Multi-talented guitarist, singer, pianist, and songwriter Cord Jackson has music in his blood.
A native of Lampasas, Jackson grew up in a musical family that included his grandfather, the late musician and master luthier Reid Schaub. The clan was known for getting together for “pick and grin” jam sessions, and when he was 12 years old, Jackson was presented with his first hand-crafted Schaub six-string.
“We had guitars and an upright piano in the house when I was growing up, so I used to bang on things, but I actually started learning when I was 12,” Jackson, now 30, recalled. "The first instrument I picked up was drums … I guess when I was 11. Then, I went into band at school (playing drums).
“I got my first guitar when I was 12. My granddad built guitars, and when all of my cousins and I turned 12, he would build us a guitar.”
Young Jackson was a quick study and three years later, he was playing lead guitar in a country, rock, and blues band with cousin, Jarrett Schaub.
He lived in Austin for a number of years, playing at places like the famed Saxon Pub and other clubs, and also traveled around the state for gigs. He plays a regular Wednesday night solo show at Wool and Vine wine bar in Lampasas and has been on stage at various venues throughout the central Texas area, including Joker’s IceHouse in Killeen and the former Southern Nights club in Copperas Cove.
Fast-forward to 2020, and like most other musicians, Jackson saw his career slow to a crawl with COVID-19 shutting down live music venues everywhere.
He was back in Lampasas by then, and along with playing music, he was teaching guitar and piano lessons. That pursuit also took a hit from the pandemic.
“I shut down teaching for a bit,” said Jackson, considered one of the top two private instructors in Lampasas, along with Derek Groves, who plays guitar for Texas legend Gary P. Nunn. “Derek is really the reason I started teaching.
“I was a teenager and he asked me one day if I wanted to sub for him for some lessons. I did and over time, I started doing it a little more, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
“After a month or two of being shut down, I offered Zoom or Skype or FaceTime lessons. A number of students who were with me then went with that. Not all of them did, which is understandable. That’s a completely different experience for both parties.
“Over time – late in the summer – I started opening the school room again where I teach. Have the door wide open, air circulating. I would wipe the keys of the piano down between each student. Hand sanitizer and tissues available. A fair amount of them came back.”
To contact Cord about guitar or piano lessons, go to: https://www.facebook.com/cord.jackson.
Along with teaching music, Jackson is currently involved in a number of projects, including a funk and soul band that started coming together during COVID; an ongoing partnership with Austin musician Mark McKinney; and his solo career.
“My sister married Mark’s cousin. That’s how I met him. His cousin, Ryan, was Mark’s bass player for a lot of years. They took me on the road when I was 16 or so to tune guitars. It was a cool opportunity.
“The band started with guys that were out of work down in Austin. It’s been just practicing and rehearsals every weekend so far, but we will start gigging this month and we have studio time booked in August.”
Jackson plays and sings any number of musical styles, including Texas country, rock, blues. He writes songs but admits to having a habit of starting, but not finishing, an original tune now and then.
“I’m pretty good at starting songs and terrible at finishing songs,” he said. “That seems to be a pretty common thing. But I’ve noticed that the songs I begin and actually finish and will play in public, those are ones that … I have to recognize a vitality in them. It has to be something pretty deeply personal enough to where I’ll be convinced that it is worth finishing.
“I think typically my writing is just largely centered on personal experiences. Relationships between people; stuff that everybody goes through. There’s something to writing and creating, in general, that is like a problem-solving process.”
He does not spend hours and hours practicing his music, and says his students help keep him on his toes.
“Minimum of 30 minutes a day (on) guitar, and a minimum of 45 minutes on piano,” Cord says. “I didn’t really have a consistent (practice) schedule until I started teaching. Then it became mostly just practicing what I preach to my students. I have to be the example.
“Teaching definitely takes patience, but not just that. The most basic thing, I think, is establishing trust. So the student feels like they can trust you – and part of that is knowing your stuff. Knowing your stuff and being legit. Seeing where the student is skill-wise and knowing where they want to go. And you have to care about your students.”
Jackson never took one-on-one music lessons himself. He remembers well, however, the struggles to learn – particularly the somewhat challenging task of playing an instrument and singing at the same time.
“I tell people all the time that my teacher was that I really wanted to play. So I did. Also, I had a specific vision in mind of what I wanted to play. I loved rock music – AC/DC; Led Zeppelin – and I wanted to learn to play that.
“One thing I would say is just pick up a guitar and bang on it for a minute to start with. Start making some noise.
“For me, I was playing drums before I started playing guitar, so I think I had the rhythm aspect of that kind of internalized before I tried to sit down to sing and play at the same time.
“One thing that really throws people off is, the rhythm of the words and the rhythm of playing guitar can feel at odds. But I was used to play those syncopated rhythms and stuff. I think the way you get good at that … I have a buddy whose mantra is, ‘Embrace the suck.’
“His point is, you’re going to be bad at something before you’re good at it. The trick is sticking with it through the bad. And it really helps if you’ve got a teacher or mentor – somebody around you – who is not going to slap your hand if you get it wrong. Ultimately, as creatives, we slap our own hand – ‘No, I’m not going to do it because I’m bad at it.’
“Just keep being bad at it until you’re good at it.”
With more and more venues starting to open back up, Jackson says he is optimistic about the future of live music. He recorded but never released a solo album years ago, and has plans to record another, then release them both at the same time.
Nothing, however, beats going on stage to play for an audience, he says.
“There’s a classical pianist who said, ‘For me, a performance is not an exhibition; it’s an offering.’ I read this Alejandro Escovedo (well-known Austin musician) quote, where he said, ‘No matter how bad you thought the gig was, somebody in the audience’s life was changed.’
“Of course, it depends on the gig, but I have seen something like that happen when I was playing with Mark McKinney, where I thought I played terribly. I came off the stage and someone walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, you guys were great. I was having a terrible week, but it’s all turned around now.’
“So you never know how your performance is going to affect somebody.
“I hear buddies are pretty consistently gigging more and more. Venues are opening back up. There is plenty of talk about the digital world – are all performances going to go on-line and people pay a certain fee to stream this concert, or whatever.
“I can’t imagine there ever not being people who want to go out and listen to live music. Be in the room with folks.
“I want to continue both teaching and playing. I never took lessons – guitar or piano – but I had examples around me that I wanted to emulate. I had so many avenues of support, so it was kind of a no-brainer for me to pick up music.
“I want to play live and play well, and hopefully inspire some things.
“A buddy and I want to open a music school where we’ll be able to teach a particular way. Whatever the future holds, music has got to be involved. It’s one of those things that’s so close, you can’t even see them. If I were to put down music, I’d probably get sick.”