I've been in the audio business since 1980 and I have made a lot of friends in the industry. A lot of good friends. But I will say that Jim was one of my best friends.
Jim was an interesting dude. After high school, he hitch-hiked across Europe, living in Amsterdam for awhile before going down into Morocco and Egypt. He wandered around Mexico, just trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He ended up getting a degree in broadcasting from U. Missouri/Kansas City, but just like most of us who studied broadcasting in college, he didn't go down that path. Instead, he followed the call of the audio industry and he worked for some stores and representative firms around the Kansas City area since the 70's.
I first met "Jimi" at a Consumer Electronics Show back in 1994 when he was working for a manufacturers representative company called Audio Etc. When I met Jim for the first time, he was cordial with a quick smile, had some good quips, and was immediately likable.
When I began to work with Audio Etc. in 1995, I joined Jim and our colleague, Randy, in Los Angeles for some manufacturer training sessions as my first duties for the company. Then we took a day to drive up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping along the way at Hearst Castle, Nepenthe in Big Sur, Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park with its stunning views and large Redwood trees, and had dinner in Monterrey on Cannery Row before going on to San Francisco for the night. That was a killer trip - not only for the things we did and saw, but for how it completely burnt us out from the drive.
Jim and I experienced a lot together in the next few years we worked together. He had an affinity for sushi long before I did. And even after I began to eat sushi, he would go to the extreme by ordering eel, octopus, smelt roe, squid - the more disgusting it looked, the more he loved it. I swear to God, he ate that stuff just to see if he could get his eating partners to gag on their tuna rolls or smoked salmon sushi.
We had great times on the road together, primarily at trade shows and for manufacturer meetings. We took a driving tour of Stanford University when we were in Palo Alto for a meeting one time, ending up the evening eating at a great sushi place called Fuki Sushi in Palo Alto. We purposely mispronounced the name which was actually "Fookie" for a number of years when we'd reminisce about the place.
Jimi and I had a free day in San Francisco one time. After watching the parade of beauties trying out for San Francisco 49er cheerleaders in a ballroom at the hotel at which we were staying, we ended up driving up to the Napa Valley and experienced a few wineries. We ended up heading to a small town near Healdsburg called Jimtown, just because it was his name. There we found the Jimtown Store which has turned into a gourmet destination for food enthusiasts. We were there long before it became as famous as it is today.
I turned Jimi onto hurricanes in New Orleans one year. As in hurricanes, the drink. Hurricanes are primarily a rum and fruit drink that are sweet and go down pretty quickly. The next thing you know, you have a couple three of them and you're on your ass. We had a day to kill in New Orleans before a trade show about 12 years ago and I took Jimi to Pat O'Brien's for a hurricane. We had one and then another. We found out that we could trade the tall glasses for a plastic glass and take the hurricanes with us as we walked along the streets of the French Quarter. We went bar hopping, but not before I had to pull Jim by the back of his belt when he began to wander into a leather gay bar. He later ended up going back to the hotel, sitting in the bathtub and passing out. The next morning, he exclaimed at breakfast, "What in the hell is in those hurricanes? Heroin?"
During our time in New Orleans, the remnants of a real hurricane - as in the storm - hit New Orleans and dumped nearly 15 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. Streets were flooded. Electricity was off in part of the French Quarter. We were driving between meetings at hotels in downtown New Orleans trying to circumnavigate the flooded areas when we were stopped at a stoplight. There was a man who was walking across the street just getting pummeled by the wind, turning his umbrella inside out. Jimi said, "That poor sap..." Then he started to chuckle. His chuckle turned into a hearty laugh. The hearty laugh turned into a gut cluching convulsion. He had tears coming out of his eyes. "Poor f***ing guy," Jimi finally said. For some reason, he got a major kick out of this guy's misfortune.
Oh, there were other great times together - the time we were rooming together in Miami and we got drunk and forgot our room number. Picture two middle-aged guys drunk on their ass trying to convince the front desk agent at a nice hotel that they couldn't remember their room number at 11:30 at night. The credit card-style keys didn't have the room numbers on them. We were used to staying in hotels like Super 8's and Comfort Inn's that had actual keys with the room numbers on them.
We had a great weekend in Baltimore one time biding our time before a manufacturers training session, going to a great sushi place, taking in the Inner Harbor and then a Baltimore Orioles game at Camden Yards. It was a great trip until Jimi accidentally backed into the back of a car with a rented SUV at the hotel. Only he didn't know he hit it until one of our other guys, Shannon, told him at the airport when we dropped the SUV off that he really crunched the crap out of the back of the parked car. We had a couple mars on the bumper of the SUV that we easily removed by wiping with our hands. So, yeah, I'm busting Jimi on this deal, but after 14 years, I doubt they'll come looking for him.
Jimi is survived by his wife, Deb, who is a character in her own right; and by his son, Eddie, who was the light of Jimi's life. Jimi was overly proud of Eddie, about how grounded he was in life, how he'd gotten a degree in accounting at Kansas University, how he'd gotten a killer place to live in the Power and Light District in downtown Kansas City. Jimi always talked about Eddie and his accomplishments, but not in a way that was boring or overbearing. He was more amazed about what Eddie was doing or was accomplishing. "Man," he told me one time, "he certainly has it more together than I did at his age. And he may have it more together than I do today!" I don't know many guys where their sons are their best friends, but Jimi and Eddie were truly best friends.
Jim left our company in 2000 for another manufacturers representative firm, but we still stayed in touch. When I got my present job ten years ago, if our schedules worked out we'd try to get together on my trips to Kansas City. We would always seek each other out at trade shows, taking at least 15 minutes out of our busy schedules to just stand and talk about whatever. The business had gotten harder for Jimi over the past few years. Commissions were getting cut by manufacturers, expenses were sky-rocketing. Over a couple margaritas and some Mexican food in Kansas City earlier this year, he told me that he was thinking that may have to do something else. "I'm barely breaking even now," he confided in me. "I'm not going to start losing money in a job that I really like to do."
Jimi was one of the hardest working reps in the business. Over the years I knew him, he had a never ending series of Ford vans that, seemingly, always had over 200,000 miles on them. He'd pack the back with samples and literature, and when he'd stop at a dealer's location, he was always talking about the main lines he sold them along with the little stuff he had in his bag of tricks. He was a night owl, and he was famous among dealers in his territory for sending out faxes, then later on, e-mails on product information at 12:30 in the morning. He endured long and lonely trips to outposts in Nebraska and Kansas for years, loving the life he was leading on the road. I admired his work ethic with a streak of jealousy mixed in.
Jim and I had a lot in common - music, audio, food, drinking, NTN Buzztime trivia when we were in bars that had the NTN trivia. We had the same sense of humor, looking at things a little differently and always finding the fun in bad situations. We commiserated about the audio business and how it has changed and not for the better over the past few years. And we helped each other out with leads or information when we could.
So long, Jimi. You're gonna be missed, my friend. Keep on truckin', buddy...