Alibi V.28 No.33 • Aug 15-21, 2019 

Music Interview

The Legend of Jimmy Stallings

Singer-songwriter chats with Barnes and March

Jimmy Stallings
Jimmy Stallings
Corey Yazzie

Sometimes you stumble into the past, discovering its hidden glory in the personages of those who came before. They distilled the sweet wine into potent liquor and back into nourishing ale; they brought the signs, symbols and sounds of their own culture—also shrouded in past experience—into the light so that younger generations of human beings could experience the beauty and wonder of a historic thread that winds through our lives even now, just as it was meant to. Music becomes something woven into time, but separate from it, something that persists.

Those are the thoughts that filled up my head as I wondered about the next music interview on my calendar. I was to meet with Jimmy Stallings, a man from Farmington, N.M. who had decided—in the before time, in the memory-filled world that came before my latest temporal engagement with the Earth—that music, rocanrol music in particular, would be his prime mover.

Stallings left New Mexico in the late ’50s and ended up playing in a band called the Sir Douglas Quintet. They were from San Antonio in Tejas, but had taken the fabled and only sometimes successful trip to El Lay that many a rocker took in those days, looking for fame, perhaps mesmerized by the bright lights and awesome opportunities the City of Angels seemed to offer.

Stallings was one of those mythic success stories, finding a measure of fame in recordings like “Heya,” a tune he recorded in 1969 as J.J. Light. The song, which reflects Stallings’ Dine heritage, was a hit in Germany and England; and 30 years later, Krokus covered “Heya” on their album Round 13.

In the meantime—uncomfortable with fame and its accoutrements, including promotion and air travel—Stallings eventually returned to New Mexico, sustained a successful marriage begun in Califas, raised a family and continued to rock out. He also told his story to those listening, including Jeremy Barnes, an Albuquerque-based musician who saw heavy rocanrol action as a member of Neutral Milk Hotel before founding the groundbreaking, genre-defying duo, A Hawk and a Hacksaw.

Barnes’ interest in Stallings’ story—and his amazing gift for songwriting—grew into a collaborative project. While Stallings, a bassist by trade, sang and played a multitude of wondrously composed pieces, Barnes accompanied him.

Eventually the project grew into a promising performance possibility, and, consequently, shows were booked here in Burque. Stallings will be playing a show with Barnes as accompanist on Tuesday, Aug. 20 at the Steel Bender Brewyard starting at 6pm.

Before the gig, the two stopped by Alibi HQ to talk tuneage, musical mythology, the ever-blossoming future and the always present past. Here’s a transcript of that unusual meeting of minds.

Weekly Alibi: How did you get involved with Jeremy Barnes?

Jimmy Stallings: Well, this friend of mine, who is a writer in California, his sister lives here in Albuquerque. His name is Sam Sweet. That’s how I met Jeremy; I got a hold of him and he helped me out with my music.

Jeremy, what did you think about Mr. Stallings and his music?

Jeremy Barnes: Sam called me one day—he had been in Albuquerque and had been out to visit his sister. He said, “I met this guy, Jimmy Stallings. He’s from New Mexico and lived in LA for a long time.” He kinda gave me a brief summary of Jimmy’s story. And he said, I haven’t met a lot of people from his generation who are still creative, still working, making great art. I was really intrigued—including about the things he had done in the past—and so I called him up and we hit it off.

What happened next?

Jimmy brought over some recordings to my home studio, and the first song I put on just blew me away. I couldn’t believe this is something he’d written in the past year or so. It was shocking to me that he’s still—he’s got a mobile studio at his house and he’s up there writing songs all night long—making beautiful music. He’s still got it.

Jimmy, tell me your story.

Jimmy: I went out to California when I was 17. I graduated from high school in Farmington, N.M. and worked out in the oil fields for about three months there and earned enough money to get out to California. I ended up in San Jose. I worked for my aunt and uncle, they owned a laundromat. I used to drive laundry to Gilroy, [Calif.] and places like that. I worked there for about a year. Then my friend, Kim Fowley, who owned a record label with Gary S. Paxton—the producer of a band called The Hollywood Argyles at that time—they came to San Jose, and they asked me to get up and sing. They liked what I did and Gary asked me if I had written any songs. I told him that I had written a few, and I didn’t think they were anything. They decided to record me doing a couple of songs. He had all the tracks done in Los Angeles. Turned out great. That was my first record.

Did you play guitar on those songs?

Yeah, but bass is my main instrument.

Jeremy: He’s a great bass player!

Jimmy: I’m a self-taught musician.

What was your career in LA like?

I lived in LA for over 40 years. I worked with a lot of heavy musicians. I was with a band called Ruben Rodriguez and His Guadalajara Kings. It was an 18-piece mariachi group. We did a couple of albums on Liberty Records. I had another group on Liberty Records called The Forerunners, we recorded a couple of songs when two local doctors put up the money for us to go in the studio.

Jeremy: That was with some of the guys from the band Love, right Jimmy?

Jimmy: Gary Rowles from Love played the lead guitar and Bob Newkirk was the drummer, he was really a session man. Gary’s father was Jimmy Rowles, a jazz pianist who wrote “The Peacocks.” I used to visit Jimmy and his wife Dorothy when they lived in Burbank. Gary and I are still great friends. He’s in Oregon now, doing his own work.

Jeremy: Was that the band that had the sax player from The Mothers of Invention?

Jimmy: Oh, no that was Don Preston, the keyboard player. He went to the Mothers. We were in Hawaii playing some gigs as The Forerunners and he got a telegram that said, “Come home, your mother’s dying!” But it was really Zappa who sent the telegram. I knew what was going on, they [The Mothers of Invention] needed him. I let him go three days before the job was done and we played as a trio. But I told him, “Don, here’s your opportunity. Go ahead and go, this is a huge break!” He’s a great pianist, too. I guess I knew a lot of people back then. I played a lot and played a lot of places.

Did you enjoy those years as a working musician?

It was basically kind. I made a living, raised three kids and still managed to make the scene. I’ve been married to Gloria 56 years now. It’s been nothing but a blessing—this life.

So, why did you decide to get back into writing and performing?

Well, I’ve always been about music. I can’t hang a screen door, so I better play out. I’ll die playing music because that’s my forte; that’s my life.

Jeremy: He’s been playing shows around town lately!

Tell me about that, Jimmy.

I’ve played live a lot when I was with The Sir Douglas Quintet, back in the early days. Here in Albuquerque, I’ve played a few clubs this summer. I tried to have a band, but they want you to play for food and tips in this town and you can’t pay a band to back you up at that price. It’s sad how musicians are treated now, I think. In any town, anymore.

What shows do you have coming up?

Jeremy and I are playing on Aug. 20 at Steel Bender.

Yeah, all these breweries popped up in the last couple or three years and now they’re the place to play, apparently. I’ve seen a lot of great shows at breweries lately.

I went and jammed last night at the Monte Vista Fire Station. I sat in there last night with the Memphis P-Tails.

No shizz?

Yeah, they’re friends of mine, great musicians too.

When you play music with Jeremy, what’s that like?

It’s just fun. I get to do my original stuff. I like to do that.

Jeremy: I’m always telling him, “Let’s do your songs, they’re great and people need to hear them.”

Jimmy: I played at AJ Wood’s going-away party.

I miss him being part of the scene. He’s such a good guy.

I was talking to him the other day; I think he’s coming back.

He’s all into skateboarding again!

Jeremy: We’re trying to get him to come back to New Mexico.

Jimmy: I told him that this is where all his friends are.

Well, New Mexico is a hardscrabble place, but if you can find a niche here, it’s an awesome place to be, creatively, musically.

When I was with The Sir Douglas Quintet and, they became the Texas Tornados, by the way, I used to hang out with Flaco Jiménez and Freddy Fender. I loved all those guys and playing with them was an honor.

Does that wealth of experience and knowledge figure into your current work?

It’s very different now, of course. Loyal audiences are harder to come by, live music isn’t nearly as popular. Back then, they used to come out of the woodwork to see The Sir Douglas Quintet. They’d literally come down from the mountains. We were on a bill with Fleetwood Mac and Mothers of Invention and it felt like the whole world was there. But I feel like I’ve been living in bars most of my life, too.

Jeremy: Jimmy’s been back in town for about 25 years.

Jimmy: I used to come through from California and play the Caravan East; I backed up Charley Pride there. In the Ruben Rodriguez group that I played in, Larry Carlton was the guitar player. He was 17 back when I played with him. One night I came home and told my wife, “I just played with this kid named Larry Carlton.” She asked me if he was any good, and I told her, “He’s going to be a very bad man on the guitar, that kid can play, man!”

If someone wholly unfamiliar with the concept asked you to describe what you do, what would you tell them?

I’d tell them I have eight or nine albums out but that they should listen to the album about my mom, I called it Brave Heart Woman. I believe every woman I’ve met in my life has a brave heart. They’ve been through things in life that men don’t really understand. Every mother should be in a hall of fame. I’ve done a lot of stuff, but that work still resonates. My biggest hit, “Heya,” happened because my mother used to take me to Gallup to witness the yearly Inter-Tribal [Indian] Ceremonial. It was a very spiritual experience. I remember that, I remember the songs that they sang. That’s where my song comes from.

An Evening with Jimmy Stallings
Accompanied by Jeremy Barnes
Tuesday, Aug. 20 • 6pm • Free
Steel Bender Brewyard
8305 Second Street NW