Thursday, 4 October 2012

Tribute to Big Jim Sullivan

I had been invited out with a group of friends to see a local duo and, having recently divorced, I remember the oddness of going out on a Sunday night.

The small room at the back of the Chequers was crowded. It was the early nineties and the air smelt of beer and cigarette smoke. On the stage stood two men, drinking pints and chatting amiably. One in particular caught my eye. He was large and twinkly eyed with a shock of white beard.

His name was Big Jim Sullivan and his music partner was Willie Austen. When they started playing, the room came alive - feet tapped, bodies swayed and songs were mouthed with the band. It was the best night out I had had for a long time and was one I would repeat many times over the years.

To me, Big Jim was the one who smiled benignly, the one who took a back seat as Willie charmed the crowd but he was also the one who could play guitar - and I mean really play. I Look back at that time in the pub (that seems so long ago now) and realise how little we knew the real Big Jim.

Did we know that he had been one of the best session musicians of the 60's and 70's? No. Did we know that he had played with Tom Jones? We certainly didn't and likewise we were also ignorant of the amazing fact that he was a regular drinking buddy of Elvis.

What we did know, in those carefree days in the pub, was that we were listening to someone special to us, the locals. That is the memory that I wish to keep - Big Jim in the Chequers playing his guitar rifts behind his back just because he could.

I heard a rumour that he died quietly while listening to music...I like to think that it was to Johnny B Goode, the song that started my love of modern jive. I wrote my blog post 'Dancing' three days ago. The day before Big Jim Sullivan died.

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