The Vancouver Province - Feature
OK, we're all agreed that air travel these days is a no-fun proposition, what with all the nutty security impositions -- I mean really, that whole shoe-removal thing is an elaborate practical joke, right? -- and then having to go find a Subway to get food before you board. And the seats the size of a magazine. Rolled up.
It's easier to stay home and just watch the Discovery Channel.
But as much of a pain as it is for us, imagine what a guy like Jim Byrnes goes through. Byrnes, you'll remember, is the St. Louis-born blues man and actor who moved here after a stint with the U.S. Army's 196th Light Infantry Division -- he turned 21 in Vietnam -- and was helping push a stalled truck on Vancouver Island when a car hit him from behind crushing both legs.
A couple of months ago I spotted him across the street in downtown Vancouver and watching him get out of the car and make his way down the street was work, real work. Not surprisingly, he calls travel "murder, a real nightmare."
Byrnes, his record producer and musical sidekick Steve Dawson, and five other band members recently returned from a tour through Holland and Germany. It was a grand success. They played for some 12,000 people on Queen's Day, the big Dutch national holiday. They played for 12 people at a house concert.
But no matter where they went, the hassle of travelling was ever present. It's one thing to take your belt off to get through security. Think two titanium legs with copper rivets. Byrnes tells the tale of another recent trip to St. Louis to see his aging mother when the security guy insisted he walk through the metal detector, which of course went off. So then he asks Byrnes how high the artificial legs went. To the hip, he answered.
"So then he asks, 'How far down do it go?' So I started laughing. And he says, 'What you laughing at?' And I said, 'I'm laughing at how stupid you are.' So I missed the flight and spent three hours with the cops."
Which is a roundabout way to say when Jim Byrnes names his brand new album My Walking Stick, it has extra meaning. The song itself, a novelty Irving Berlin tune from the 1938 Alexander's Ragtime Band blockbuster originally sung by the eternally brassy Ethel Merman, is a real period piece, a tango given a nice swing by Dawson.
Other songs include originals like Byrnes' earthy "Ol' Rattler," Suzie (Oh Suzanna) Ungerleider's take on the old Stagger Lee story in "Three Shots" and a swell take on the Band's "Ophelia." This is a fine Byrnes album and his third produced by Dawson in five years, a happy collaboration that has completely revitalized the Byrnes career.
"Every body knows him as this virtuoso guitar player, which he is," says Byrnes of Dawson. "But his talents as a producer, I think, are absolutely amazing. I have no problem putting him on a list with Daniel Lanois,
T Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin. There's great care and craft there and he elicits great performances.
"We've found a great working relationship. We've done all this without any eye to commercial radio. We love this stuff and we're gonna play it the way we want to play it. And the odd thing is I've had the best success by doing that."