Music Education Major Plays with Wheeling Jamboree

Thursday, March 20, 2014

A love of music and a gift for playing multiple instruments earned a Fairmont State University junior the opportunity to play with eight Nashville recording artists as part of the staff band of the Wheeling Jamboree.

Herbert Baker of Fairmont, the son of the late Chuck West and the late Paula Baker of Fairmont, graduated from East Fairmont High School in 2011.

“Mr. Earl McConnell was my band director in high school, and he was a big influence on my decision to become a music teacher. He still checks up on me to make sure I am doing all right,” Baker said. “I also would truly love to give thanks to my grandfather, Allen Baker, for all his love and support. He has raised me ever since I was a small child, about age 5, and I thank him for all he has done to make my dream become a reality.”

He said he began playing drums in a local country music band when he was 11 and since then has tried to master other instruments including the bass guitar, acoustic rhythm guitar, piano, trumpet and fiddle. At Fairmont State, Baker plays in the Wind Ensemble and the Jazz Ensemble.

“Herb is very conscientious and very talented. He plays guitar for the Jazz Ensemble and he blows people away because they don’t expect it out of him. Most people know him as a trumpet player. He knows many styles from classical to hard rock. It’s rare to find that range in a college student. I can pretty much throw anything at him and he can play it. That’s a very good characteristic for finding professional jobs,” said Dr. Valarie Huffman, Director of Bands.

Baker made the Wheeling Jamboree connection through a friend who let him know about its StarQuest competition. In the spring of 2013, Baker placed among the top three winners and received a phone call a week later asking him to fill in for the pedal steel guitar player in the Jamboree staff band. His talent for playing different types of guitars paid off.

“They must have liked what I did. The staff band ended up needing an acoustic rhythm guitar player, and the job was handed to me because I could be universal to them,” he said.

Now a year later, Baker has played with eight Nashville recording artists, including Billy Payne, Kelsie May, Stacy Grubb, Bobby Marquez, Shana Smith, Darnell Miller, Skyla Spencer and Steve Smith. He will soon be heard on the album “Shana Smith: Live! From the Wheeling Jamboree” that was recorded on May 18, 2013.

“It has been such a thrill to be part of that staff band. It’s a constant learning experience,” Baker said.

Every week Baker receives mp3 files with music that he practices at home. On Saturdays in Wheeling, the band runs through the show from 3 to 5:30 p.m. and then plays for the live broadcast and audience from 6 to 8 p.m.

“Music theory courses in high school and at Fairmont State have helped me learn songs faster,” Baker said. “This is a really fun job to have. It’s great to have an opportunity to perform in front of different audiences. I enjoy visiting different places and meeting new people like Matt Hanshaw, who plays lead guitar for Grand Country Music Hall in Branson, Missouri. He’s been a big support for me.”

The Wheeling Jamboree’s 81st Anniversary Show on April 5 will feature Nashville artists Jeannie Seeley, Darnell Miller, Leon Douglas, Bobby Marquez, Shana Smith, Jim Wilson and more. For tickets, call (888) 71-TICKETS.  The show is broadcast live on the Jamboree Radio Network and televised online at www.wwva.tv. For more information, visit www.wheelingjamboree.org

For more information about the Music Department in the School of Fine Arts at Fairmont State University, visit http://www.fairmontstate.edu/schooloffinearts/ or call (304) 367-4219.