Jim Callahan: A New Voice In American Music
I have had the pleasure and honor of interviewing many musicians but Jim Callahan is one that is standing out in recent times. He is a native of Ohio and his music is a mixture of the best elements of American Rock and Country such as Johnny Cash, Grateful Dead, and Lynard Skynard.
1. You were originally from Ohio and have traveled the USA and Mexico. How does this influence the music that you write and record?
Much of what I write about is based upon those days, those years, growing up in Ohio. At about 5 years old I began listening to the 78rpm records that were stored in the bottom of my parents console radio/record player. There was a wide variety of musical styles and genres. From blues to marches, from gospel to big band, from comedy to hillbilly the cabinet was full! I also recall many long rides in the family car, where we kids would play "radio star"; my brothers, my sister and myself each singing at the top of our lungs, imitating our favorite Grand Ole Opry Star.
My only trip to Mexico was the year I graduated from High School. My father had work to do in Monterrey. It was there I bought my first guitar and it was there at a country club on the outskirts of town, I performed with a local rock band for the first time. They knew all of the songs that I knew but, I knew the words in English.
2. Who are your musical idols and how did they influence your music to form a style which is Jim Callahan?
In the darkness of my room, in the middle 50's, I was able to pick-up radio "skips" (skipping signals) from all over the eastern half of the U.S. As music faded in and out and static bolted through the tiny speaker, I listened to emerging new music from New Orleans, St. Louis, Nashville, Memphis, and Cleveland. When you listen to my songs I think you can hear the influences from Rockabilly, Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, and Hillbilly, as well as a strong contribution from 60's Folk Music.
My Idols have changed over the years. Way back then it was Elvis, Ricky Nelson, Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly, Fats Domino, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Eddie Cochran. More recently the idols and influences are more in focus. John Prine, Paul Simon, Louden Wainwright III, Kris Kristofferson. Their words and music are incredible.
3. How did you get started in music?
After High School, I attended Cooper School of Art in Cleveland Ohio. I became good friends with another student who played guitar and had an incredible voice. He and I spent most of our lunch-hour each school day entertaining the other students. Oddly this was my first "regular gig" as a singer. It's probably also important to mention my second cousin, Joe Tanner. Joe never actually helped me but his success as a writer, performer, producer and musician made it seem "more possible" for me. Joe produced "In Dreams" and wrote "Evergreen" for Roy Orbison. He was also The Guitar Player on "Oh, Pretty Woman."
4. Have you done concerts in the USA and the world?
After a year attending Art School, I returned to central Ohio and formed my own band, The Cavemen. From then through the end of the 60's I performed in and around Ohio and northern Kentucky with a variety of bands including The Daylight Blues Band, The Uptown Folks and The Stingrays.
In the late 60's I was signed by an agent who was certain I was going to be the next "big thing" .. I wasn't.
My performance days were primarily in my youth, I never hit the "big time" and only recently have decided to raise my voice again.
5. What sets your music apart from the mainstream?
A couple of years ago, a guy from L.A. found my music online. When he wrote to me expressing interest I was amused and uncertain of his sincerity. Really? Your interested in my music? He said to me; "your words and melodies are real, I can tell that is your life I'm listening to .. it isn't cookie cutter, it isn't off the shelf ... it's Jim Callahan."
I rarely do slick, full studio productions. I think (hope) you can hear my honesty and feel the texture that bubbles up from those 50's and 60's experiences in my Lo-Fi world.
6. What is currently missing in American Music?
I think its more about what's missing on radio and television. One of the reasons those 1950 and 60's were so exciting (musically) is that many disc jockeys made their own play lists. The downside was all of that payola and other favors in exchanged for song plays. The up side was we (the audience) were frequently surprised with new music, new artist, new sounds.
Most stations today are following computer generated, completely predictable play lists day after day. To add to the boredom way too much of it is formula music .. it all sounds the same.
The good stuff is out here but, it's all independent and probably won't be heard on any major channel anytime soon!
7. What inspired you to record your last album?
On Second Avenue is an accumulation of songs from 2009 and 2010 as well as a few from a more distant past, each song has it's own story.
The title track is a tribute to a Nashville street performer who called himself "Velvet Thunder." He died of complications from diabetes last year. He had been playing, for pocket change, on the streets of Nashville for more than twenty years.
"A Woman A Child" is a portrait of a real young woman from South Dakota that I met online.
"Again" is a song of mourning about the loss of a friend. I always thought I'd see him, again.
8. You have played in Kentucky. Have you ever played in the Windsong Radio Show in Lexington, Kentucky?
I'm aware of that program but, have not been invited to perform. I've only begun to re-involve myself with music over the past 3 years. As my music begins to unfold and new opportunities present themselves, I look forward to those possibilities.
9. Will you ever do a concert in Key Largo, Florida which is the home of the Key Largo Singer Songwriter Festival?
I'd love to play that festival. It would be my first trip to South Florida .. I understand it's beautiful.
10. What is your advice to those who want a career in music?
I will pass on the advice given to me.
1) Be true to yourself, if you write be honest
2) Remember to help those who helped you
3) Celebrate little successes, little victories
4) It's all about who knows you. Give people a reason to remember your name.
11.. Do you have any words for the public and your fans?
I survived a battle with Cancer over this past year and am hopeful its gone forever. That event gave me another reason to open my eyes, to look around me, to be thankful for this life, this talent and all of my loyal fans, friends and family.
I don't have a huge following, nor do I have huge expectations. I really do appreciate each person who takes the time to play my music. I really do celebrate each note I receive, each kind comment.
Lastly, Roberto, thank you for taking some time to learn a little more about me and for sharing my music with your friends and followers.
For me, it is a pleasure and an honour to interview you. I hope we can do another one in the future.