Jonathan Wimpee just loves to play
IT WAS A DIFFERENT TIME THEN. GASOLINE WAS CHEAP AND plentiful and car seats were an afterthought and that’s why when an infant Jonathan Wimpee couldn’t be made to stop singing any other way, his parents tucked him in the back seat of the car and went for a drive until he nodded off. The result was a marriage between travel and music that would ultimately lead to Jon traveling the world, living in 14 different cities and playing with some huge performers and iconic bands.
Zuzu and the Sunbeams is a name that surely rings a bell—as long as you attended Gadsden High School in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It is debatable whether it was his fledgling efforts in this first band or his receiving the prestigious Alabama Jazz Educators “Jazz Guitarist of the Year” in 1990 and 1991 that really opened doors for Wimpee, but by 1992 he was on the road. A five-year stint with powerhouse coverband Chaz gave young Jon his inauguration into the grueling world of a travellng band. This time allowed him to polish his chops while learning the ins and outs of the practical side of the business, including the fine and underappreciated art of getting paid by reluctant and often shady bar owners or, failing that, the fine and underappreciated art of living off of a package of baloney and a loaf of bread for a week or two at a time.
Forging his stage presence and considerable range of skills in the fire of constant touring allowed Jon to rise through the ranks. Having finished his five-year mission with Chaz he “re-upped” for another five-year hitch with the Supplements. During this period, Jon also took numerous sit-in side gigs with various house bands throughout Alabama and North Florida, a very busy circuit to play in those days. By the end of the ’90s, Jon had made his way both to the altar and to Macon, GA. It was in Macon that he first met Paul Hornsby, producer for Molly Hatchet and The Marshall Tucker band and an early member of the Allman Bros. Hornsby enlisted Wimpee in the studio as a vocalist on various commercial products including, to Wimpee’s dismay, it seems, some work for Hallmark Greeting Cards.
It was around this time that Jon was picked up as a second guitar by Tim Brooks and the Alien Sharecroppers and what had been a steady climb for Wimpee became a meteoric rise that included opening for the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Marshall Tucker, Greg Allman and Little Feat. Zig-zagging across the country, the band eventually crossed the Atlantic for a European tour, an experience Wimpee will only refer to as “mind-blowing.”
The frenetic pace of and brutal demands of that kind of roadwork can quickly take a toll on a marriage and a person’s health, so in 2001 Jon came to the city of Chattanooga and for a time attempted to commute between here and Virginia, Georgia and Indiana. Eventually the strain became too great. For the sake of his sanity, Jon decided to keep his playing closer to home, taking up the mantle of guitar player for local legends Milele Roots. Never one to sit still for very long (at least not where music is concerned though he is known in certain circles by the nickname “Pokey”), Jon continues to do session work with area musicians, fulfilling his duties as head axe man for Milele, sitting in with the Natti Love Joys and even joining up with some sort of “Irish-style” band for a change of pace. This is all in addition to his extensive solo work, as Jon may be found on a weekly basis performing at North Shore Grille, Sugar’s Rib Shack and The Office, to name only a few venues.
A master of numerous styles of playing, Jon is equally at home playing blues, country, reggae, jazz, rock, folk and R&B, and his ability to improvise freely with any and all of these on the guitar as well as vocally has made him one of the most versatile and respected musicians in the area. It certainly doesn’t hurt that when all is said and done, he’s just a hell of a nice guy to boot. When asked about the “always just beyond his fingertips” brushes with fame, Jon happily points out that after four record deals, none of which delivered what it promised, fame isn’t that important.
“The goal is playing, sharing music and all that goes with it with other people and I am just grateful that I’m able to do that. Fame? Meh. I like to sing and play. That’s what I do.”