Old-timer musician cuts his first CD

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After playing for more than six decades, an 81-year-old local musician recently cut his first CD, in Nashville, of all places.

Self taught musician Jim (SP) Wuollet recently visited Tennessee and recorded a song on a CD with longtime friend and fellow musician Digger DeRusha.

Wuollet began playing as a young teen when he picked up one of his older brother's guitars and never looked back. The Cloquet resident also plays harmonica, mandolin and electric guitar, even though he cannot read a note of music.

Wuollet was near the tail end of nine siblings spanning 20 years. Music flows through the family genes. His father played fiddle and mandolin, and his younger brother, Vic, also enjoyed playing the guitar and singing, as did an older brother Marty.

Wuollet played in the "Rubber Band" from 1972-1984 with brothers Bob DeRusha and Henry DeRusha (Digger's uncle and father, respectively) as well as Digger's brother, Kevin DeRusha, and Donald Vafias. A few of his favorite singers are Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson as well as Travis Tritt. He laughed and said it goes without saying that Johnny Cash is also a favorite.

"Music means a lot to me," said Wuollet.

Wuollet also subbed in "The Other Band" off and on for years.

DeRusha claims the modest Wuollet is his mentor and he has learned a lot from him over the years.

DeRusha began piano lessons at 5 years old and was playing in a band when he was 12. His first time playing in public was with his dad at Big Lake Golf Club.

"It's come full circle," said DeRusha with a laugh.

Four years ago DeRusha decided to follow his dream and go back to college for music after he retired from working for the railroad.

He attended the University of Minnesota-Duluth for two years, then auditioned for East Tennessee State and received a scholarship.

The 58-year-old graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in bluegrass old time and country music studies in Spring 2017.

He noted that many popular music stars have attended the school, including Kenny Chesney.

Part of DeRusha's capstone project was to record four songs. He immediately thought of Wuollet.

"I wanted him to be recorded one time," said DeRusha of his mentor.

He flew Wuollet to Tennessee in March and asked him to choose a song to record. Wuollet decided on a favorite Hank Williams Sr. song, "Never Ever Take Her Love From Me," because he remembered his younger brother Vic singing it.

"I call Jim a one-hit wonder," said DeRusha with a laugh.

Wuollet was nervous during the recording. He had to sit in a soundproof room and listen to background music while singing instead of playing his own guitar.

"It's tough, I have never recorded into a mic like that before," said Wuollet. "I had to try to hear myself sing. It's difficult!"

Wuollet said he had a mild stroke several years ago and sometimes has problems remembering words to songs.

The men listened to several bands during Wuollet's visit.

"The talent down there was unbelievable," said Wuollet with awe.

His favorite was his last night in Tennessee. They attended a jam session at a house party of college students. There were a variety of instruments playing, including banjos, violins, mandolins and guitars.

"It was all acoustic, no electric," said Wuollet, still with a note of awe in his voice. "I hated to leave."

The men had a CD release party last Sunday at Big Lake Golf Course. People had the opportunity to donate $20 to the Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College music program and receive a CD as well as listen to the men jam. Several other friends joined in the jam session, entertaining the crowd for several hours.

Both men were pleased with the turnout.

"It went better than I thought it would," DeRusha admitted with surprise.

DeRusha decided to give back to the community and chose his alma mater, FDLTCC.

"I was the first person to graduate from FDLTCC," DeRusha explained a bit proudly. "The college opened in 1987 and I graduated December 1988 by going to both day and night classes." DeRusha also worked while attending college.

The men are halfway to their goal of $1,000 to donate to the college. DeRusha said there are 25 CDs left.

"I just wanted to give back," DeRusha said.

DeRusha will head back to Tennessee in the fall for his master's degree in Appalachia studies. His thesis will be "What impact has Appalachia music had on Northern Minnesota, if any."

In the meantime, the men will continue to have fun and jam together. A group of old timers meet informally at a church in Carlton twice a month to jam, including Gene Lavan, who is in his 90s, according to Wuollet.

"It's fun to play with different people," said Wuollet.

"He has inspired me my whole life," said DeRusha. "He's a legend to me."

And now he has captured Wuollet on a CD, his voice to live forever.