By Ellen Zoe Golden
It’s a good bet that if you’ve heard any live music in Tamarindo, then you’ve been serenaded by Jesse Bishop. Whether singing solo with just his guitar, in one group or the other—currently Los Tingos—or demonstrating his new fascination with the ukulele, Bishop revels in making other people happy with “old stuff” like Dylan or the Beatles, a mix of Costa Rican music, or even originals from one of his two locally produced CDS: A Gringo In Costa Rica and Road to Tamarindo. At 63, Tamarindo’s original troubadour doesn’t show any signs of giving up the stage: Along with his lovely, artist wife Susan Adams, music is his true love.
THE Tamarindo News caught up with Jesse between gigs, about 3 to 5 a week, and he had a lot of say about what inspires his melodies.
THE Tamarindo News: Playing gigs in Tamarindo, Costa Rica is a long way from Port Arkansas, Texas? How did you end up here?
Jesse Bishop: When I was a boy growing up, my dad was in the navy and we lived in California, Hawaii, and finally Washington, DC. When the Beatles came out, I knew I was going to be a musician. I picked up the guitar at 13 and later formed a band. I moved to Austin in 1972 with a band called Sackweed, several years after the DC band The Incredible Fog broke up. We played progressive hippy music.I’ve been a musician all my life, but I had to do all sorts of things too. I ended up in Port Arkansas which was a lot like Tamarindo. It is right above Padre Island. That’s where I met Susan. She was a beloved school teacher and had her kids doing a science project and making a video on the theme Keep America Beautiful. She wanted me to do the music for the video so I did the music and we said goodbye. A week later, she called to tell me she forgot to press record and asked if we could do it again. I thought, “I’m going to marry this woman.” And 5 or 6 years later, I did. In 1996, Susan and I visited Costa Rica for two weeks. She was here in the ‘80s. The second time we came we stayed a month, then we came for two months. Finally, we bought a house in 2002.
TNN: Have you always been in Tamarindo?
JB: Yes, I found my place in Tamarindo. When I first got here in 1996, I discovered this hotel called Pasatiempo. They would put together a wild jam session, you know, using pots and pans out of the kitchen for drums, that sort of thing. That was the very first time I participated in the jam session. Other than that, Tamarindo did not have live music, and I was able to fill that void. At the same time, Susan fell in love with the idea of painting the nature here.
TNN: That Open Mic Night transitioned to a full, electric musical blow-out every Wednesday night for many, many years, but now it has moved to The Loose Moose. However, you still have a semblance of a jam at Pasatiempo where anyone can join you.
JB: Yes, on Saturday night, early, I play my acoustic guitar, and more often than not Brad Schmidt plays saxophone and a lot of really good guitar players and singers visit. Jim Hurt, a local, plays a very stylish, blues guitar and we fill the stage with loads of percussion. We call ourselves the Tamarindo Jug Band and Taxidermy Company. At 10 p.m, we stop it. I like to think that the jam session I did when I first came in 1996 is still alive and well with what we do.
TNN: You recently started playing a new instrument?
JB: I play guitar, of course, and a lot of mandolin. Recently, I embraced wholeheartedly the ukulele. I’m just surprised that you can play all kinds of music on it. Stuff from the 30s and 40s, to George Harrison. The last few years of my life have become all about the ukulele. I play a lot of weddings. One of my favorite things to do is play “Over the Rainbow” on guitar at a wedding. When I got the ukulele I found out the song sounds great with it.
TNN: What else do you have going on?
JB: My current band is with Pedro Golobios, the bass player from the Leatherbacks. We’re called Los Tingos. We do a mix of Costa Rican music and the old stuff like Dylan and the Beatles.
TNN: Do you ever listen to modern music and think about playing some of it?
JB: When I’m playing in different groups I get exposed to new music. I even like hip hop as an intellectual entity but it doesn’t lend itself to the acoustic guitar. The term hip hop covers a lot, just like rock and roll covers everything. And, honestly, who knows what is defined as “new.” I never want to say, “That stuff is terrible.” I don’t want to be like our parents. I’m not a purist, but I believe simpler is better.
TNN: At 63, you have a vast historical musical knowledge. Do you think you appeal to young people?
JB: My audience is usually those in my peer group. Sure, there’s always a mixture of young and old, but let’s face it, if the kids come to hear me play, they are listening to music of their grandparents. I get people mostly who are very strongly into acoustic.
TNN: Tamarindo also inspired your original music, right?
JB: Yes in 1999, I put out my first CD called A Gringo In Costa Rica. In 2001, I released Road to Tamarindo, which was inspired by the terrible road from Villareal to Tamarindo. This was before it was paved, and sometimes it could take you 30 minutes to travel from there to here.
TNN: Do you have another original CD in you?
JB: I have some songs, but I don’t have anything lined up per se. Maybe something with Los Tingos like the song, “Soy Puro Gringo Guanacasteco,” sung in Spanish.
TNN: Jesse, how do you think you’ll be remembered?
JB: I’ve never been rich and famous, but I’m a lucky guy to do what I love and still pursuing my profession. My best known song is “I Just Can’t Seem To Get the Blues in Costa Rica.”