JAMES  KING
Back in 1977, an uptight college grad assistant touring us incoming freshmen ladies through
the campus of California State College encountered one James King and friend out and about
carousing. I knew I had seen him before, maybe met him before somewhere. As he and his
friend stared us all down, trying to be so cool, the grad assistant warned us to stay away
from the “townies.� They were the bad boys, trouble from the get go and looking only
for cheap thrills and the latest crop of freshmen young ladies to take down to the gutter
with them. Worse than that she said, they were
musicians!

I met Jimmy King soon there after on the corner of Third and Wood, in front of the old
Shake N Dog.  He said that he met a lot of people on that corner, including Joe Grushecky.
The next time I saw him he was sitting with my one roommate in Sepesey’s Tavern. He
looked as though he had lost his last friend. I overheard a bit of his sad exchange of tales
of bad love and woe on his part and whispered to my roommate that his lament sounded like
a bad Tom Waits or Leonard Cohen tune. Jimmy heard my comment and went from sad to
thrilled mode simply because someone else in the room knew who Tom Waits was. He fired
music trivia questions at me. I can only remember now that one of them, the final question,
was for me to name Johnny Otis’ son.  I was an instant friend because I knew who
Shuggie Otis was. The deal was sealed when the roommate pointed out that he and I both
had the same photo of Hunter S. Thompson hanging in our kitchens too.

My group of friends hung out almost nightly with him and his friends. He had just pieced
the first, original 4-piece James King Band together and was pretty miserable overall. In a
way, it was the worst time of all of our lives. We were all either heartbroken or just lost
in general coming in but had the time of our lives actually in wholesome play while the rest
of the town talked on about us all. Jimmy threw the greatest parties, but the best times
were way after hours when it was about 6-8 of us, with all our clothes on having silly
dance or singing contests or playing limbo. Jimmy always had great ice cream and wine in his
frig and, of course, had all the party supplies for a series of memorable reggae parties.  

One night he came knocking at our door saying he had seen the movie"Wolfen" and was
afraid to stay alone. We just laughed and he passed out on the couch only to wake in the
middle of the night to an empty apartment. His drummer had stopped to say there was a
party at Jimmy’s and that’s where we went. He really was afraid of scarey movies,
and he knew he didn’t need an excuse to stay. That was the first of a few couches of
mine that had his body groove molded into it.

Jimmy King started the tradition of cleaning out all my leftovers the day after Thanksgiving
that first year in California. When I fell in love with Mr. Toye, Jimmy was like our child
for the next 16 years until we actually had our first baby. What was known as Jimmy’s
room turned into a nursery about the time he started to straighten out his life. The day he
told me he had cancer, we exchanged bad news. In an effort to make light of the matter,
he teased that he would return to haunt my old house that he loved so he could see me
naked having sex. He said he’d let me know he was in the house by knocking  an unlit
candle from the mantle.
Jimmy's suffering was so hard on him and his mom. He took up painting and made me swear
I wouldn’t tell anyone while he was alive. He thought it wasn’t manly. He played a
lot of music while he was still strong enough and recorded it on a small tape player. He
always asked at the start of any conversation we had whether Warren Zevon were still
alive. My answer was always yes.

On May 9, 2003, I was at a friend’s house early in the morning trying to get tickets
for Springsteen when I knew, just felt it, that Jimmy was slipping away soon. I left there
that morning knowing before any phone calls came that he was passing. I yelled at him a
few times when I put flowers on his grave that he didn’t listen and should have sought
more medical opinions. I yelled at the grave because he had blind faith in his doctor and
didn’t ask about medications such as Procrit that might’ve made him stronger.

Since he got sick through today, I buy a much smaller Thanksgiving turkey because I prefer
not to have much leftovers the next day to remind me that he’s not coming by to eat.
The day I realized I was leaving my long-time marriage and moving out on my own with my
son, I was downstairs in that big old house when I heard a noise upstairs. The house had 21
windows and it was a warm spring day when most were open. None in that room near the
mantle were open that could’ve explained a brisk breeze knocking the candle from the
mantle that made the loud noise I heard downstairs. Jimmy was on my mind a lot then even
before the candle fell...
With the second anniversary of his death approaching in 2005, I thought it only fitting that
his music should be heard on commercial radio. So what follows is a 3-piece production
packet that was sent on Jimmy’s behalf to the little mountain top radio station. The
Saturday before the tribute to Jimmy aired, I ran into that station’s afternoon DJ
Jeff Gerard at a Norman Nardini show. I slipped him a copy of “At Large,� just
incase the Nighttime Dog Ron Chavis was ill or had to miss work. Jeff often subbed for him
in his absence and said he’d do the tribute if Ron were absent. In the afternoon, I was
dropping off the Otis Redding CD for the tribute that Ron didn’t have when Jeff said he
was about to play one of Jimmy’s songs up next. I drove down the mountain in happy
tears. In reality,  Jimmy’s premiere on commercial radio was heard through 5 PA
counties and portions of West Virginia and Maryland about 8 hours before the official
midnight tribute.
Ron read the following letter a few times on the air the nights before the actual tribute..
My goal was to have every musician who ever played with Jimmy and others to sign behind
my name on the letter to Ron. Norman, his band and Chizmo were just great in providing
that initial enthusiasm to proceed with this mission to contact all these musicians to
coordinate this tribute. Jill West said to put all her guys down and Warren King was
believed to be back in Florida. Except for Jill’s band and Warren, all of the persons
listed actually signed in ink or gave their electronic signature for the letter. Joe Grushecky
sent a Brick Alley photo. Jill West and Mike Sweeney were great to open their phone books
and provide phone numbers for others I couldn’t locate. Larry Seivers, Glenn Pavone, Gil
Snyder, Doc Dougherty, Chuck Beatty, Helene Milan, Matt Williams and Freddie Felger
took time out to talk pretty extensively about Jimmy. Joffo Simmons and Phil Brontz wrote
to me about their memories of him. What seemed like a large task ultimately played out in
no time at all very effortlessly.
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