Better known for its bratwurst than its thriving 60s garage rock scene, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, is an out-of-the-way burg perfect for that teenage rite of passage: starting a band. Jim Ohlschmidt was one of hundreds, if not thousands, of Badger youth who caught the fuzz bug, plopping down $21 to rent an electric guitar and amp for three months and an extra $2 a week for lessons in the music store’s basement. Ohlschmidt’s teacher, Rick Gustafson, played in the popular local band Loyal Opposition, automatically making his tutelage desirable.
Ohlschmidt’s introduction to fingerstyle was via Mason Williams’ platinum single “Classical Gas,” which featured extraordinarily nimble guitar work amidst an abrasively bombastic pop-classical fusion. His attempts at mastering snippets of the theme started Ohlschmidt down the path towards fingerstyle enlightenment. During high school in the early 1970s, he studied music in Madison, Wisconsin; there he witnessed a street musician play a Martin flat-top using thumb and finger picks. His ears were opened, and before long Ohlschmidt was buying Fahey and Kottke LPs, as well as even more complicated material by Segovia and Chet Atkins. The American Primitive approach rang the loudest, prompting him to begin the long process of mastering the style.
Following a path blazed by Kottke, the Lang brothers, and, a few months later, Scott Witte, Ohlschmidt recorded his debut album, 1979’s Behind The Eye, at Sound 80 in Minneapolis. George Hanson of Symposium Records helped supervise the operation, but his production style was very freewheeling, limited primarily to loving encouragement. On “Delta Freeze,” Ohlschmidt played a Gibson B-45 12-string with a fixed bridge. It was purchased in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, after Ohlschmidt read that Kottke had played the same model on 6- And 12-String Guitar. While completing the album’s mix, Ohlschmidt was introduced to Kottke. Leo fell in love with the guitar and not only purchased it for a generous sum but also supplied Jim with a high-end replacement he had used on a previous album.