turned me onto Bill Monroe and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was hooked and I dove into old bluegrass recordings of Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Stanley Brothers, Reno and Smiley, Jimmy Martin etc. Some other big bluegrass influences are John Hartford, Tony Rice, JD Crowe, Kentucky Colonels and Old and in the Way. That same friend got me into Tom Waits who is one of my favorite songwriters.

I listen to a lot of early country, western swing and jazz as well. Some favorites are Hank Williams, Django Reinhardt, Miles Davis, Charlie Christian and Bob Wills.

It’s been a great success and has helped me grow tremendously as a businessperson

How did you link up with City Hotel?

I moved to Brunswick to work at a paper mill in 2011. The singer from my old band knew Cory Chambers and told me to hit him up when I moved to the area. I called him and he told me he was starting a band. I feel so lucky to still be playing with those guys after 8+ years.

How did you start performing with Matt Eckstine?

I’ve known Matt a long time and he’s hired me here and there over the years. It’s always fun playing with Matt, we gel easily and he’s a great bandleader.

Talk about recording an album with Aaron Paul Zimmer …

It’s kind of backwards, but Aaron booked a show at the Tybee Post Theater last summer and asked if I wanted to play it as a duo. We had done a couple events before and enjoyed the guitar/mandolin format. I suggested recording an EP to promote the event. The whole thing happened in just a few weeks. We got together, arranged a few tracks and recorded them at Jason Bible’s studio. Working with Aaron is great, he’s easy to work with and we have a natural chemistry from playing so many years together.


Talk a bit about starting your own business teaching guitar …

In 2014 I quit my job and moved to Savannah to pursue music full time. I worked at Ms. Amy’s School of Music for a few years. Amy had encouraged me to start my own school which I did in 2017. I found a teaching method called the G4 Guitar Method which is based on developing fundamental skills in a small group environment. I felt strongly about it and decided to open a franchise here. It’s been a great success and has helped me grow tremendously as a businessperson.

Any artists you haven’t worked with that you would love to?

I’ve been lucky to work with almost all my favorite musicians in Savannah at some point. I’m a big fan of Jason Bible and Ben Keiser and haven’t gotten to work with those guys so I’d love to do that.

I was lucky enough occasionally play with Damon and the Shitkickers at the Jinx

Some of your favorite Savannah venues to play?

I love playing at Service Brewing for Bluegrass by the Pint every Friday. I was lucky enough occasionally play with Damon and the Shitkickers at the Jinx, and I have a lot of other great memories there. The Sentient Bean, Tybee Post Theater and Southbound have been great venues as well.

Your thoughts on the current Savannah music scene?

I was blown away by the scene when I first visited here. It’s one of the reasons I ended up moving here from Brunswick. It’s a small scene but there are some incredible musicians and plenty of places to work.

Any future projects?

I’ve got a bunch of solo material and have tried starting a band. It’s just hard to get a group together when everyone’s so talented and playing all the time. There aren’t enough great musicians to go around here but I’ll keep trying! Aaron and I have more duo stuff in the works and City Hotel has new material which we plan to record in 2020.

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