Black Hen Music announces an April 15 release date for St. Louis Times, the new CD from award-winning blues/roots artist Jim Byrnes. His latest disc features a special guest appearance by Blues Foundation Hall of Famer John Hammond, whose vocal, harmonica and guitar talents are displayed on four tracks, including a duet with Jim on the James “Stump” Johnson chestnut, “The Duck’s Yas Yas Yas.” Additionally, Canadian blues legend Colin James shines on acoustic guitar for a simmering version of Little Milton’s “That Will Never Do.” Black Hen labelmate, singer Colleen Rennison, also dropped by the sessions to belt out “You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone),” the old Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure hit.
Jim Byrnes has won multiple Juno Awards (Canada’s Grammy) and Maple Blues Awards for his previous releases, and recently received another honor in January when he won the Maple Blues Award in Canada as “Male Vocalist of the Year.” St. Louis Times represents his sixth album for Black Hen, which had been based in Vancouver, but recently moved to the Nashville area.
Although having lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, for many years, Jim Byrnes was born and raised in St. Louis, and his new CD is a salute to the blues music and artists who influenced him during his youth and adulthood. It’s his most personal CD to-date, and features his take on music from such St. Louis icons as Chuck Berry, Albert King, Little Milton and “Stump” Johnson, as well as the likes of Lonnie Johnson and W.C. Handy. St. Louis Times also features four original songs that touch on Jim’s relationship to the city’s blues heritage that were co-written by Byrnes and Black Hen Music label owner, Steve Dawson, who adds a variety of guitars throughout.
The connection between Jim Byrnes and the music contained on his new CD is palpable. “These songs represent a snapshot of what I heard growing up in St. Louis,” Byrnes says. “There’s an unbelievable history there, and I was exposed to it both in live performances and on the radio. The music surrounded me when I was a kid and this album is my way of repaying the city for what it gave me. ‘Stump’ Johnson I knew from when I was eight years old but never knew he played, because he worked with my father down at the City Hall and had given up music at that point. I found out many years later when I saw his picture in a book by Paul Oliver that featured piano players and my dad pointed him out to me. I used to see Chuck Berry riding around town all the time and my parents lived in the same apartment building as his amazing piano player, Johnnie Johnson. I spent a lot of time in Gaslight Square, and I saw Bonnie Bramlett as an Ikette at the Club Imperial in North St. Louis. And I saw Albert King play at the local UAW Hall social club when he still had a day job a backhoe operator.”
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 these songs of his youth, 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.”
For the sessions on St. Louis Times, Dawson gathered together some of the best roots musicians in Canada at his studio in Vancouver and their Nashville counterparts in his newly-minted room in Brentwood to record on vintage equipment. As usual, Dawson’s signature string work rides shotgun throughout the new CD and has never sounded more right for Jim’s 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 40-year friendship in song. Besides the “Stump” Johnson song, he offers some tasty National Steel guitar on “Cake Alley” – an ode to one of St. Louis’ seedier neighborhoods of yesteryear – and blows some serious harp on “I Get Evil” and “Somebody Lied.”
“I first met John in 1966 in New York City when he was playing at a club and Jimi Hendrix was his guitar player,” recalls Byrnes. At the time, Jim was going to college in Boston, but frequently came down to New York’s Greenwich Village to hang out and avail himself of the exciting music scene happening there. Since then, the two have become fast friends.
As spot-on as Byrnes’ choice of classic songs from his 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” and the album’s closer, 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.
Jim Byrnes grew up in the north side of St. Louis. One of the neighborhood 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,” Byrnes remembers. “We were too naïve, and had too much respect for the music and culture – they knew it, they could tell.”
By age 13, Jim was singing and playing blues guitar. His first professional gig was in 1964 and 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 over 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.
A multi-talented artist, Jim Byrnes’ fame as an actor has grown immeasurably from his many TV and movie roles, including television’s acclaimed “Wiseguy” and “Highlander” series, as well as his own national variety program, “The Jim Byrnes Show.”