Jimmy Wiseman grew up in a musical family in Avery County, and he has played in traditional string bands for much of his life. Jimmy’s mother and father used to play for dances in their house and around the community. His father played a banjo with a cat-skin head, and his mother played the fiddle. His parents were constantly bringing different musicians into the house, and on Saturday nights they would pull back the furniture for square dances.
Jimmy got a Stella guitar when he was 14 years old. He ordered a book that had guitar chords, and he taught himself to play. He said everyone seemed to be playing guitar at that time, so Jimmy started playing fiddle. Over the years he added mandolin and bass to his arsenal, but the fiddle became his primary instrument. Jimmy and his brother would play at the VFW clubs, courthouses, and schoolhouses. A move to Rutherford County, a few miles from Forest City, brought him in contact with Earl Scruggs, and Jimmy used to play music with him when they were teens. They would often play at schoolhouses on Saturdays and on a radio program in Spartanburg on Sunday mornings. Then Jimmy would return home for the week to help work on the farm and go to school. One time, he won a music contest and got to play on the Arthur Smith show.
Jimmy joined the Army and served in World War II. When he returned, he continued working for the Air Force, which carried him to a number of destinations. He worked in an airplane camp in Dallas, Texas for about ten years, and while there he played with the Callahan Brothers (Bill and Joe aka “Walter and Homer”) on KRLD radio. He also worked in California for about ten years, and while he was there he made recordings with Skinny Hardy and the Trailblazers and played with the Nighthearders in San Diego for tips. In Baltimore for a couple years, he played every night at the Oasis club with his brother Kent, who was a great banjo player.
Jimmy returned to Avery County in 1971, and he continued playing with family members and friends in the community. Some of these musicians include fiddler Lawrence Wiseman, Jim Vance, and Frank Wiseman, a lead guitar player. Jimmy has also played with Raymond Fairchild. Jimmy’s grandson, Billy Constable, is a professional musician who lives on an adjoining property. They continue to spend time together, but Jimmy no longer plays due to a shoulder problem.