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JIM BYRNES
www.jamestbyrnes.com

   
 

Jump To:
St. Louis Times (2014)
I Hear The Wind in the Wires (2012)
Everywhere West (2010)
My Walking Stick (2009)

Jim Byrnes was born in St. Louis, Missouri – that’s blues country. He grew up on the city’s north side. One of the neighbourhood bars had Ike and Tina Turner as the house band. As a teenager going to music clubs, he and his buddy were often the only white people in the place. “We never had any problems. We were too naïve, and had too much respect for the music and culture – they knew it, they could tell.”

By age thirteen, Jim was singing and playing blues guitar. His first professional gig was in 1964. Over the years, he has had the great good fortune to appear with a virtual who’s who of the blues. From Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker to Taj Mahal and Robert Cray, Jim has been on the blues highway for 45 years.

Byrnes moved to Vancouver, BC in the mid-70s after years of drifting, working odd jobs and playing music. In 1981 he put together a band that became a staple of the local music scene. In 1986 the Jim Byrnes Band played 300 nights.
Jim Byrnes’ fame as an actor has grown immeasurably from his too-numerous-to-mention TV roles, highlights including television’s Wiseguy and Highlander series, and his national variety show The Jim Byrnes Show.

Jim has proven that a serious car accident in 1972 has done anything but hinder him. Despite two swipes with death and some pretty hard knocks, Byrnes has still managed to rack up an enviable string of credits, both on and off-screen.

Jim’s first love, however, is the blues. His evocative, smoky vocals are found in a truth that doesn’t come overnight. In 1981 he released ‘Burnin’’, followed in 1987 with I’ve Turned My Nights into Days and 1995’s Juno-Award winning That River.

Jim’s has produced four outstanding albums in six years since he hooked up with Steve Dawson, one of North America’s most critically acclaimed roots music producers. 2004’s Fresh Horses and 2006’s gospel tinged Juno Award winning House Of Refuge set standards that aren’t often equalled.

My Walking Stick was the 2009 release ... a blood and guts, behind your knees, love, life, death, and after life release from the multi award winning Mr. Byrnes. Jim and Steve continued to explore the gospel, blues, rockabilly, and country genres, and once again pull it all together in an original and unique bluesy way.

A little more than a year later, the same team got together and produced Everywhere West. A salute to Jim’s origins and influences, the CD sprinkled three exciting new originals in amongst tracks by seminal blues artists.

In 2012, Jim decided to record I Hear The Wind in the Wires, an album of songs from the golden age of country music – many of which he’s been listening to for all his life. This time around, he turns back the hands of time to take his listeners into the world of country music, but it’s not the kind of country we’ve heard on the radio any time this century. This is surely the most natural, satisfying and downright joyous album of Byrnes’ lengthy career. Steve Dawson is back in the saddle again as producer and multi-instrumentalist (electric, acoustic, slide, pedal steel and baritone guitar, banjo, ukelele). To hear these two men celebrate the music of Buck Owens, Ray Price, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins and other country music legends is a rare and exhilarating experience.

Jim Byrnes plays 150 dates a year in North America and Europe. He will continue to bring his music to stages all over the world. Who could ask for more than that?


St. Louis Times (Released 2014)

Jim Byrnes lives and breathes music. For nearly fifty years he's crooned, drawled, belted, hollered and sweet talked more songs into a microphone than most people ever get to hear in a single lifetime. He's vibrated the rafters of saloons, pool halls and dance floors from one end of the continent with more styles of music than you could shake a stick at. It doesn't matter whether it's (he's doing) low down blues, gospel, R&B, old time, swing, country or good old rock and roll – when Jim Byrnes sings, it's the real deal.

Even so, he's never recorded an album like this one – 'St. Louis Times' – is Byrne's most personal record to date. Reminiscences of his childhood home of St. Louis are expressed through his original compositions as well as versions of songs he grew up with that were recorded by St. Louis musicians. By revisiting songs associated with Chuck Berry, Stump Johnson, Little Milton, Peetie Wheatstraw and more, Jim Byrnes takes us on an intimate musical journey through a world that has passed by just in time for the commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of the city of St. Louis and the 100th anniversary of the song 'St. Louis Blues.'

'St. Louis Times' is the sixth album that Jim Byrnes and Steve Dawson have recorded together and its release coincides with the tenth anniversary of their partnership. With that in mind, Dawson gathered some of the best roots musicians in Canada together for a super session to record the basic tracks for 'St. Louis Times' on vintage equipment in a big old studio blessed with brilliant ambience and acoustics. As usual Dawson's signature string work rides shotgun through 'St. Louis Times' and has never sounded more right for Jim's songs, while Darryl Havers' innovative keyboard work and the rock solid rhythm session of Jeremy Holmes on bass and the tireless Geoff Hicks on drums gracefully support every track. Horns from a host of legendary Nashville players provide depth and texture on many of 'St. Louis Times' best songs.

Jim's old friend John Hammond passed through Vancouver while 'St. Louis Times' was being recorded, which provided the perfect opportunity for the two veterans to duck into the studio and cement a forty year friendship in song. Hammond trades verses with Byrnes on 'Ducks Yas Yas Yas', offers some tasty National Steel on 'Cake Alley' – an ode to one of St. Louis' seedier neighbourhoods of yesteryear – and blows some serious harp on 'Evil' and 'I Believe That Was A Lie.' Not to be outdone, the Canadian blues icon, Colin James stepped up to play an acoustic solo on 'That Will Never Do' that may very well be the best thing he's ever recorded. No Sinner's Colleen Rennison also dropped by the session to belt and snarl her way through 'Miss Me' the old Fontella Bass and Bobby McLure hit that will surely be remembered as one of the finest performances on 'St. Louis Blues.'

As spot on as Byrnes' choice of classic songs from St. Louis' heyday is, the thing that many of his fans look forward to hearing the most on a new album are Jim's original tunes. He's outdone himself this time with his first foray into spoken word with the emotive 'The Journey Home' that takes his listeners through the sights and sounds of the bustling St. Louis of Jim Byrnes' childhood. The slow blues of 'Old Dog, New Tricks' with beautiful clarinet accents from Tom Colclough and the spiritually uplifting 'I Need A Change' prove once again that Byrnes is an artist with a lot of depth and a huge vocal palette while 'I Believe That Was A Lie' is as fine an homage to Jimmy Reed as anyone could ever hope to hear.

The 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis and ten years of partnership with Steve Dawson may have had been the original motivation for recording 'St. Louis Times', but the sheer joy you can hear in the music Jim Byrnes and company create is the real reason to celebrate. Jim Byrnes is a living musical treasure and 'St. Louis Times' is his best record yet. And, that's saying something.


I Hear The Wind in the Wires (Released 2012)

There’s nothing more powerful than a good song and nobody knows that better than Jim Byrnes does. So, his decision to record an album of songs from the golden age of country music – many of which he’s been listening to for all his life - shouldn’t be all that surprising. Because when it all comes down - Rock, Blues, Folk, and Country – are only labels. And there was a time when those labels didn’t matter. Because if you know how to listen right, you’ll understand that there’s far less than a country mile separating Muddy Waters from Gene Autry. After all, Louis Armstrong and Jimmie Rodgers loved to sing together and you can bet they never once wondered if their collaborations confused their ‘target audience.’ And, as Jim loves to tell people, blues great Johnny Shines put it all into perspective for him many years ago by saying that Robert Johnson was the best country singer he’d ever heard.

If a song is good enough, it can lift us up, bring us to tears, and heal a broken heart. That’s something that Jim Byrnes first learned many years ago when he was a kid in St. Louis, curled up in the living room and listening through his mother’s record collection. Ella Fitzgerald, The Mills Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Glenn Miller and all those great big bands of the day gave Byrnes’ his earliest musical education. This passion for a good song has never left him and he’s spent the past four decades of his life listening to, writing down, singing and sharing music with a dedicated core of fans and music lovers. With such an encyclopedic knowledge of North American popular songs at his fingertips, when the mood strikes him to go into the studio, he dives back into his record collection like a jungle explorer or old crusader in search of the Holy Grail. And if songs are like gold, Jim has come back from his latest expedition armed with treasure. A satchel full of songs drawn from the depths of the well of American and Canadian roots traditions is clutched firmly in his weathered hands.

This time around, Byrnes turns back the hands of time to take his listeners into the world of country music, but it’s not the kind of country we’ve heard on the radio any time this century. The tales of lawlessness and tender love, recklessness and yearning, and tough as nails characters with sentimental flaws are songs that Byrnes sounds as if he was born to sing. With Jim’s compatriot, Steve Dawson back in the saddle again as producer and multi-instrumentalist (electric and acoustic guitars, slide guitar, pedal steel, baritone guitar, banjo, ukulele), I Hear The Wind In The Wires is surely the most natural, satisfying and downright joyous album of Byrnes’ lengthy career.

To hear these two men celebrate the music of Buck Owens, Ray Price, Hank Williams, Marty Robbins and other fathers of country music is a rare and exhilarating experience. After a partnership that stretches through five albums, 2 Juno Awards, and countless tours, Byrnes and Dawson sound completely natural together, interpreting these songs that they both sound born to play and sing.

Not just any musician can feel music like this and bring it to life, so when Jim and Steve hunkered down with their vintage equipment and gear for a four day recording session at Bryan Adams’ Warehouse Studios in Vancouver, they brought the cream of the city’s players in with them. With musicians like Geoff Hicks (drums), Chris Gestrin (organ, tack piano, Wurlitzer), Mike Sanyshyn (fiddle), John Reischman (mandolin) and Rob Becker (bass) on board, there’s not a single note wasted. The ensemble sings and plays with an economy and intuition that is missing from most modern blues and country records that favor over-playing and glossy production more than talent and authentic emotion.

Whether Jim’s delivering a swinging, soulful take of Hank Williams’ ‘Honky Tonk Blues’ in his best loping, old rake of a cowboy voice over a funky organ and pedal steel duet, or he’s getting down with a heartfelt interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘Ribbon of Darkness’ that gives new meaning to the expression ‘world-weary’, Byrnes and Dawson are firing on all cylinders. As Byrnes remembers, ‘Man, this was such a great experience. Every night Steve and I were in the studio, we’d think of other songs we could do. This album just scratches the surface. This could easily be a six CD box set and we’d still have songs to burn!”

Take just one listen to Byrnes and Colleen Rennison of ‘No Sinner’ rave their way through ‘Wild Mountain Berries’ - the old Kenny Vernon and Lawanda Lindsey duet - before you hear him light into Little Willie John’s ‘Big Blue Diamonds’ or nail a truly transcendent take of Nick Lowe’s ‘Sentimental Man’ and you’ll be crossing your fingers and hoping that this is just the first of many such records and that that box set Jim is talking about is just around the corner. Until then, you’ll just have to let the songs on I Hear The Wind In The Wires knock the frown off your face, pick you up and dust you off before sending you out - six guns smoking – to go looking for love in all the wrong places.


Everywhere West (Released 2010)

Some music simply can’t be played in the background. The first note catches you as the rest of the world melts away and you’ve got no choice but to stop what you were doing and listen. Really listen. Jim Byrnes’ new album, Everywhere West catches you that way. Listen closely and you can hear the wind blowing through the floorboards of long abandoned roadhouses. Wind that lifts up the dust ground down by the stomping feet of Saturday night dancers hurting, forgetting and testifying while Jimmy Reed hollered down the devil and ghosts of done me wrong romance. Open the door a little wider and some of that dust gets down your throat and all of that trapped passion and good time hurting becomes a part of you – just like the music of Jim Byrnes does.

For more than thirty years, Jim Byrnes has woven roots so deeply into the Northern Blues scene that it’s difficult to remember that this quintessentially Canadian icon was raised in St. Louis and that his instantly recognizable gruff as sandpaper, sweet as honey voice was not always an essential part of the country’s musical landscape.

Everywhere West marks the fourth collaboration between Byrnes and Juno award winning musician and producer, Steve Dawson. Fans of their previous work can rest assured that the intricate acoustic melodies, dirty blues guitar, funky organ and passionate interplay that we’ve come to expect when the two men get together in the same room are here in spades. If anything, the conversation goes a little deeper this time around and the playing is more assured and trusting than it’s ever been before. Listening back to some of the tracks from the album, it’s obvious that Byrnes is thrilled with the results. “I’m not one of those guys who loves the studio. I love live performance and being out in the world, and I’ve always found the technical aspect of the studio intimidating and a little bit cold. But, with Steve, it’s so much fun making a record. It’s just a bunch of guys sitting together and playing the music we love – with the tapes rolling.”

As we’ve come to expect, the musicians who support Byrnes on this effort have been selected from the country’s best with Dawson studio regulars Keith Lowe and Geoff Hicks laying down a rock solid rhythm section while Jeanne Tolmie offers her usual heavenly back up vocals. Special guest Keith Bennett turns in some tasty harmonica parts while Canadian fiddle and horn legend, Daniel Lapp blesses listeners with some absolutely inspired performances throughout the album.

Whether Byrnes is singing a Mississippi Sheiks chestnut like “Bootlegger’s Blues” or wailing his way through a stripped down banjo driven version of Bobby Bland’s “Yield Not To Temptation”, he effortlessly inhabits every syllable and corner of this music. Testifying with a poise and authority that few can muster, he adds weight and depth to a Dave Van Ronk inspired take of “He Was a Friend of Mine”. Defined by its yearning steel guitar line, Byrnes gives new life to old pain, showing that the blues can still cut like a razor when done right. Those who think that the world doesn’t need any more done me wrong songs only need to listen to Byrne’s worried to death version of Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance On Me” to realize how wrong they were, while a hip shaking good time version of Memphis Slim’s “No Mail Blues” reminds listeners that hurting or not, the blues has always been first and foremost about entertainment.

Three Byrnes originals round out the album – “Hot As A Pistol” – a passionate straight up blues rave, “Storm Warning” – a first take recording with some hot trumpet served up by Daniel Lapp and finally, “Me and Piney Brown” – a lovely ‘autobiographical dream tune’ that evokes an imaginary journey to Kansas City in 1938.

As Jim writes in his liner notes, Everywhere West is dedicated to ‘those who came before’, but this music doesn’t belong in a museum. Byrnes is a thoroughly modern bluesman who honours the past, but isn’t stuck there. The sounds and emotions he conjures are anchored somewhere beyond this moment, in timelessness with the understanding that truth is truth – whether glimpsed out the window of a speeding 1963 Valiant or delivered as an instant message to your iPhone. As Byrnes notes, “Deep down, blues is an acceptance of life. You stand in front of life and life says, ‘that’s the way it is baby’. To play the blues, you take all the bullshit that’s been piling up and you channel it through your guitar and voice. You let the pain go and turn it into a good feeling. That’s the blues – pure and simple.”

Pure and simple doesn’t get any better than this. When you hear Jim Byrnes pour his whole soul into singing a line as simple as ‘One sunny day, I’ll be home to stay’, you’ll instantly know that this is the kind of music you’re going to want to listen to forever – long after all other moods and fashions have faded away – and that sometimes time is on our side, and that nearly fifty years after first wondering ‘how blue can you get?’, Jim Byrnes has found his voice and is just hitting his stride.

“The repertoire, mostly blues traditionals but with three Byrnes originals and a song by Dawson, sounds like what you might hear at a musical get-together in a Mississippi small town. Singing the traditional Bootlegger's Blues, performed as a hoedown swing tune, Byrnes's voice sounds like that of a backwoods moonshiner. He evokes another part of the American South with Robert Johnson's From Four Until Late, which moves like a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade song.” - The Vancouver Sun


My Walking Stick (Released 2009)

Introducing the latest blood and guts, behind your knees, love, life, death, and after life release from the legendary multi Juno Award winning blues and roots artist Jim Byrnes. This is the third album from Jim in ­five years since he hooked up with one of North America’s most critically acclaimed roots music producers, Steve Dawson. Byrnes and Dawson put together another world class band and 'My Walking Stick' finds them building on the blues roots of 2004’s Fresh Horses and 2006’s gospel tinged Juno Award winning House Of Refuge as they continue exploring gospel, blues, rockabilly, country, and once again pull it all together in an original and unique way.

“You know, since I first got in cahoots with Steve I knew I'd found a great ally in genre bending and eliminating the pigeon holes often foisted on musical creativity”, says Byrnes. “I've been at this professionally for more than 40 years and I really feel that I'm only now discovering my true voice.”

The opening track “Ol’ Rattler” digs in and never lets go and the same can be said for the entire album. Moving through the border radio groove of the title track, to the 50’s vibe of “Lookin For A Love” and a slow burning version of The Band’s “Ophelia”, these are tales of wanderers (“Three Shots”), lost souls (“Drown In My Own Tears”), love (“Living Off The Love You Give Me”), death (“What Are They Doing In Heaven Today”), and redemption (“One Life”).

Byrnes explains further. “John Hammond tells how in talking to Muddy Waters he asked about why he wanted to become a professional entertainer and, sure, there were the references to influences; Robert Johnson, Son House, The Mississippi Sheiks, Big Bill Broonzy, but his muse turned out to be GENE AUTRY! And so on this recording we've gone all over the map with some originals, some obscure covers of all sorts, a Robbie Robertson composition, retelling the stories of John Henry and Stagger Lee in different settings, all sorts of fun stuff with some of the best damn players in the world.”

Those players are Keith Lowe on bass (Bill Frisell, Fiona Apple), Chris Gestrin on keyboards (K-OS, Randy Bachman), Jesse Zubot (Zubot and Dawson, Hawksley Workman), drummers Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits, John Hammond, Mavis Staples) and Matt Chamberlain (Edie Brickell, David Bowie) , critically acclaimed Vancouver based gospel trio The Sojourners, and of course Steve Dawson and Jim Byrnes.

 

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