Mike Shackelford Keeps Strumming and Singing

Working on the First Coast: Loving the stage, musician Mike Shackelford has no plans to stop strumming

Mike Shackelford has made his living playing music for a long time now. But he left the road long ago, too. Instead, he’s managed to carve out that living in Jacksonville playing gigs as one guy with an acoustic guitar or as the leader of a full rock band. He’s 61 now, married to Stephanie since 1976, father of three and grandfather of three. And he’s still playing music five nights a week.

When did the music start?

It was always in my life. I grew up in Lexington, Ken., sang in the church choir as a little kid. I always had a transistor radio stuck to my ear. I bought my first guitar when I was 12 from money I made on my paper route. But there were no lessons. I tried to listen to the Beatles and figure out the songs, but I gave up.

So no high school rock band?

No, I was an athlete. Football and all that. But music was always at the forefront, I was always listening, analyzing. After high school, I was working for a magazine, Bloodhorse, about thoroughbred horse racing, and my boss took me to see a friend of his play at a Ramada Inn. It was Pat Horine who had been with the New Kingston Trio. I watched him play and said, “That’s what I want to do.” I taught myself to play, first on the ukulele and then upgraded to the guitar. I never stopped.

When did you start making money at it?

Let’s see. I started playing and writing songs in late 1974. In 1975, I was playing in a bluegrass band with my buddies.

That’s pretty quick.

I could play rhythm and sing harmony. But it really got going because Horine saw Kent Lindsay [musician] in El Paso and said he knew someone in Lexington that Kent would fit perfectly with. So Kent came to Lexington.

You’d never met?

Just talked on the phone. We started playing together as Justin [a band] and when Horine became ill and couldn’t tour, he gave us his gigs.

And then you were a full-time musician?

Pretty much.

How’d you come to Jacksonville?

We were on the Steak and Ale circuit and one of the booking agents got us a gig at the one on Arlington Expressway. That was March of 1976. We played two weeks and the owner asked us to play two weeks more. We started coming back so often that by 1978, we just decided to locate ourselves here. We were still out on the road for another two years, but it was mostly coming back and playing here.

When was the last time you were truly on the road?

I’ll still go out if someone hires me. I’m going to South Carolina for a private party. But for a real tour, that would have been the late 1980s with Justin.

It was a rock band then?

Country rock. Kind of Eagleish, Alabama, but I hate the labels. I’d say it was heavy country rock with some Americana before it was called that.

Since then, you’ve been here. What made you think a rock musician could live a normal life in one place?

I never wanted to leave my family. There was no way for me to pursue the gold ring of rock stardom without leaving them. So that wasn’t an option. If the technology had been like it is now, where you can become an instant success over the Internet, it might have been different. But I had to make a decision, and it was to stay here and work continuously. And, I tell you, we were booked all the time.

Did you do all the dad stuff? Soccer games, baseball?

Oh, yeah. I’d get home at 3 in the morning, then I got up and took the kids to school. That was my thing, that was what I wanted. I coached my daughter’s softball team. I still have girls coming up and saying, “Mr. Shackelford, do you remember me?” I’ve grown up with so many people here.

Have you ever had do other work to make ends meet?

Absolutely. I help my wife. She had a house cleaning business that I helped her with. She was doing interior design and so we painted walls. If I said there hasn’t been times when I questioned why I’m still doing this, I’d be lying. But friends say I can’t give it up, that what I do is important. My greatest joy is still connecting. I know I’m not doing it all over the world, but this is my world. But one thing I’m trying to put together is that I get asked so many questions about the music business, I’m thinking of doing something for commercial value.


Yes. Wherever you are in music, I can help you get better. I’ve had some young people come to me and I’m working with their parents. But it could be someone who’s a professional in another business and wants to get better at music.

You’re not talking about guitar lessons.

No, the whole package. Song writing, choosing the right key, how to present yourself. I’d charge for it and call it Play it Forward.

How long do you think you’re going to keep playing for a living?

I’m going with B.B. King and Willie Nelson on that – as long as I can. Maybe I’m being naive, because I don’t want to be the guy where someone has to take the guitar out of my hands and say it’s over. But as long as I stay musically healthy and work at my craft, I see no end in sight.

Roger Bull: (904) 359-4296