Jimmy LaFave has always been my uncle, but this picture marks a more definitive beginning of his influence on me.
I was 8 or 9 years old, and had asked him to pose in a picture with me as proof that I had a famous uncle. I distinctly remember it being to impress a girl, and I probably had my friend Gary do the actual talking to the girl when the time came. I've always liked telling people he's my uncle, though I feel like he might play down the "famous" part in his humility.
We used to listen to Jimmy's CDs in the car growing up. I've always been a fan, and would be whether or not we were related.
As I got older, the annual Woody Guthrie folk festival became a great event to attend, and Jimmy was always kind enough to let me and whichever friend I brought backstage to hangout.
At one particular festival, which had to have been over 15 years ago, he gave me an Intellitouch brand guitar tuner. It was when they first developed the tuners that tuned by vibration so you could tune even in a loud environment. He was a spokesman for them at the time I think, and was able to give me a free one. I still use that same tuner now (though it's in two pieces instead of one after years of use).
Christmas Eve 1999 will still go down in history as Jimmy at his funniest. I'm not sure how it all happened but with Jesse LaFave jamming some cover tunes on guitar for background noise, Jimmy grabbed the mic and began improvising humorous lyrics over the familiar tunes. There's a video somewhere I'll have to find and edit down to the greatest hits at some point.
Jimmy's sense of humor is part of what makes his shows so fun. The banter in between songs with his band or the audience is always right on.
I never really felt comfortable asking him if I could play a song or two to open for him, or if he could help me out with my own music recording in some way. To be fair when he first heard my early stuff I'm not sure I had the caliber of musicianship to be worthy of stage time with him. I also felt it would be an unfair advantage to use the family connection, though I'm sure he would have obliged in some way.
In college I began covering some of his songs while sitting on the street corner in Stillwater across from Willie's Saloon playing for the passers by. I would always open my "set" with a cover of "Never Be Mine" to get things going. Later, my cover band, The Huntsmen, had a standing gig at Willie's. It was great to stand in Jimmy's footsteps for awhile. He had played the same bar during his early Stillwater days as well, and a sign with his name on it still hung on the wall all those years later.
In Austin, musically, I have stuck to the Open mic night circuit. I nearly always do at least one Jimmy cover. My favorites to play are "Vanished" and "Going Home" Nearly every time, someone in the audience will recognize the song, or have heard of Jimmy. During one open mic night in particular, there was another guy who covered "Only One Angel" in his set right after mine. Total coincidence, but it brought up a good conversation about Jimmy.
My desire to perform with him, even just once, happened this past Christmas. When no one in the audience knew all the words to Silent Night, I set my nerves aside and spoke up for the first time. He called me up and I sang the classic Christmas tune (though I chose too low of a key) side by side with the man who had a strong influence on me, but perhaps never knew the full extent of it. I could finally say I sang with Jimmy on stage. When he invited me up for the closing songs where he frequently brings up other musicians to jam on familiar tunes, I felt honored to stand beside him. This was huge for me, and I talked about it for days afterwards. I'm sure Juliet got tired of hearing me play the video of it over and over, but to met it represented being a part of something I had dreamed of for years. I got to share the stage, for a moment, with Jimmy.
Jimmy has always been gracious of his time, and always makes time for family. I last saw him about a month ago to introduce him to our new baby girl, (his great niece) Hannah. He held her for awhile, and he seemed for a moment to forget about all of the other cares in the world. With all he had been going through, the new life in the room brought a smile to his face. I've already started her listening to Jimmy's albums during our morning music time together. In the quiet hours of the morning, I sit in the recliner and rock her, while listening to my favorite music. Jimmy comes into rotation quite often.These are the moments I remember best.
I don't know that I could say anything truly profound here, I just wanted to reminisce on my uncle. Jimmy has influenced me without perhaps ever knowing to what extent, mostly because I was afraid to tell him. My goal as a musician was always to come close to the same measure of skill and composure on stage as him. My voice even began to take on some of his raspy tone over time.
I hope to attend the show at Threadgills tomorrow night, and I pray it won't be the last time I get to see him play live.
Jimmy, I am truly sorry that you are going through this, but I admire your desire to let the show go on as long as it can. Thank you for the part you played in my musical influence. Thanks for always being available for family.
"If I don't see you real soon, I'll see you down the road someday."
Love you Jimmy!