By Maria Fredericks
Local musician Chris Sharp has received immense success in the music industry over the past 10 years. A career highlight was playing guitar and mandolin on the soundtrack, O’Brother Where Art Thou, which won him a Grammy in 2001.
By his own admission, however, the music industry is a business that holds much competition, and he’s been searching for something that offers a little more stability, especially after becoming a father.
Sharp and his wife, Sachie, were married March 26, 2003. They were married almost 10 years, however, before the birth of a son, Kent.
“We had given up on having children,” Sharp said. “We were delighted to find out she was pregnant.”
Their son, who was such an unexpected gift, will soon celebrate his first birthday.
He is also going to have a younger sibling.
“We are also going to have another child due in July,” Sharp said.
For the time being, the Johnson City-based musician said he is more focused on family responsibilities than music. His growing family played a part in his decision to go back to college to study computer science.
Sharp, who has been playing guitar for 26 years, says music will always remain an important part of his life.
His grandfather, Bernard Baston, played old-timey country and inspired Sharp to start playing at the age of 5.
“My grandfather was a musician who played by ear,” Sharp said. “He played everything with strings on it. He got me interested in music.”
Sharp’s career to date has including recording about 40 albums and producing seven records. He also received his aforementioned Grammy, as well as six nominations for other awards.
He said he feels a sense of gratitude for his success in the industry, but made the decision to go back to school in order to provide for his family.
“I have to take care of them now,” he said. “Music is fun, but it’s either raining or it’s a drought. I am either having a really good year, or I am eating out of a can of beans. I want a more stable lifestyle for them.”
Best of all, he still has some special music-related memories, including the times he spent working with such legendary names in the entertainment industry as Willie Nelson, Allison Krauss and John Hartford.
Sharp shared one of his more unique experiences from the process of recording the album, O’Brother Where Art Thou.
Sharp said producer John Hartford decided to switch the musicians’ instruments around on the song “Indian War Whoop.”
The original song was recorded by rural musicians, and Hartford sought a more rough sound. Sharp normally plays guitar, not mandolin, so playing this instrument gave him a different perspective on music performance.
“John wanted to cripple me,” Sharp said. “He didn’t want a polished sound. So he put me on mandolin and put the mandolin player on guitar.”
Sharp played guitar on the songs “Man of Constant Sorrow” and “Fly Away,” which let him work with Allison Krauss and Gillian Welsh.
Of course, winning a Grammy was an exciting moment in his career.
Sharp, who has been studying Japanese for about 12 years, was visiting Japan when he and his wife received the news of the Grammy win.
“I was there learning Japanese,” Sharp said. “My wife and I were up late watching it on TV.”
His most challenging experience was producing a tribute album for Hartford, who died in 2001. Sharp said he took his studio to Nashville and set it up in a classroom in Belmont, where he started the recording.
He described the tribute project as a “democracy” among all the participants.
“We all worked together in exchanging ideas,” he said. “We did some songs that John had written but never got the chance to record. John was a little eccentric but an awesome person.”
Sharp said recording with Willie Nelson was an enjoyable experience. They worked as a duo to record a country music album that received a Grammy nomination in 2010.
In addition to his studio work, Sharp toured with Nelson on larger scale shows and for television performances in Las Vegas.
“Willie Nelson is the most awesome person I have met,” Sharp said. “You would never know he was famous if you didn’t know who he was.”
Sharp noted that, despite his legendary status, Nelson is a very down-to-earth person.
During a break in his work with the entertainer, Sharp called his wife and Nelson politely asked to speak to her.
Sharp said he handed the phone over to Nelson, who encouraged her to come down to Nashville and spend the day in the studio with them.
The following day, after Sharp’s wife arrived in the studio, Sharp was speaking with her while Nelson waited patiently before introducing himself to Sharp’s wife.
“He is not the guy who comes up to you in the middle of a conversation to say I am Willie Nelson,” he said. “He is way down to Earth.”
Sharp is currently at work completing a few small projects in his studio. He just wrapped up a recording for a Japanese country singer. Although he does still do some studio work, he is currently not advertising his studio after his decision to go back to school last fall to study computer science at East Tennessee State University.
“I do work on projects,” Sharp said. “But I don’t advertise.”
For now, he’s content to work on his most important project — the raising of his growing family.