Remembering Jim McPherson

The story of Jim McPherson is the story of what might have been – a legendarily gifted musician whose untimely passing on this day in 1985 robbed us of an unknowable wealth of music. He earned considerable recognition for the Jefferson Starship's hit "Jane," which he co-wrote with David Freiberg, but that was only a tiny bit of his creative outpouring. Against all odds, a fine collection of his songs has been preserved and now assembled. It's a message in a bottle, a fragment of an artist's life from twenty years ago, with performances by some of the Bay Area's finest musicians.  We can speculate on what might have been – but in his legacy CD released by his wife Evy, A Promise Kept, you have what he was able to do. It's a genuine treasure, the work of a truly superlative songwriter. Your ears will tell you so.  

Get the CD here:
Watch a video interview I did with his wife Evy about Jim:
Listen to Jane:

About Jim

Jim grew up on the West Side of Chicago in the 1950s, the golden era of the urban blues, and they became a part of his musical DNA, passing from the radio into his bones. He got "the fever," as the saying had it. As a young boy he played violin, attending the Mozart School of Music, but soon moved on to drums, bass, keyboards and guitar: he mastered them all. After attending college in Idaho, Jim transferred to San Jose State in California, which put him right in the Bay Area music scene of 1964. There he met up with Dennis Carrasco, Bob Rominger, and Roger Hedge, his musical collaborators for the next several years. Their first band was the Trolls, which morphed into the popular and respected Stained Glass, with several singles on RCA Records, including "My Buddy Sin" and "A Scene In-Between." The Glass recorded two albums for Capitol, Crazy Horse Roads and Aurora; Tom Bryant joined the group as Rominger and Hedge left. The band later evolved into Christian Rapid. Though he was always a team player – and one of the finest bass players around – Jim was most definitely the musical leader of all these outfits, contributing the vast majority of their material.

Jim left San Jose in 1971 and moved to Marin County along with many other like-minded exiles from the era of San Francisco in the '60s. He'd been working with Frank Werber (who'd managed the Kingston Trio to fame and fortune), but Frank was retiring, and sent him to the manager of the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Ron Polte. Polte recalled that Jim came by one day, pulled out an acoustic guitar, and "charmed me in 15 minutes… he was accomplished, like a terrific magician. I was completely taken." So Ron sent him to John Cipollina.

Jim met up with John Cipollina and joined John's first post-Quicksilver Messenger Service venture, a band called Copperhead. David Weber, Gary Phillipet and Pete Sears had already been recruited. Pete later went on to join the Jefferson Starship and was replaced by Hutch Hutchinson. Gary Philippet and Kent Housman wrote the single "Roller Derby Star" for the Copperhead album, and Jim's 'Chameleon' was on the flip side. Though his visibility was not as high as in the past, Jim was actually Copperhead's main songwriter, his talents as quirky and notable as before.

He recorded with various other groups in the Bay Area and began work on a solo album at The Barn, at my ranch in Novato, California, laying down a considerable amount of strong material before his rapidly failing health ultimately hindered his ability to complete it.

I was so impressed with Jim's songwriting and performance skills that I put together a band to showcase it – one of the fond memories of early-80's Bay Area music, High Noon, which featured Jim on vocals, keyboards and rhythm guitar, Bobby Vega on bass, Merl Saunders on vocals and keys, Vicki Randle on vocals, percussion, and rhythm guitar (lots of switching around in this band!), Michael Hinton on lead guitar, and Norton Buffalo on harp and vocals. 

He was my best friend at that time. We were kindred spirits. His songs are etched forever in my mind. Jerry (Garcia) loved them. But then Jim got ill and that was that. That chapter ended, but with the A Promise Kept compilation, maybe a new chapter will begin for him. I can't believe someone won't pick up one of his songs and make it a big hit.

"A Letter to Carmina," is a favorite of Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter. "Thirty years later I catch myself humming that gorgeous romantic ballad, dedicated to his mother," Hunter wrote in the CD's liner notes. "It's a song I wish I'd written, but since I didn't, I'm glad Jim did."

Jim performed frequently with Merl Saunders, and together they also wrote the song "Play the Paris Blues," which was heard on the television series "Simon and Simon." Merl recorded the tune with Dr. John and it was Dr. John's part that found its way onto the San Francisco-based show "Nash Bridges."

The years passed, but interest in these songs has remained high – mostly from musicians in the know. Finally, the right elements fell into place. Twenty-four years after she promised her husband Jim to complete his legacy, Executive Producer Evy McPherson explained, "This CD celebrates a completed life, and that changes its scope. If Jim had been around, this CD might have been very different. But in these circumstances, I felt it had to represent all of his many dimensions – so there are blues songs, country songs, love songs, even a funk song… Because he could do anything."

We can speculate on what might have been – but here in A Promise Kept you have what he was able to do – and it is genuine treasure, the work of a truly superlative songwriter. Your ears will tell you so.  Get the CD here:

Excerpts for this story were taken and updated from: – Written By Dennis McNally – Story By Paul Liberatore