Jay Hill, who works as a principal at Brookview Elementary School in Boone County, has established a studio in his home that will serve as a platform for the artists he works with.
“This isn’t something I look to make a dime on,” he said. “It just comes from passion and love for people and music. Whatever funding is generated, it will go back into promotions.”
Hill, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist with various songwriting credits from other artists, sees his role as one of a “guide” of sorts. He said his experience can help other artists avoid the typical mistakes he has made and that are common within the entertainment business.
“I just want to help people,” he said. “For every major artist you may say that you like, I’ll take you into the hills and hollows of southern West Virginia and show you someone better.”
Hill’s passion comes honestly. He grew up around music and can’t remember a time that musical instruments weren’t surrounding him.
His grandfather, Red Hill, was a local musician who had a tremendous influence on him both as a person and musically. He cites those early years, learning to play the guitar from him, as essential to his musical development.
“He was a tremendous influence,” he said. “He taught me how to do it.”
Hill served as a manager and sometimes guitarist for Boone County legend “The Dancing Outlaw” Jesco White for four years. He said that experience was positive, but his primary goals involved being the best educator he could be, so he stepped away from the gig.
Currently, Hill has eight separate projects going on all at once, coupled with 10 guitar students he teaches in his studio in the evenings. He said his students range from young children to middle-aged adults.
Beyond the roster of musicians Hill represents and promotes, he also has a client in Appalachian author Sheldon Lee Compton of Pike County, Kentucky.
As a recording studio, Hill looks to make songwriter demos. While he prefers a stripped-down instrument and vocal approach, he keeps an open mind to adding other instruments. Within his studio you’ll find guitars, drums, basses, a banjo, keyboards and a plethora of traditional Appalachian folk instruments.
“I primarily do demos for press packets or we can push them out to Spotify, Amazon or wherever you want it to go,” he said. “The majority of what I like to do now is stripped-down singer songwriter stuff that is done with a simple accompaniment. For publishing and songwriting-related stuff they like to have that stuff stripped-down and basic.”
Primarily, Hill is launching his YouTube series titled “Home Grown and Grateful” to promote his artists as he films the artist performing on a stage in his studio — and then broadcasts it to the world.
“It is all about promoting people from our area — from southern West Virginia,” he said. “I like promoting young people as well. The goal is to record one every month. I require three original songs and a cover and they have an opportunity to play their songs to an audience. They don’t have to worry about all of the stresses that come with recording it and uploading the performance because I take care of that stuff so they can focus on the performance.”
Hill is passionate about preserving West Virginia talent and resources, which are too often exported while leaving the communities with nothing in the end.
“Just like with coal and everything else,” he said. “We are great at exporting it and ripping people off to death, but they leave us with nothing. Let’s cut down all of these trees and ship them to North Carolina so they can build furniture. That makes no sense to me. We break these boys’ backs from up these hollows and millions has gone by this courthouse and now we need it and where are you at?”
He added, “They do the same thing with talent. Hasil Adkins is legendary around the world now that he is gone. We wait until folks are gone to recognize them and I don’t know why.”
Hill said he plans to expand into a standalone studio and performance hall where he could book regional acts.
“I always tell young artists not to let where they come from influence them in a negative way,” he said. “This is a great place to live. We’ve had our problems, but our communities are strong. Don’t let people tell you that you can’t do it. Many of these artists have nowhere that they can perform and I want to provide that outlet.”
The Home Grown and Grateful Series will launch monthly. Travis Vandal from Charleston kicked the series off on Friday, March 19. Ronald and the Raygunz from Boone County will debut at 8 p.m. April 2. All shows can be viewed on YouTube via The Grateful Studio Sessions.