Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009

03/05/2019

Jim Mesi, Portland Bluesman, dead - A personal remembrance

By DAVID KAHL // One Portland Blues legend remembers another on the occasion of the passing of guitarist Jim Mesi at 69

Portland Bluesman/bassist/legend David Kahl played with and knew Jim Mesi, who died yesterday from emphysema.

The first time I saw Jim Mesi play guitar was by accident, when his band, Brown Sugar, was performing on Mt. Tabor, in Portland, Oregon. I was visiting a guy who played harmonica and flute with my brother, a couple of high school buddies, and me, a vagabond who happened to be camping in the shrubbery close by. We heard the strains of music that was familiar, with an edginess that directly spoke to us. We followed the sound, only to come upon this band, playing to a crowd that, for all appearances, just came out of nowhere. It took a few months to find out the name of this band that had so many notable players, but it was this guitarist, Jim Mesi, who really stood out.

Even then, Jim had qualities that far surpassed his years. There was fluidity and there was fire, a stunning combination in anyone, let alone someone who was so young, and then there was his incredible tone, a hallmark that defies description or comparison. Over the years, I saw a lot more of Jim, particularly featured in the Paul deLay Band. During the 80’s, while I was with Lloyd Jones’ band – another Brown Sugar alumnus – there were many occasions when I’d catch these guys and, in passing, we would quip how, someday, we’d play together, something that, in the cases of both Paul and Jim, did come to pass.

Much is known about Paul deLay’s struggles, while Jim’s challenges aren’t so public. Jim was, admittedly, impulsive, something that worked when it came to his musicianship and nearly ruined him, personally and repeatedly, over the years. With all due respect, it was his indulgence that took its toll on him, though Jim did work on moderating impulse, but that’s not what we should remember.

He had returned to Portland, after a self-imposed exile to Seattle, and was ready to start his own band, a heady proposition, given his wasn’t a household name and that Jim wasn’t a front man. Though the lineup went through changes, it was the original settled grouping, with another Portland legend, Steve Bradley, that gave the band focus and Jim a musical and personal foil. Steve and Jim shared a plethora of passions – surf music, monster movies, Big Daddy Roth, and, of course, guitars. It was this pairing that came to be known as The Losers Club, the subject of a documentary, an excuse for friends to meet on a weekly basis, and, even when it was just the two of them playing, a master clinic in guitar wizardry.

Jim had some stellar fans, notably Billy Gibbons, Bo Diddley, and B.B. King, who bowed to Jim in passing after the deLay band opened for him. Jim was invited to perform with the Hellecasters and was brought up on stage in NYC to play a couple with none other than Les Paul. His wardrobe and his guitar collection were impeccable and, while it would be easy to suggest that the quality of his instruments helped, I can say, from direct experience, that this wasn’t necessarily so. There were several times when I heard Jim take the same guitar as others were playing, make imperceptible adjustments, if any, and crush with warmth, body, articulation, and movement that astounded, especially by comparison.

Then, again, there was his personal life, one heartache after another, beginning with the loss of a brother, at a young age, and of his mother, tragedies that haunted him. Jim seemed to settle down when fatherhood beckoned. Unfortunately, Jim’s son, Christopher, was born with serious birth defects and died in infancy, further driving his more indulgent tendencies and costing him yet another marriage. He managed to find other relationships that pulled him from the brink, but it was the final one that seemed to take him to a point of no return. One last time, Jim married a woman who knew his faults, loved him and was willing to care for him, even while she suffered relentless, debilitating pain. One night, after playing a gig, Jim came home to find, her depression and agony having gotten the better of her, his wife had committed suicide. The impact was crushing, and Jim fell into a state of isolation and self-neglect. The intervention of two good friends, well-known musicians, got him into a hospital and, at least for a while, improving, though the damage was done.

Again, Jim withdrew from his musical connections and found refuge with his older brother. We all knew Jim wasn’t doing well, but where he lived wasn’t conducive to just dropping in to say hi, the only excuse he would accept from his friends. Still, when we heard the news of his passing, the prevailing sentiment was one of numbness, a shock to the senses that can only come from the loss of an icon, emblematic of an era or a movement. There’s not enough room to fully examine why Jim Mesi, small of stature, yet one giant of a presence, represents both when it comes to the Portland Blues scene.

Jim Mesi has not just left the room. In typical Mesi style, he’s left every Portland venue that has ever had Blues played in it.

Learn more about Jim from this documentary, The Losers Club

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Comments

Daniel J Curran

Jim RIP

JC Tubbs

Thank God loaning us Jim Mesi

Nancy Webster

Jim and I were born on the same day. We joked about how he had a harder life. Guess that's really true. I haven't talked to him since last summer at the Blues Festival. He told me something about the illnesses he'd endured. I'm so sad. I hope he's found peace. Love ya, Jim.

Michael Strickland

Really good article! Thanks.

Al Zion

Absolutely the best blues guitarist I have ever worked with, and I have worked with a bunch. Jim will be missed by every musician and fan that ever had the pleasure of working with or listening to his wonderful styling and talent.

Vicky Troastle

This is so Awesome,,brings SO many great memories. .♡♡♡

Mollie in PDX

Excellent article Dave. RIP Jim

Chuck Cheek

Somebody needs to contact the Portland TV press. I've not heard word one of Jim's passing.

Chuck Cheek

Thanks for the heart felt tribute to Jim. Portland needs to have a Jim Mesi appreciation day to honor his amazing career and talent

John Massimilla

I didn't know Jim personally, but wish I could have. I saw Brown Sugar many times, my old neighborhood was Mt. Tabor; I was probably there that day you 1st saw them playing. I was just learning guitar in 1970, as a young teen. Jim was inspiring in his playing and presence. He is one of the few Musicians, I can close my eyes and see and hear him playing as clear as the day I experienced his music live. David, great job on the story, I never knew Jim was that tortured, you certainly couldn't tell from the way he smiled on stage.

Duwayne Graves

I will miss your music! RIP

Duwayne Graves

You will be missed! Surf on Guitar man

Polly Howell

He will be missed
There was only one Italian chainsaw.

Steve Nelson

Why I did not know Jim is a total failure on my part-- North Portland Ventures-Style blues surf music was my thing. I now feel incomplete. What a legendary artist!

Janeen

You will be so very missed, Jimi, RIP💞

Phil Newton

You captured the spirit of this compact giant, Dave, Thank you. Much love and respect.

Phil

Jean-Pierre Garau

Thank you for introducing me to the Jim Mesi I, regrettably, never knew.

anonymous

Craig Dee the Night Owl, Jim was and remains a true guitar hero and Portland legend,may his memory,gift and music live on. See you on the other side Jim🎼🎸✌️😎

Attilio Panissidi III

Nicely written remembrance-very informative

Dave James

David, thanks for your heartfelt remembrance. I've been around long enough to remember all the old local bands and to have seen them live on multiple occasions. Back to the halcyon days of Springer's, The D-Street Corral, The Chase and the Headless Horseman. Weekends spent with Mr. Lucky, The Redcoats, Tikis & The Fabulons, The Epics and more. I first became aware of Steve Bradley when he was with the Rhythm Tones and that led me to Brown Sugar where I first encountered Jim Mesi. Those two guys could flat out play and they continued to do so up until recently with their Thursday night gig at Clyde's Prime Rib on Sandy Blvd. Mesi's departure is all the more lamentable in that there are so few out there who can replace him. He's left a lasting local legacy. In addition to mourning his loss, we should take the time to be thankful he passed our way.

Dennis Handa

First met Jim in 65-he was a great player and really a great person. Had a good sense of humor and was always friendly to anyone. I think about him and will miss him. Luckily there are some good videos of him playing on Youtube. He was definitely an exceptional musician whose passion for the music always showed. RIP "Little Jimmy Mesi"

Phil Agrue

Jim was a classy guy, a great guitarist and Portland icon. Too young to be gone. Fond memories of him from Brown Sugar on through the years since. RIP.

Rose Thomas Jones

Thanks for the bio. So many great memories of Jim and his music, Trails End, Candlelight Room, Tillicum Inn, Blues Festivals. An integral part of the blues scene in Stumptown. His personal struggles were never exposed when he was performing, he just transformed them into some fantastic glutathione playing. You may have left this world, but your music will be lives on forever❤️👏🌈

Andree Pothier

An Amazing and Beautiful tribute to Jim ... David, you’ve written a heartfelt biography/novel in a few paragraphs filled with Awe and Love .. thank you for putting this in perspective ❤️🙏

Peter Mott

Dave, excellent tribute to Jim Mesi. Thank you. When I first stumbled in Portland, supposedly help initiate a short four month project in February 1975, I soon met several kindred music lovers, Gary Ewing and Todd Short. Live music venues were few and hard to find at the time. After seeing the Juan Man Band at a long gone PCS (now an Indian restaurant), my new friends took me to the Earth Tavern where I stood stunned before Brown Sugar. Clearly and demonstratively, this was the best band I'd ever experienced up close and personal. I was immediately a fan. Mesi, Lloyd Jones and this band were imbued with the spirit, heart and soul of the music they played. By the time the project that called me to Portland (The Last Hurrah) opened, Jim had joined Wrinkle on dual lead guitars (with Kimbo Smith) while also playing a velvety pedal steel. Wrinkle became our second house band (The Cowboy Angels with Tom McGriff and John Bunzow was our first), turning our basement club into a smoke house of steaming rock, rhythm, blues and Texas swing. I grew up on the music played by Jim Mesi and so many other greats of this marvelous creative era in Portland music. The times they were a-changin in so many ways and Jim, and several handfuls of others (including Steve Bradley, Paul de Lay, Sand, etc.) played the music that brought the light that led the way along our journey. Yes, for me at least, listening to the music of Jim Mesi was like a religious revival. Smokin' rhythm angels all. With warmth and wonder, best wishes to Jim, now and always. Rest in peace!

Cam Newton

Thanks so much for this remembrance David. Loved his playing and even sold Jim my vintage '63 Fender Super Amp back in the early 80s. We were playing in different genres, but he was my favorite Blues guitarist on the PDX scene. Thanks for your musicianship Jim!

Kurt Arnold

As a previous owner of the Parchment Farm Jim's office as he liked to call it, I will miss you Jim and all your glory. God Speed my good friend God Speed

Dalton Hobbs

I first saw Jim with Brown Sugar at Reed College opening for Muddy Waters (1969?) - later at the Last Hurrah and then reconnected in the 1990s at Tillicum and at the Losers Club on Tuesdays - he was a real as you get and generous with his time and one liners. He honored our family by attending my daughter 's wedding in June 2018 She was one of his students and the lessons she learned far transcended the solo for "Hideaway". We will miss Jim's presence and friendship - he was truly one of a kind.

Phil Emerson

Well said, David...You did him proud, here. Thank you for doing this...There hasn't been enough written about Jim Mesi out there.

Kenny Kofler

Beautiful words, David. There's so much that could be said about Jim. I think one of the most telling things is that you can't go to a blues function in the Pacific Northwest without hearing his name mentioned at some point. His style and persona were so classic, yet so his own. To any guitarist- or Blues musician, for that matter- who grew up here, he's a legend and a seminal influence both in musical style and professional class. The first time I saw him play, my entire paradigm of what it meant to really play the guitar shifted. I only hope that some of that style and class has rubbed off on me over the years. Jim inspired me and many others to aspire to a higher level of musicianship and professionalism. I learned some important things from Jim, and here are a couple: Mesi Rule 1. There is NO such thing as "too flashy" when it comes to guitars or shoes; 2. There is NO such thing as too much reverb- you're riffs are just too busy; 3. Rule number 1 is not a guideline- it is a rule...

Kim McBride

So sorry to hear about Jim's passing. I first saw Jim at He Tillicum. Jim had married my brother' former sister-in-law Liana. My brother had me go to see him many times. Very sad about the impact Liana's death had on him as well. My niece is named after her. Hugs to all his fans.

Paula Clinton

I lived behind Jim and Liana for many years and know how much Liana's death affected him. I have fond memories of walking over to the house to visit Liana and giving his dogs treats through the fence. I always enjoyed looking at his memorabilia in their house and was also devastated when Liana passed. RIP Jim, may you and Liana have a wonderful reunion!

Mark Denman

Beautiful world definitely now has and always will have a void because of Jim’s absence . On a positive note the music world is a better place because of His music. No words are suffice . RIP

Amznwmn

This a great article, David, thank you. As I went through some of my photos of past Waterfront Blues Festivals recently, I put a number of photos of Jim aside for a future show. His style, the guitar he was playing, his mannerisms when playing all melded together for a couple of great photos that seemed at the time to epitomize the musician that Jim put in front of the audience. He had a style all his own.

robert higgins

i have known Jim since the fifth grade
in the sixth grade we both got out kay guitars for christmas......,.mine was a one pickup and his had three,
by the seventh grade he was teaching my guitar teacher. what a loss to our world......up up and away Jim bon voyage.

Lewton Jones

Better than any pedestrian comment on lifestyle, He was a giant of an artist, tolerating the mediocrity around him the best he could. A great guitarist and genuine human being, without affectation and pretense, his lead guitar should been produced by stevie ray vaughn's people.

Laura Walters

David, Thank you. Jim, Please give Tony a huge hug, big one to Helen, and love to Christopher. You're home now, but I miss you.

Frank Hoffert

I knew Jim since the first grade and saw his transformation from just a kid with a guitar to what became this person on stage that played with such intent and passion that no one could keep up with him. I would put him on the handlebars of my bike and ride double to his lessons. His first gig was at the old Cafe Espresso in the Rubber Band. I can say that when he got that Gretch and Amp, that was the day that his talents changed., We talked over the years and he always was positive and good to me, no matter what else was going on in his life. I will remember that about him. We all missed him at the 50th high school reunion last year. He was an extraordinary person and musician we will miss him. God speed Jim

Tricia Robertson

My son had the extraordinary luck of being friends with Jim and some of his buddies from his teenage years, even though he was half their age. Jim and the guys took him under their wing and taught him everything they could. I'll cherish all the Thursday evenings we hung out at Clyde's Prime Rib, so George could play with him and Steve Bradley and others. May you finally find pace and happiness on the other side. Thank you for sharing your awesome talent with my son and the world. You will be missed. Secret Agent Man😉

Norm grinstead

II came to Portland in 1972 with a band and opened for brown sugar at the Python, my ears never forgot that guitar&sharp players. Growing up near Chicago , had seen some good ones, but these young white guys blew me away!Skipping to the mid 1990s,I had a place named cafe espresso in seaside or,yes, named after the one in pdx ,where Jims first gig was. Ss9usOne of the first bands we had there in a three year run , was Jims band w/ Nora Michaels, only wish we had recorded what was a stellar performance.I as a guitar player took a lesson every time I heard Jim play,I and my Italian wife, who told Jim, don't blow my customers away, dearly loved him, a consummate pro. Regrettably had not seen him in a while. Thank you for the lessons Jim, play on brother!,

Andy Kill -- Troutdale

Wonderful tribute to a stellar Portland musician, David. Jim Mesi could wring more tones out of a guitar with just his fingers than others using a dozen effects pedals. One in a million talent … gone too soon.

Troy Harrison

I was a student of jim's and what an incredible journey. Is am saddened as well as all that has had the pleasure to know him and his music. . I sat in with him a few times out of his generousity. I was watching a show called speak easy and they interview famous musicians. They happen to be interviewing Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. In September 2018 and to the left above Billy there was a big picture of Jimmy. I thought how perfect. I would like to know more about why it was there but pretty sure I know. Anyone else see that? You can see it at speakeasy talks.com. Billy Gibbons interview September 2018. God bless him. Jim and his music lives on.

Dale Johnson

Dave,
Thanks for the nice article about our friend Jim Mesi. I met Jim in 1966 when my high school friends, Felix Omar and Mel Abel, from the Mixed Blood Band, introduced me to him, we used to go over to Paul DeLay's parents house in Milwaukee Oregon to hang out and play, Jim was a blues master, and did the surf and country thing equally as well....I always marveled at his playing, he was the consummate professional, even back then..a no nonsense kind of guy when it came to the profession, I learned a lot from him, there were time gaps in our friendship throughout the years, but when we saw each other again, we would usually end up laughing and reminiscing about the "good old days" I really liked the stories he would tell about the years he spent on the road and all the different musicians he had shared the stage with and became friends with, from BB King, to Roy Orbison, not to mention the USO tours to Europe and other places, the list just went on and on...he was totally unique and had talent in aces. He was a good friend, I'm sure I speak for everyone in that he touched the lives of many in a very special way.

Martin Vanelli

Well Done David !!! I remember times with Jim and Paul after hours at Key Largo & the White Eagle... I was just a kid with fake ID and an indulgence of my own... Those guys were my inspiration as You and the Holy Modal Rounders and all of the local music of that time...... Barbeques at Oaks Park were pretty interesting in the mid 70's... We should not forget Brown Sugar at Vortex... What an Iconic NW, World Class Guitarist and all around nice guy...BluRoses4U

Johnny marcello

Jim you will be always loved and remembered your pain and suffering is gone now and those that love you will mourn your loss .your memory and music will live on ..

Lingard Ellis

I was told I had mild emphysema. I was shocked, I had only had minor breathing problems at times. However I had smoked for 17 years when I was very young and had quit over 38 years ago, when I developed asthma. I always heard your lungs were cleared 5 years after you quit smoking, but they don't tell you the damage is already done! Mild is not mild, I am on oxygen all the time.my son purchased herbal remedy for emphysema from solution health herbal clinic ,which i used for 15 weeks and am totally Emphysema free ,all thanks to solution health herbal clinic, solution health herbal clinic also cure all type of disease in humans life. Contact and visit their website at www.solutionhealthherbalclinic.com , details E-mail: (solutionsherbalclinic@gmail.com)

Perry Hyde

In the late 70's we always had the pleasure to host Brown Sugar, The Paul Delay band,and The Jim Mesi Blues band at BJ Kelly's in Eugene. At 350 fire marshal capacity, we would slam up to 500 people in there. Incredible times! We closed down in late '84...August 24 1984 Paul Delay opened for my first BB King show at The Hult center.. They had the audience on their feet with a encore that rattled the place.....Jim Mesi was a true legend...I will never forget the 100's of times I was lucky enough to hear him...So inspiring as a guitar player...He is so missed by so many

Rollie Brewer

The first time I caught Jim playing was when Lloyd was still on drums in Brown Sugar. He was a standout even then. Stihl and Husqvarna got nothing on that chainsaw

Heather Kennedy

A loss to the blues community. I enjoyed hearing him at multiple venues, and he played at many fundraisers for others.

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