If you are even slightly familiar with the Paducah music scene, you probably recognize Josh Coffey. He is unassuming and modest—the embodiment of the "nicest guy you'd ever meet." His language is music, and he seems much more content playing a song as opposed to talking about it. The Caldwell County native became known in the mid-2000's as a part of Bawn in the Mash and later as part of The Wheelhouse Rousters. This multi-instrumentalist is also often seen accompanying various combinations of musical artists, flanking the stage and sound with a mandolin or violin. He is the go-to guest—and he is a vibrant thread in the fabric of the Paducah sound.
It could be reckoned that Josh's musical journey began at birth, but in reality, the melodic path can be traced back for generations. "My dad and grandfather had a bluegrass band," says Josh. "My mom's dad wasn't a musician, but he was a music lover. When I was born, he bought me a full-size fiddle. At four-and-a-half, I started taking lessons. I did that up until I was about 15. I'd sometimes play with my dad and grandfather's band. I guess I was kind of secluded. I only listened to music they had. I heard artists like John Hartford and listened to bluegrass and classic rock. I had no idea that other families weren't like mine!"
In middle school, Josh played saxophone in the band. In high school, she switched to tuba. "Of course I wanted to be cool once I reached high school," laughs Josh, "so I listened to Jimi Hendrix and taught myself guitar."
Josh studied tuba at Murray State, but an accident prematurely ended a potential, tuba oompah career. "I broke my finger and wasn't able to do jury in time. So I switched my emphasis to violin. I picked up viola as well and played mandolin. I was really into Chris Thile who was a music major when I was there. He really influenced me. At the end of my college career, I met Tommy Oliverio and Nathan Lynn. We started jamming." From those jams and additional musicians Alex Faught, Cody Campbell, and dad Eddie Coffey, Bawn in the Mash was born.
As Bawn started to see some success and began touring, Josh wondered where music would take him in terms of a career. In the midst of performing and various jobs, he consistently returned to one thing: teaching.
"I taught private lessons in high school and college. I taught at Terrapin Station in Murray and at Music Zone in Paducah," says Josh. "I love to see how people explore that side of themselves. I get to see people of all ages. Some are studying music as a discipline, some purely for enjoyment. The musical interests are so varied. This one wants jazz, this one wants classical, this one wants bluegrass, and some want to learn something funk-based! I just hope to help them find themselves musically."
Josh provided instruction on any instrument that has strings; and as his student base grew, he decided to make teaching a full-time venture. In April of this year, he opened Time On The String in the Coke Plant. With a roster of about 70 students, music regularly rings out from the historic spot in the top of the rotunda.
"Music is so important to us as human beings," adds Josh. "It's good for people. Even if you aren't the best at it, it means so much to make music. It helps with stress, and, as you get older, it helps alleviate things like arthritis and Alzheimer's and dementia. You use your mind in a different way, both left and right brain." Josh enjoys watching his students go on a path of self-discovery and develop in ways they never imagined.
Josh also uses his space as a place to continue his own musical exploration, recording new ideas and compositions. "Lately, I've been recording film scores," he says. He started by scoring Paul Moon's documentary on Lower Town Paducah. He then composed the score for John Holt's The Dooms Chapel Horror. He is currently working on another documentary with Paul Moon about cowboy poetry.
"He sends me footage, and I watch and play," says Josh. "It's rewarding. I don't have to worry about lyrics or anything, just the composing. I can perform with whatever instrument I want and experiment with tones."
Josh finds joy in musical creativity, and as his own experiences and talents expand, he hopes to impart the same ability to find delight in music to others.
"I am fortunate to be involved here with other artists in this community. I am so appreciative of everyone in this area for allowing me to do this. I don't think I could ever say thank you enough to Paducah and Western Kentucky."