Updated: Oct 10, 2018
By Elizabeth Gracen:
I remember the first time I saw Jim Byrnes perform in Vancouver, Canada. What a great night it was! He hit the stage and, if I’m not mistaken, I didn’t wait for anyone to ask me to dance. I just made my way to the center of the dance floor, locked eyes with Jimmy on stage, and started to dance. He was amazing and bluesy and sexy and perfect. Such a fine musician, storyteller, and performer—a great friend, too.
We’ve been friends ever since the days we worked together on HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES, and we’ve never lost contact for too long. Whether it was beautiful Vancouver or the gorgeous days and nights spent in Paris, France, we’ve laughed, complained, sipped too much wine, and talked, and talked, and talked.
He is a prolific singer-songwriter with numerous awards to his name for his phenomenal albums. This man has some stories to tell, and I am beyond thrilled that he is writing a MUSIC blog for Flapper Press.
Please meet the one and only Mr. Jim Byrnes!
EG: Jim, it was so good to see you at the last and possibly the final HIGHLANDER Gathering in Los Angeles this past fall; as always, it was a joy to see you and hear you play. It was an emotional weekend for all of us. We’re like family, and I know for certain that we all value our time together on that show as some of the best times of our lives. Can you share a little about your experience working as Joe Dawson on the series and what those years mean to you?
JB: You know the Highlander thing really came out of the blue. Number one, I never even auditioned. Season 2 was just about to go into production in Vancouver, and they had just lost a couple of deals with two well-known British actors to play the part of a new character, Watcher Ian Dawson. With their backs against the wall as they were going to camera in just a few days, my agent got a call: Would I be interested, etc.? I was in town and had a bit of notoriety from my years on Wiseguy, so they flipped a coin. My audition consisted of having drinks with executive producer Bill Panzer at the Gerard Lounge. I guess we hit it off, and I was promised 4 episodes. We changed the name from Ian to Joe, and 5 years on I still had a job . . . Kismet. To be a working actor and get to sleep in your own bed and be with your family is beyond a blessing, and playing out the shank of the season in Paris, France, was like a dream. Lifelong friendships and sweet memories.
EG: I don’t even know where to begin with questions about your life. It’s quite a story that covers all the bases in terms of experience. Would you tell me about the origins of your connection with music—the blues in particular?
JB: Growing up in St. Louis, MO, gave me an incredible musical education by osmosis as much as anything. Quite early on I discovered the blues, jazz, and gospel that played down at the other end of the radio dial, and a parallel universe came into view. Fabian or Bobby “Blue” Bland? What do you think? And then the fact that Chuck Berry lived in the next neighborhood over, that the house band at many of our teen dances was the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, that guys like Albert King and Little Milton, Fontella Bass and on and on lived right in town, that I was able to go out to see Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and a huge cadre of lesser known but just as powerful local blues men and women had me hooked.
EG: You’re a St. Louis boy. How did you end up in Vancouver? It must be interesting to watch the ‘ole US of A from a distance—especially these days. Do you miss living here at all?
JB: The journey from St. Louis to Vancouver was quite circuitous, with stops in Boston, NYC, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the U.S. Army, Chicago, Toronto, and Vancouver Island along the way. In February of 1972 I was involved in a road accident on Vancouver Island that resulted in the amputation of both of my legs above the knee. After many dark days and nights of recuperation, physio, and much soul searching, I decided to make my stand here in Vancouver. I am a dual citizen (CDN/US) and keep a close eye on events all over this world.
EG: One of the many things I like about you is how varied you are as an artist. Yes, you can play the hell out of the guitar and sing with that smoky voice that makes me crazy, but you can spin a yarn and weave a story like no one I’ve ever met. You act, too! If you had to choose just one medium, what would it be and why?
JB: I find it hard to separate my music, my acting, my storytelling; they all stem from a well inside of me that I want to share, the emotions and desires that we all share as human beings.
Music is the special gift that has seen me through the hardest of times and given me great joy in the best of times.
EG: I’ve loved your radio show, The Blues with Mr. Byrnes, on Roundhouse Radio. I would listen to it every weekend, usually as I was making dinner.
JB: Sadly Roundhouse Radio has gone off the air and is no more. I really do miss it as I loved going into that booth, putting on the headphones, and diving in. I'm pondering a podcast, but I'm not much of a gear head and am not set up for home recording, but I have inquired with a couple of friends, so we'll see.
EG: Last question: can you tell me about your blog and what you’ll be writing about?
JB: I just hope I can educate, entertain, and edify with some of my tales about the music that I love and some of the things I have experienced and maybe learned along the way.
“If you don't make mistakes, you aren't really trying”—Coleman Hawkins.