The Music Years 1964-1968+
1964-----the year that the Civil Rights Act was passed, the year the Beatles arrived in New York, Motown records came into its own, and the Beach Boys and their clones launched the hot rod series of songs. It was also the year the Jim Wylie was relocated with the Air Force from Turkey to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany as an Aircraft Ground Equipment Mechanic. He was 21 years old.
I arrived at Spangdahlem as my Air Force duty station around the same time, hauling my guitar and banjo along---I was 21, too, and looking for others of the Folk Genre-----somewhere someone told me about this kid who lived in another barracks and played a left handed guitar and was pretty good (that’s always a relative term---almost anyone who could play 3 chords was considered talented in those days!). So, I poked around, found this kid who was working the night shift like I was as I recall, and we arranged to get together on our next time off to “jam” a little and check each other out. At that Close Encounter of the First Kind, he pulled out his Framus 12-string and proceeded to blast out “San Francisco Bay Blues” and “Nobody Knows You ‘Til You’re Down and Out” as his first offering. WOW! Could this guy finger pick like crazy! I countered with a couple of my ballads from previous folk work, and we played around for about 4 hours---asking, clarifying, trying harmonies, finding common grounds---
From that came a great combination of song, fun, and activities. Jim brought his wife Barbara over soon thereafter and moved into an apartment just outside the base, and we spent a lot of time together singing, entertaining, and socializing. For the next two years Jim and I ended up teaching guitar lessons and trampoline lessons to the youth at the base, doing trampoline demonstrations at base basketball games, entertaining at the Officers, NCO, and Airmen’s clubs on base as well at countless private parties, and the local Armed Forces Network television station. We also entered and won several base and Armed Forces Europe talent contests during this time frame, making many friends along the way. We wrote and performed songs about the Air Force way of life, about the Viet Nam war (in its infant stages) and about the scandals in British government---nothing was out of bounds for us!
As 1966 rolled along, I was reassigned to school in Arizona----and we asked and pulled some strings and got Jim reassigned to Arizona shortly thereafter---not at the same location, but close enough so we could continue to work our music on the weekends. For two more years---1966-1968, we worked back and forth in Tucson and Phoenix doing shows and developing more styles and ideas. And, oh---was that a fun time!!! Parties and clubs and folk/blues music was still hot! Jim taught me so much just by watching and imitating his finger picking. I was a great rhythm player and harmonizer, so together we had a nice blend. His songwriting was always smile-inducing, and his music and words thought provoking as most of you appreciate. Thankfully, most all of his creations are either written down or recorded—or both, for all of us to reminisce and enjoy.
I left Arizona in late 1968 for Texas and other Air Force assignments. Jim and I kept in touch as he completed his military assignment and moved on to California, having formed other musical bonds and developing his teaching styles and groups. The next time I saw Jim was in 1971 as I returned from Viet Nam----my wife and I spent a couple of days with he and Barbara and had a memorable short reunion then. We called and wrote from time to time, keeping track of each other. I ended up in Seattle in the early 80’s and he ended up in Portland I think, because we arranged to get together in 1982 and again in 1983 at the Seattle Folk Life Festival held at the Seattle Center (where the Space Needle stands) over the Memorial Day 4-day weekend those two years. Spending the night before the first performance on those dates at my home, we quick-rehearsed some of our old songs---to both of our amazements---with the harmonizations, licks, and timing from the decades before----it WAS truly an eye-watering experience (as Jim would say, “don’t get sloppy, just tell ‘em!”). By then I had kids, who had each heard about Jim and got to know him personally just during our short visits.
As the years continued, we sent tapes, called, wrote off and on----I became concerned with his chain smoking and alcohol issues---and we’d talk about those things, trying to work it so he knew he had support any time, any place. He’d send me copies of “Writings From The Cave” and I would hoot and holler about his ramblings----what a sense of humor! By then I was working for Delta Air Lines and arranged some layovers in Portland on some of my trips, where Jim and I could at least meet and have dinner or, on occasion, I could catch one of his performances somewhere. I took one of my sons. Brady, who a talented guitar player in his own right, to see Jim, and Jim spent an afternoon with him, showing him riffs, fingerings, styles, etc that helped Brady master some new techniques---as well some tickling humor from his music creations. Who can forget “Poof, the Magic Deodorant”, “Woad”, or “The Pinto Song”? My kids won’t, nor will I, nor will any of you I am sure.
We had moved to Utah back in 1988, and finally got Jim to come out for a visit over the 4th of July weekend---in 2002 I think---and we picked and grinned ourselves silly for 4 days, letting my kids and their friends whoop it up as they listened to two “old guys” wail and whack the guitars and the Songs of the Elder Set, or so it seemed to them. Same songs, same harmonies, same riffs, same jokes----except he and I laughed long and hard at so many of the inside jokes we shared over the years.
As Jim would also say, “It’s been quite a ride”. And it has, for all of us who shared our time with Jim. We have all been enlightened by him, concerned for him, and will miss him immensely---that he has left us with his Peace, Love, and Music is his legacy and our reflection on one meaning of life.
Samples of Wylie's music are in the current issue of Oregon Literary Review ... here.