The Vancouver Sun
VANCOUVER - Welcome to Mr. Byrnes’ neighbourhood.
Busy Vancouver actor and bluesman Jim Byrnes is releasing a new CD this week, penning his memoirs and getting ready for his first spin as a professional radio host with a three-hour weekly Saturday night show called Slipping into Darkness on Shore 104 FM.
As exciting as it is to release a new CD, Byrnes and Vancouver radio fans are at least as stoked to see what happens when Byrnes hits the airwaves several decades after his last stab at radio on the student-run station at Boston College.
The station goes on the air officially on July 1 and Byrnes’ first show is slated for the evening of July 4. He has been planning the show for some weeks already, but not too much.
“I really want to catch lightning in a bottle with this show,” he said.
Growing up in St. Louis, Byrnes listened to great deejays of the late 50s and early 60s on Nashville radio.
“Late at night you would tune your little transistor radio and pick up John R or Randy’s Record Mart on WLAC and it was magic,” he said. “There was another guy in St. Louis on a really straight station, but he was on late at night: ‘This is John McCormick, the man who walks and talks on the east side of midnight.’”
Byrnes hopes to do the show live as often as possible, but when he’s on the road he will record the show in advance. But not too often.
“I want it the real deal like it used to be when we were listening, on the air everywhere 24 hours a day,” he oozed, slipping into his FM baritone.
“There was something magic about what they did and I’m still trying to formulate it all,” he admitted. “But I’ve wanted to do this since I was a little kid.”
Byrnes hopes to keep the vibe of the show pretty loose and mix things up with guests from the music world, of course, but also food and a smorg of other denizens of the city.
“It’s going to be a bit like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” he said.
“I have carte blanche at this point from the station, a least until it all goes down the toilet,” Byrnes quipped.
As busy as he is with the radio show, Byrnes is under contract with Douglas & McIntyre to write a memoir.
“I'm doing everything with no end in sight,” he said.
Everything is mostly music though, and Byrnes is fully engaged in a new phase of his 40-year musical career.
Byrnes joined forces with musician/producer Steve Dawson six years ago when he made the jump to Dawson’s Black Hen Records.
The pair met while working on a one-off performance and hit it off, personally and musically.
“I said we have to do this again,” Byrnes recalled. Dawson took him at his word and called a few months later to propose that they work together on a new album.
“I like that he doesn't worry about busting genre, he just wants to take each tune and make it our own,” he said. “As well as being an amazing instrumentalist, I would put him on a plane with [legendary producers] T-Bone Burnett, Daniel Lanois and Rick Rubin for just finding the right setting for the music.”
Byrnes and Dawson went into the studio three times over 2008 and the first couple of months of this year with a half dozen Byrnes compositions and each with a mittful of standards and old favourites that they had either performed together or wanted to work on.
“Some of the songs were half-written and others we just liked,” Byrnes said. “We recorded a couple of extra ones and used the ones that fit into what I wanted to do.”
Not that he knew exactly what that was.
“We had played a lot of these songs over the years and we knew what worked and what didn’t work,” he said. “I didn’t just wake up one morning and know this is what I want, it’s more subconscious.”
“On our last album House of Refuge, we gathered songs of hope, longing, sin and redemption and that kinds of works for me,” Byrnes explained. “They always seem to be deeply buried in the back of my mind.”
Byrnes is not fazed by the new pop music business model that favours single downloads over albums.
“I'm kind of an old-school guy,” he admitted. “I like to make something that's of a piece and add to the flow. I will always be that way.”
For a musician, Byrnes also remains a very successful actor with another turn on Sanctuary coming up.
“I always wanted to be an actor and majored in theatre,” Byrnes said. “But I have always been a musician from the time I was three years old running around in circles trying to sing along with Roy Acuff singing the Wabash Cannonball on the radio.”
“If I didn't have music I’d be mad or in jail,” he laughed. “I realized at one point that it was a fantastic gift being able to sing and play and it just sort of took my life over.”
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