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Friends, musicians remember 'old soul' of Portland's Americana scene


Tribute set for beloved singer, songwriter, guitarist Jimmy Boyer, who died Jan. 21

COURTESY: GREG HOMOLKA - Jimmy Boyer performs with the Freak Mountain Ramblers at the LaurelThirst Public House. The five-man ensemble, which centered on Boyer, played thousands of shows in Portland and the West Coast, including an ongoing Sunday night residency at the LaurelThirst. Boyer, 47, died of a long illness in late January.When Fernando Viciconte first arrived in Portland, fresh from the fertile 1980s Los Angeles punk scene, it was Jimmy Boyer — a quietly intense Cleveland, Ohio-bred guitar slinger — who opened the young musician’s eyes to the quirky, bohemian-fueled eclecticism that shaped Stumptown roots music.

“Jimmy turned me on to Jeffrey Frederick of the Clamtones, the Holy Modal Rounders and Michael Hurley,” Viciconte says of Portland’s freak-folk vanguard. “The great thing about Jimmy was that he was an old soul himself. He respected the music that came before. He was a person who wanted to instruct folks on the history of music.”

Seeing Boyer perform, Viciconte — who tours and records as “Fernando” — was spellbound by that soulful, world-wounded voice; the evocative, imagistic stories his lyrics conjured up; and the melodic, idiosyncratic guitar figures that brought to the songs an ethereal, timeless dimension.

“The first time I saw him play, it was like early-years Tom Waits. You thought, ‘This guy is as good as that,’” he says. “You wouldn’t really know the difference between the classic covers and his own songs. There’s not that many people I feel that way about.”

Although his inherent distaste for self-promotion likely inhibited him from becoming a household name, Boyer’s singular musical style, brooding stage presence and sheer ubiquity at Portland-area venues for decades made him a star of the regional Americana underground.

Boyer, who gigged relentlessly around the Pacific Northwest and beyond with Glowing Corn, the Freak Mountain Ramblers and his own Jim Boyer Band, died of liver cancer on Thursday, Jan. 21. He was 47.

‘Real heart and soul’

To his fans and friends, the fact that a Jim Boyer Band show was scheduled that very night at the LaurelThirst Public House — where Boyer played more than 1,000 shows since the early 1990s — was eerily appropriate. The cozy Northeast Glisan Street venue filled to the brim with those grieving the loss of not just a local music icon, but a uniquely gifted gentleman who always had time and kind, encouraging words for all he encountered.COURTESY: KEVIN RICHEY - Singer, songwriter and lead guitarist Jim Boyer's musical odyssey took the Cleveland, Ohio, native to New York City, Flagstaff, Ariz., and ultimately to Portland, where he became a fixture at the Laurelthirst Public House and many McMenamins music venues.

“He was so inclusive,” says longtime friend Christopher Webster, who got to know Boyer in Flagstaff, Ariz. “He considered it an honor to be a working musician. He was really good about giving people the confidence to take that step.”

Susannah Weaver, who performs in Portland as “Little Sue,” credits Boyer — a onetime boyfriend and all-time friend and mentor — with instilling in her the confidence to write songs and play guitar in her own individual style.

“I wouldn’t at all be the musician I am, the songwriter I am, without him,” she says. “He made me understand that I could just play how I wanted to, and that was fine.”

As self-destructive as he tended to be, Boyer “had a somewhat rigid code of ethics,” Weaver says. “He admonished me a lot, behavior-wise. He was wise — but still so much a brat.”

Andrew Loomis, drummer of legendary Portland-based punk band Dead Moon, described his relationship with Boyer — who rambled from his native Ohio to New York City and Flagstaff before landing in Portland — as “telepathic. We’d always bust up at the same thing.”

In the early 1990s, Loomis marveled at Boyer’s ability to write, sing and perform more like a grizzled old road warrior than the relatively fresh-faced burgeoning musician he was at the time.

“Musically, I heard him lay some (expletive) down. My jaw dropped,” Loomis says. “He’s like an old soul, even though he was 24 or 25 at the time. The (guy) sounds like he hung out with (1920s blues pioneer) Blind Lemon Jefferson. He had so much ... real heart and soul with his music.”

As cool and collected as Boyer came across, his mischievious rocker’s flair was never far from the surface — even as middle age beckoned. Lewi Longmire, a longtime friend and musical collaborator, recalls a Tom Waits concert at a fancy Seattle theater where the near-comically reserved crowd was just too much for Boyer.

“Jimmy was standing up on his chair, yelling, ‘What’s wrong with you people? This is rock and roll!’” Longmire recalls. “Then Tom Waits looks up at him and just tips his hat.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: SHANNON O. WELLS - Clockwise from left, Dave Reisch, Christopher Webster, Tracy Lowman, Lewi Longmire and Fernando Viciconte commiserate about the recent loss of Jimmy Boyer, their longtime friend and musical inspiration.

True blue to the end

Boyer’s songs, featured on sometimes hard-to-acquire albums such as “Madison Avenue” and “Time Spent,” cover the landscape of human emotions in exquisite detail: The sly, jaunty sexiness of “Whenever You Call Me by My Name”; the tender, barroom melancholy of “Sweet Wine, Ragtime Bitters”; and “Transmission,” a hypnotic, mantra-like description of vehicular oblivion whose chorus, “Are you hooked up? Are you hooked up? Are you hooked up? Well, well, well!” explodes into a snarling, metallic orgy of guitar riffage.

“They were all just different,” says Turtle VanDemarr, a fellow Freak Mountain Ramblers guitarist, of Boyer’s songs. “You could tell they were from moments in his life. Some were amusing. Some were pretty manic and rocking. There’s all kinds of different stuff in there.”

Despite Boyer’s roller coaster-like bouts with substance abuse, VanDemarr emphasizes Jimmy was the undisputed leader of the Freaks. The beloved Portland band formed as a trio in the early '90s and evolved into the five-man ensemble it’s known as today.

“It was a well-known fact that it was Jimmy’s band, right up until the day he died,” he says. “It’s hard without Jimmy. His rhythm guitar playing and stage presence made a huge difference.”PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: SHANNON O. WELLS - From left, Dave Reisch, Christopher Webster, Tracy Lowman, Lewi Longmire and Fernando Viciconte commiserate outside the LaurelThirst Public House over the recent loss of Jim Boyer, their longtime friend and musical collaborator.

Kevin “Bingo” Richey collaborated closely with Boyer on musical and life adventures since Richey says they “hit it off, right off the bat” when they first met, circa 1991. The guitarist considers Boyer a musical as well as philosophical soul mate.

“I think the wellspring of Jim’s genius, artistically, was his ability to deliver his version of life with very simple honesty, very direct honesty,” Richey says, noting how naturally Boyer absorbed nuances of the country, blues and jazz masters he admired. “Musically, his take on the groove was very sophisticated.”

Richey, who was recording with Boyer in Southern California just before his compadre was hospitalized, says as close to the edge as Boyer chose to live, his integrity never faltered.

“He didn’t know how to tell a lie. He was one of the least full of (expletive) people you’ll ever meet in your life. I’ll always appreciate that,” he says. “No one can touch you like that.”


A Night for Jimmy

What: A celebration of the life and music of Jimmy Boyer

Who: Lewi Longmire, the Freak Mountain Ramblers, Kevin Bingo Richey and many other musical guests to be announced

Where: McMenamins Kennedy School, 5736 N.E. 33rd Ave., Portland

When: 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 16

For more information: visit


To purchase Jimmy Boyer’s music: visit cdbaby.com/Artist/JimBoyer

COURTESY: CARL GODFREY - Jim Boyer performs at the Satyricon club in downtown Portland, one of the numerous local and regional venues the musician performed at with ensembles such as the Freak Mountain Ramblers, the Bingo Dream Band, and his own Jim Boyer Band.