Jim Byrnes was born in St. Louis, Missouri – that’s blues country. He grew up on the city’s north side. One of the neighbourhood bars had Ike and Tina Turner as the house band. As a teenager going to music clubs, he and his buddy were often the only white people in the place. “We never had any problems. We were too na´ve, too innocent, and had too much respect for the music and culture – they knew it; they could tell.”
Starting piano at age five, by age thirteen, Jim was singing and playing blues guitar. His first professional gig was in the summer of 1964. Over the years, he has had the great good fortune to appear with a virtual who’s who of blues history. From Furry Lewis and Henry Townsend to Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Taj Mahal, Robert Cray and so many others, Jim has been on the blues highway for 40 years.
Byrnes moved to Vancouver, BC in the mid-70’s after years of drifting, working odd jobs and playing music. In 1981 he put together a band that became a staple of the local music scene. In 1986 the Jim Byrnes Band played 300 nights.
Jim Byrnes’ fame as an actor has grown immeasurably from his too-numerous-to-mention TV roles, with highlights including Lifeguard in the CBS series Wiseguy, worldwide success in Highlander, and his nationally broadcast variety show The Jim Byrnes Show.
As for highlights in his musical career, Jim mentions “Sittin’ down in a room with Muddy Waters, just him and me, and he showed me a couple of licks on his guitar.”
His greatest musical moment was the first time he saw Howlin’ Wolf. “I was devastated. I was 17. Who could take the Rolling Stones seriously after watching Howlin’ Wolf down on his knees singing Little Red Rooster?”
Jim has proven that a serious car accident in 1972 has done anything but hinder him. Despite two swipes with death and some pretty hard knocks, Byrnes has still managed to rack up an enviable string of credits, both on and off screen.
Jim’s first love, however, is the blues. His evocative, smoky vocals are found in a truth that doesn’t come overnight. During the ‘80’s, the Jim Byrnes Band released “Burnin” on Polydor, followed in 1987 with “I’ve Turned My Days into Nights” and 1995’s Juno-Award winning “That River” on Stony Plain.
February 2004 saw the release of Jim’s latest project, “Fresh Horses” on Black Hen Music. This new recording is the result of a musical meeting between Jim and Steve Dawson (of Zubot & Dawson). Jim and Steve realized they shared common tastes in music and realized that a collaboration between Jim and the Zubot and Dawson band would be a refreshing and exciting project.
In Jim’s words, “Early bluesmen were really ‘songsters’ who interspersed their blues with spirituals, popular music, folk songs, anything to get the crowd to take note, and I suppose that’s how I cast myself when I began my career. In the spring of 2003, Steve Dawson approached me about the possibility of a collaboration and I leapt at the opportunity to create a musical dialogue with the very finest players of a whole new generation; sort of fathers and sons, you know? It’s been a long hard road and so ‘Yahoo, thank the Lord’, I thought, ‘fresh horses’.”
The goal of this project was to stay true to Jim’s roots and influences, but to take the music in some new and innovative directions, while keeping the sounds of the acoustic instruments front and center.
The musicians holed up in a Vancouver recording studio for 3 days, and in that short time, “Fresh Horses” was born. They started with some of Jim’s original material (The soulful “Just a Pilgrim” and “12 Questions”), and then chose some blues standards (Muddy Waters’ churning “I Can’t Be Satisfied”), brought in some songs not usually associated with blues singers (notably Neil Young’s “For the Turnstiles” and Bob Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”), threw in a couple of traditional country-blues tunes (The Mississippi Shieks’ “I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You” and the haunting “East Virginia”) and an instrumental of Steve’s written for Jim (“Fresh Horses”). The result is an exciting recording of deep soul, blazing musicianship, and a youthful spirit that brings Jim’s extraordinary talents to life.
"...A voice that is warm, mature and smoky ... Byrnes is finding his personal and musical centre ..." - Vancouver Sun
"Jim Byrnes tears it up on this release. Fresh Horses is a blues on the edge. In your face blues with a rock feel best describes this album. Jim delivers it all with his raspy vocal performance. This is an album that has it all for the blues and rock fan." - 5 Stars - Roots Music Report (Texas)
I will put in a bid for this being the best album of the year. Byrnes hooks up with his friends in Vancouver's Zubot and Dawson to put together one of the tightest acoustic blues album I've heard in a long time." - The Alt (National)