East Side Slim
Byrnes is a multi-talented artist, actively working
as a musician, singer and actor (film, television
and voice-actor). Byrnes was born in St. Louis, MO
in 1948, and by the age of 5 had already begun piano
lessons. By the time he was in high school, he had
performed in the Shakespeare in the Park program and
had begun playing guitar. His interested in acting
was definitely aroused, which he pursued by studying
acting at St. Louis University and at Boston University.
The Vietnam War beckoned, causing Jim to be drafted
in the late ‘60s. He returned from duty at the
start of the decade, moving to Vancouver, BC, around
1970, when he also began getting back into acting.
In the early ‘70s, Jim was involved in a serious
traffic accident that cost him both legs above the
knees – you will see him with his walking stick.
During and after his recovery from his injuries, Jim
focused his attention on his music for awhile, which
led to the release of his 1st album – Burning
- around 1980. All told, Jim has releases 6 albums
of his music, with 3 (each on the Black Hen label)
coming onto the scene since 2004.
Byrnes’ musical releases took somewhat of a
backseat to his acting career starting in the late
‘80s. He was extremely busy with television,
film, and voice work (much work in the field of voices
for animated characters) from the late ‘80s
through the ‘90s, including four years as a
regular character on the CBS series Wiseguy (starting
in 1987) and several years spent on various incarnations
of The Highlander series. Jim also starred in his
own short-lived variety show on Canadian television
called the Jim Byrnes Show.
Jim Byrnes is extremely well regarded by the Canadian
music community (as well as by Americans who are fortunate
enough to be familiar with his music, such as myself.)
Byrnes has won the JUNO Award (the Canadian version
of our Grammy’s) for Blues Album of the Year
twice: for That River in 1996 and for House of Refuge
in 2007. In addition to those honors, he was also
voted the Male Vocalist of the Year at the Maple Blues
Awards (Canadian version of our Blues Music Awards
– formerly the Handy Awards) in 2007.
I mentioned earlier that Jim is a native of St. Louis.
Regarding that, it’s not unheard of to catch
him hanging out at B.B.’s
Jazz, Blues & Soups on the occasions when
he is in St. Louis, catching up with old friends and
soaking up some great blues music. I’ve seen
him and met him there (I’m quite sure doesn’t
remember me), and maybe someday one of you will be
fortunate to as well.
Ol’ Rattler – (Jim Byrnes)
--This up-tempo cut kicks-off the CD in fine fashion.
It’s one of those tunes that sound like an
out of control locomotive high-ballin’ toward
the end of the line. Jim supplies very tough slide
guitar and well-known drummer Stephen Hodges drives
this thing all the way home.
Walk On Boy – (Mel Tillis / Wayne P. Walker)
--This song would not be out of place on a Guy Forsyth
album. It’s hard-edged, has tough slide courtesy
of Steve Dawson (who plays most of the guitars heard
on this CD), various percussive effects, and rhythm
banjo – yes, banjo. The song reminds me of
a modernized, electrified take on old folk/spiritual
tunes such as John Henry.
My Walking Stick – (Irving Berlin)
--This tune is very cool…it’s set to
a carnivalesque, hot jazz vibe, just a little sinister,
and the male background singers really take the
song to another level. It is an ode of sorts to
Jim’s own walking stick, which he uses to
help himself get around.
Looking For A Love – (JW Alexander / Zelda
--This song mines very different territory. Take
some Brill Building pop and merge it with hard-edged
bluesy Americana and you’ll have an idea of
what this cut sounds like.
Ophelia – (Robbie Robertson)
--This would be the 1st slow-tune on the CD, if
the bridge didn’t pick up the tempo and mood
so much; it is really like 2 songs in 1. Banjo is
utilized to carry the melody and violin is used
to great effect to set the various moods.
Talk In Circles – (Jim Byrnes / Steve Dawson)
--This is a bluesy Americana (Canadiana?) cut, featuring
tasty slide guitar as well as several other guitars
(and other instruments) layered together - wall
of sound for sure.
Three Shots – (Suzie Ungerleider)
--This song is unusual hybrid of styles for sure;
sort of a combination of Irish folk music and country
blues, and is very atmospheric. Also, it is likely
the most original take on the traditional Stack-o-Lee/Stagger
Lee theme you have ever heard.
Lonely Blue Boy (Danny’s Song) – (Benjamin
Weisman / Fred Wise)
--This one in an old country-western honky-tonker
with shades of doo wop, merged with the eclectic
Americana style heard throughout the CD. Jim uses
his world-weary voice to great effect here, and
Steve Dawson’s pedal steel work is extremely
tasty. That man (Steve) must play anything with
strings or (piano) keys on it – yep, I’m
Drown In My Own Tears – (Henry Glover; check
his bio on
--Yes, this is THAT Drown In My Own Tears. The guys
take it nice and slow, with slide and organ used
to wonderful effect to set the mood and to build
dynamics. This sounds great and is an unusual arrangement
of the tune. I think Bennie Smith would have loved
I’m Living Off The Love You Give – (Homer
Banks / Raymond Earl Jackson)
--We’re bringing the tempo back up here. This
is a style not unlike something you might hear from
Delbert McClinton. It rides a nice mid-tempo groove
and features more of that tasty slide guitar from
11. What Are They Doing In Heaven Today
– (Washington Phillips; arranged by Steve
--This song is beautiful…absolutely gorgeous.
It is a re-arranged old-time spiritual, and once
again Byrnes’ world-weary voice rings every
bit of emotion from the song. The male background
singers, organ work and mandolin don’t hurt
I Want My Crown – (Traditional, arranged by
One Life (Creole Poetry) – (Jim Byrnes / Steve
--Here is another spiritual track, but this one
is an up-tempo, joyous, celebratory romp. I could
see Marty Stuart or some other bluegrass band tearing
into this one, although I don’t think that
they could improve on this track right here. Good
God a’mighty…this sounds so nice you
better go ahead and play it twice!
--Well, it had to happen eventually… the CD
had to come to an end. This track concludes the CD
with a Creole-flavored love song. It is not slow,
soft and maudlin, though. It does have that haunted
feel heard throughout much of the CD.
Jim Byrnes and Steve Dawson have put together a fine
CD with My Walking Stick. This may be his finest album
yet, which is saying a lot as he’s won the JUNO
Blues Album of the Year twice already. There must
be something in the water in the Great White North
that leads to great collaborative musical teams, as
Paul Reddick/Colin Linden and Carlos Del Junco/Kevin
Breit seem to have similar approaches and results
– those results being very fine music. You wouldn’t
call My Walking Stick a blues CD as such, but what
it is is a wonderfully eclectic album, one with a
spiritual feel running throughout, even on non-religious
tunes. This very strong album consists of fantastic
slide guitar work, a premier drummer, sympathetic
musicians and wonderful songs with amazing, unexpected
arrangements. The louder you listen to this CD the
better in order to take in all the layers and little
touches that Byrnes and Dawson have put into the production
and mix. STLBluesometer rating is 4.50. For more information
about Jim Byrnes, see the following websites: Official
| MySpace www.myspace.com/jimbyrnes
Howland - aka
"East Side Slim"