He may be Nashville’s most versatile hat act. Funny thing is, he doesn’t wear one.
Metaphorically speaking, Jimmy Bowen could wear a different hat almost every day of the week.
The multi-talented Bowen, who first made his mark in premium bluegrass bands, is a picker, a singer, a songwriter and an actor but earns his bread and butter as a financial adviser. The former accountant most recently has scored as the creator and host of a musical variety TV show, “Jimmy Bowen & Friends”, which kicked off its second season earlier this month.
For Bowen, 57, who has made Wilson County his home for the past 31 years, the third time was the charm.
His show now airs on Heartland TV, The Family Channel, The Country Network, RightNow, STrykTV, Country Road TV, Country TV-New Zealand and Ride TV. That means it reaches a potential audience of 200 million.
He admits he whiffed on his first two attempts.
“I was trying to do it at the Capitol Theatre. I wanted to bring back a vison of a dinner theater and have a music show and dinner and bring in different artists. I tried it here, but it didn’t work. Then I tried it at the Nashville Palace but that didn’t work either,” said Bowen.
“So I took a year off. I watched those old country music TV shows: ‘Nashville on the Road’ with Jim Ed Brown, ‘The Porter Wagoner Show,’ ‘Pop Goes the Country’ and ‘The Glen Campbell Show.’ You never see shows like that anymore.
“Then I was watching the old ‘Johnny Cash Show’ one night and it really hit me with the variety. On that night he had himself and Connie Smith, (English rock band) Manfred Mann and Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys. I thought, ‘What a cool concept: four varieties of music on one show. Yes, that’s what I want to do.’ ”
Thus, for Season 2, Bowen features a handful of bluegrass artists, country singers T. Graham Brown, Deborah Allen, Brady Seals and Linda Davis, gospel singer Jason Crabb, and the country-pop band Rockland Road.
“I want it to be a musical variety show whether it be bluegrass, country, gospel, reggae or blues. I even have an Irish trio, Nosey Flynn, on this year. One of the members is Shaun McNamara, who owns McNamara’s, an Irish restaurant in Donelson. You name it. We’re getting there. It’s very exciting for me to work with these artists.
“That’s the whole point of show, and people are loving it. Between streaming and the TV networks it’s in over more than 200 million homes. That’s crazy. It’s gone a little quicker than I can believe,” said Bowen, who is already booking musicians for his third season, which will be taped before a live audience the last week of July.
Finding many careers
Bowen and his wife settled in Wilson County 31 years ago because it reminded them of their hometown of Charlotte, N.C. After living in Mt. Juliet seven years, they have made Lebanon their home for the past 24 years.
Bowen, a musician since childhood, graduated from The Citadel in 1985 with an accounting degree.
“One of the reasons I got that degree was because everybody always taught me I had to have something to fall back on. I thought, if I could never play music with anybody maybe I could be George Strait’s accountant and be something in the business. I also had a commercial driver’s license so I could always drive a bus.
“Also I knew if I ever had chance to perform and play and make it in the music business then I would immediately know what was going on. I studied tax law, knew about debits and credits so I could protect my assets. I also learned a little bit of contract law while getting my degree so I know how to read contracts.”
The former Certified Public Accountant today provide financial services including helping people buying a home, doing taxes and giving credit advice, helping clients get out of debt.
The musician and financial guy took another fork in the road when he portrayed a bad dude in a 2011 TV pilot, “Outlaw Country.”
Explaining how that took off, he recalled, “I had a manager who called me one day and said, ‘You’ve talked about acting.’ I told him, ‘No. Why?’ Well, you’ve got this jerk look about you, and you got a motorcycle.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I got the tattoos and earrings and a long goatee.’
“So I got listed with Talent Track in Nashville, and in my first role I got cast as a henchman and was gonna get to hijack airplanes and blow up airports, but it never took off. I was in one episode of ‘Nashville’ and had done 16 auditions, but they kept changing the look on me. The last time they finally cast me with a speaking role which made me eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild. Most of the stuff I get now are speaking roles. I get a lot of convict roles and murder roles. They just want a biker look. I play a character named Chester Dexter, the leader of the state pen country band, in ‘Fairwood,’ a TV pilot.”
Starting the music
Born and raised in Charlotte, N.C., Bowen cut his musician’s teeth as a youth after his father bought him a $5 guitar at a yard sale.
“I started toying around with it. People showed me some chords, and I started playing with records and learned on my own. I first played in a band in a bar in Charlotte when I was nine years old. I made $10 a night. I was the richest fourth-grader in school,” he said.
Bowen played in high school bands and talent shows and formed a band in college but most of his early picking was bluegrass music as his family enjoyed that genre.
“I listened to Flatt and Scruggs, Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, and then as I got older I got into the second generation, of bluegrass musicians. And by the time I was 22, I was traveling with the Country Gentlemen all across the U.S. and Europe,” recalled Bowen who played mandolin and was as tenor vocalist with the band from 1987 until 1994.
“My dream always was to play with Charlie Waller and the County Gentlemen. I loved that band. It was such a class act. It was wonderful. I was with them almost eight years.
“I did mostly the bluegrass thing (he also played with David Parmley and then Scott Vestal and Continental Divide). After that I started my own group, Jimmy Bowen & Santa Fe, and we did some contemporary Americana sound. I still had that band during the seven years I played with Earl Thomas Conley, who was laidback, just a genuine guy and such a great songwriter.
“Later I broke off from Santa Fe and went on my own. I did a little bluegrass but always experimented with the music and added the drummer and steel guitar player. When I hear something, I like to add it. … I like to experiment now and still like the bluegrass when performing and still play some songs with the banjo and still carry a steel and electric guitar player,” said Bowen, who was inducted into the National Traditional Country Music Association’s America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame in 2019.
The musician and his wife have three grown children, a goddaughter and six grandchildren and both enjoy riding motorcycles. When he has the spare time, he enjoys water skiing, jet skiing, tubing and parasailing. He’s also close to getting his private pilot license.
“I have about three more flights to do solo and then I’ll try to get my twin-engine rating. I love to fly. There’s no feeling like it,” said Bowen, who’s flying high in more ways than one.