Jim Bouchard is one of my favorite Macjams Singer-Songwriters. A 53 year old folk-rocker from Boston, his music is unique, both musically and lyrically, and always inspires me to think. He’s been a strong advocate of the Macjams concept and I really appreciate his presence here. He collaborates frequently with Kelli King in the folk duo called The Fritters; she shares with Jim a lazy and honest vocal style and an ear for authentic lyrics. Jim’s been with Macjams for 4 years and has shared over 50 songs (many have been deleted, although he is re-issuing a few of his golden oldies), plus a slew of collaborations.
Jim’s story includes interesting experiences with his older brothers, Joe and Albert, founding members of the Blue Oyster Cult. Meeting Patti Smith (just as she was reinventing herself) and jamming with the BOC are among the highlights. He was also a professional artist (painter) for years, studying in France…
Openness, musical confidence and direct world-weary wisdom make his tracks standout, and an internal pace that cares nothing for what is expected. Jim took a bunch of his solo tunes off the website during a T&C brouhaha last year – many of which were on my fav list – and after he rearranged many under The Fritters’ banner and released them on CD, but a bunch remain, including:
– There You Go
– Kickin’ the Can
– Spinning My Wheels
– The Last Tree Standing
– On Top of Old Smokey
When did you start playing music?
“When I was in 3rd grade, around 9 or 10, my parents agreed to let me take music lessons with the condition that they were accordion lessons. My father had gotten an accordion from a friend as some sort of barter, probably, and since my older brothers were musicians, I think they wanted to discourage me a little, or at least test my desire to learn music. I was a bit discouraged when I forgot how to play Jingle Bells in recital and I gave up the accordion. It was heavy and uncomfortable. I got my mother to agree that if I was to make my way through one of the piano lesson books that we had around the house on my own that she would let me take piano lessons. I never got all the way through so I never got the piano lessons.
“When I was 13, my brother Joe went off to Ithaca College for music studies, and on a break I was looking at some horn charts he was writing and decided to copy them stylistically for a song I was writing on the piano. I was sort of unschooled so it came out rather humorous, but Joe thought it was neat that I was trying to do this, and he let me borrow his Gibson J-12 acoustic guitar so I could teach myself the guitar. He didn’t want to have the guitar he so loved at the dorms and figured it’d be better off at home with me. I am forever grateful to Joe, since I had a really great guitar to learn on, and it made it very easy to play. I started writing songs right away, but I don’t recall any of them. I think the first thing I wrote was something to do with a train. Maybe it was called ‘This Train'; it probably was subconsciously ripped off from James Brown’s ‘Night Train’.”
Interesting mix of challenge and support going on in your family. They all sound very musical.
“I got into playing music because my family was musical and we always had music around the house. My father worked as an engineer at a TV/Radio station but had played guitar when he was a youngster as a tour guide in the 1000 Islands in Northern New York, and my mother was an adept amateur pianist. My older brothers, Albert and Joe, got into playing when they were around 12 or so, and formed a band with some cousins in our little town of Clayton in Northern New York State. They would play Louis Armstrong and early rock and roll songs in a sort of skiffle style. Later on they got into The Ventures, The Beach Boys and The Beatles. They were really very popular in a large area of Northern New York while in high school. They won a battle of the bands mostly because they ‘borrowed’ the school’s strobe tuner, so that when they went on they were the only band that was in tune.”
You grew up in northern New York state? No neighbors to bother when you guys cranked the volume?
“We lived on a part-time farm in the country, and there was a large barn which didn’t get used too much, so my parents figured that the band could play in the barn if we fixed it up some. We’d charge 50 cents a head and the family could make some money and they wouldn’t have to drive the band all over the place and still make a profit. The rest of us kids (there were 7 of us kids in total, all younger) would chip in selling refreshments and it was a fun time. We’d make popcorn and sell bottles of pop. Around about 9 o’clock when things were getting going, us little kids would have to go back to the house to go to bed, and I’d fall asleep to the drum solo of ‘Wipeout’. In addition to this rockin’ influence, we all sang in the choir at church, and that was also another education. When I learned how to play guitar, I played guitar for Folk Masses in the choir and learned much from the other guitar player, Dennis Marshall, who played in a band with another of my brothers, Bill.”
You are one of seven kids?
“Yes, I’m fifth. I have two younger brothers. My oldest brothers are Albert and Joe, who were in the Blue Oyster Cult. Then I have a brother Bill and a sister Mary, then me, and then my younger brothers Gerry and Patrick.”
Blue Oyster Cult, how cool is that?
“Albert is the one playing the actual cowbell on (Don’t Fear) The Reaper, not Gene Frenkle. That is a whole story in itself, and there’s plenty of history on on the internet. When I was in college I jammed with the Blue Oyster Cult at a sound check in Passaic (or it might have been Stanford), and that was a thrill playing in front of stacks of Marshalls. We played Green Onions, which is about as much as I can remember. My first recordings of my original songs were done in Albert’s Lower East Side apartment way back in the mid-’70s, on his sort of primitive multi-track tape machine in some late night sessions while on a visit there. There was a lot of bouncing involved, and I don’t exactly remember what the songs were called or how they went, and they were pretty much unfinished. (I guess there was some herbal assistance involved.) I do remember hearing songs that he was working on with Patti Smith the same way, one of them being ‘The Revenge of Vera Gemini’ which was recorded later by The Blue Oyster Cult on ‘Agents of Fortune‘. Patti was going out with the BOC’s keyboard player, Alan Lanier, at the time and they were pretty good friends. My brothers were very busy though with the band and our family lived a fair distance from NYC where the band was based, so we saw them only occasionally. I remember we always jammed a lot when they were around, just acoustic guitars around the house, the usual non-stop jamming that guitar players will get into on holidays and weekends.”
Did you jam with Patti Smith at your brother’s apartment?
“I just heard some of her early music when she was turning from a poet to a musician, and only met her at my brother Albert’s wedding later on. She told me I looked like a journalist, whatever that means.
“I went to a lot of BOC concerts, since they toured pretty constantly and no matter where I went, they ended up coming through the area at some point. They ended up leaving Blue Oyster Cult, first Albert left due to ‘artistic differences’, though he recorded a solo album for Columbia that never got released until later when it got remixed and released as a Blue Oyster Cult record. Joe left when he decided to spend more time at home with his family and finish his Masters work in music. Albert has produced records for a number of independent artists and plays sessions as a drummer and he works as music teacher in a Manhattan high school. Joe keeps really busy, working full time as a musician, and he plays in a number of different musical incarnations, probably the most notable one being DDS, a power trio with Dennis Dunaway and Neil Smith from the original Alice Cooper band, who live near where he lives in Connecticut.
How do your older brothers encourage you now?
“Albert and Joe are very supportive of my music now and have been all through the years. Joe is covering my song Kickin’ the Can on his new solo CD, and Albert has covered my song Whatever Works on his Brain Surgeons ‘Beach Party’ CD. Albert has always expressed more interest in recording me and had a pretty nice ADAT recording setup in the ’90s in his home in Manhattan where I did a few demos. He hooked me up with a distributor for my Toots’ Rambles CD, but that didn’t work out too well when the guy went out of business and a pile of the CDs disappeared. Albert and Joe are likely to ask me to sit in if they playing a gig where it seems appropriate, and we powwow about music stuff all the time.”
Did you ever form your own band?
“I mostly played acoustic guitar by myself when I was in high school. I never got into a band but I started playing solo gigs at coffeehouses. I had friends in bands that encouraged me to get in a band, but I didn’t want to buy more equipment and I just liked doing my own thing. I did join the school band and played Baritone Horn. When I broke my right hand switched to trombone. I also played in a recorder ensemble and sang and played guitar with a youth group in my school.
“Later on in college at the State University of New York at Postdam, I continued to play in coffeehouses and got drafted into a rock band by a coffeehouse buddy that had a rockin’ band with the silly name Fatty Lumpkin. We played originals and covers in bars and schools all around and made a good living at it. I also played in a psuedo-jazz band where we did Pharaoh Sanders’ “The Creator Has A Master Plan” for a long time, mostly providing background music at art openings and such. I was an art major there, but most of my friends were music majors and I spent most of my time playing music.”
How many years did you play in Fatty Lumpkin? Was it your main source of income?
“I played in that band for a year and a half, and at the time it was my main source of income. It also was a blast!”
Did you play trombone in the jazz band you mentioned?
“No, I played guitar. My trombone playing is pretty rudimentary! I really played a lot more baritone horn, and that was in high school concert band playing more classical stuff and pep band. ”
What came next, after Fatty Lumpkin (named after Bilbo Baggins’ horse in The Hobbit)?
“After college, where I studied fine art with a concentration in painting and printmaking, I decided to put aside music as a job. My brothers were professional musicians with a multi-album contract with Columbia Records, and I could see how a musicians’ life is one of continual travel, and I decided that would get in the way of my painting. I was very serious about my Art, having studied with a protege of Hans Hoffman in France. While pursuing my interest in painting, I continued to play music for myself, but was more interested in jazz and new-age-ish American Primitive guitar (like John Fahey) than popular music.
“After many years of struggling with getting into galleries and the fine art world I eventually wearied of painting and felt burdened by the physical output of it. In order to keep myself from going crazy, eventually I decided to start to go out to coffeehouses and clubs in Boston where I found my live performances got me more and more gigs and radio appearances with my original take on the 90s singer-songwriter thing that was going through a renaissance all throughout New England.”
Did you go to France to study art?
“I went to France to study art, and to learn a bit of french. I was there about a year and a half. I went for my senior year in college at The State University of New York at Potsdam to a program they had set up in Tours, France, which was associated with L’Institut de Touraine, where my art teacher was Erik Koch.
“I went home to graduate and after making a bit of money at a summer job, I went back to Tours. I actually went to Amsterdam first where I had a girlfriend. I was very idealistic and probably a little unrealistic, as I had really no money to speak of when I got off the plane. I brought an electric guitar and I sold that and my camera and had enough money to live on for a while, and then I went back to France so I could hang with Koch and work on my art. I was the unofficial studio assistant. My brother Albert sent me some money, and I sold some drawings and paintings to cafes. It wasn’t that expensive to live in France at the time and it was very romantic. I brought my guitar, but I didn’t play out anywhere, just at parties and that type of thing.
“I think one of the most powerful images that I absorbed from Koch’s teaching was his idea that those of us that work in the world of art are like the craftsmen working on the old cathedrals, crafting our little blocks of stone to go into this edifice dedicated to making a place for God in the world. It was to form how I approached my art and my music for years. It probably didn’t give me a great introduction to marketing my art, and I paid the price for that, but c’est la vie.”
Do you still paint?
“I painted my living room last year, but no. I do some artwork on the computer for my job selling banners, Photoshop and Illustrator stuff, and I do artwork for all my albums.”
Do you have anything online, a digital gallery?
“I will probably put up a gallery on my new website, jimborambles.com, but at present I don’t. I’ve used my art occasionally for song art on my MacJams postings.”
Have you considered revisiting your painting?
“I probably haven’t done any significant painting of the fine art type since 1994. That would be when I was 40. I liked the last bunch of paintings I did, and I think I sold a couple paintings in 1994, but I was a single parent at the time and living in a rented apartment, and I got tired of moving my paintings around. When I met my wife, Andrea Tamkin, around about that time, she was such a good painter, I decided to leave the painting up to her. I love her painting, though it’s very different from what I would do. She has a website. She is pretty active in doing paintings on commission.”
How did you end up in Boston?
“When I got out of graduate school at RIT in Rochester, NY, where I got a master’s degree in painting, I had friends that lived in Boston and decided it was better there than in Rochester. My mother grew up in Cambridge, MA, and I’d spent a fair amount of time in Boston. It was a comfortable place for me to be.
“I spent a couple years focused on recording my music, and I eventually put out a CD called Toots Rambles which was an almost solo folk CD. It got a fair bit of folk radio airplay but was totally independently released and so it probably didn’t make as big a splash as it could have. I did get it placed with a distributor that was also distributing a couple later Townes Van Zandt CDs as well so I thought it might be a good match. Unfortunately he went out of business and there’s probably some warehouse in New Jersey where several crates of my CDs reside. Around that time I formed a folk band with some of the musicians (Ry Cavanaugh, Sean Staples and Kris Delmhorst) that helped me record some of the songs on the CD, the band was also called Toots Rambles and we had a good year and a half of steady gigging and some local acclaim before it ran its course. There’s some recordings of that band, but nothing that ever got released, really. That was a musical highlight for me.
“I’d gotten remarried and had a new baby and so I stopped playing out when the band broke up. Or at least until I got asked to join a couple bands as a sideman. That was a bit easier than doing my own thing and being a front man, so I played for a number of years in various bands as the banjo, steel guitar, lead guitar or keyboard player, occasionally singing a lead vocal. I did a bit of session work and appeared on a few CDs that got independently released.”
What year did Toots Rambles come out?
“1996. I was gigging a lot then and sold CDs at gigs mostly. I was in the band with Ry, Sean and Kris, and we had a residency at a popular Irish pub playing our round-robin of original songs and some choice covers. We did a killer version of Lust for Life and there was a live CD that the pub put out that had our version of Jimmy Driftwood’s ‘Long Chain’.
Do you keep up with Ry Cavanaugh, Sean Staples and Kris Delmhors? Either guy on MJ, gonna be?
“I see Ry and Sean at their Session Americana gigs, and occasionally they have me sit in for a song. Ry is a dad now, married to the marvelous Jennifer Kimball, and Sean is one of the busiest mandolin players in the Boston area. Kris lives in Western Massachusetts with her husband Jeffrey Foucault and releases CDs on the Signature Sounds record label and tours a lot to support that. I just saw Kris last week at her local show to release her new CD.”
What do you do for a living now?
“I currently have a day job selling banners and flags for a small company called Accent Banner, and it’s a nice blend of sales and craftsmanship that I feel comfortable with and it’s not tremendously high-pressure, and I can make some money doing it if things don’t get too screwed up. It’s a small company with a great bunch of people. It’s taken me a while to arrive at this place and I feel like I am in control of my livelihood at it.
“I also do some audio mastering through Songmastering.com which is a site set up by Jim Mason for independent artists, having spent some time to learn how to properly do this and having spent enough time around recording studio engineers to feel qualified to do it on a sort of rudimentary level. It’s not so much of a job, but it’s something I do.”
Does your current living situation impact the music you are making now?
“I think Boston has a really nice music scene, but I don’t get out too much, though the opportunity is there if I was to arrange my schedule better. I have a 10 year old son and we enjoy reading together at night and my evenings are spent doing that. I have an older son from my first marriage and we went through the same stage of staying in and reading, so I know how precious that time is, so I guess this circumstance limits my musical involvement to some extent.”
What are you musical aspirations?
“I’m just a normal guy and if I have any aspirations for my music it’s probably mostly to just express myself and perhaps set an example for others to do the same. One of the cool things about the new consumer recording software like Garageband being available to the average person is that it has allowed a lot of people to create.
“I like playing music and making up new stuff. I love all types of music and feel connected to people when put it out there. I’m lucky to be able to record at home. I used to make a lot of 4-track cassettes by myself for years, then I spent money for a while having other people record me to tape so the technical limitations wouldn’t mask the content of the music. When I got a new Mac a couple years back and Apple came out with Garageband, I was fortunate to jump right back into a higher quality home recording. There were a number of places to post your music on the internet that sprang up, so people can hear my music. I get more than my fair share of internet accolades for which I am grateful, but I probably would make the music anyway. It’s just icing on the cake. I never made any money as a musician anyway, so the idea of allowing people to listen to my music and download it for free if they like it doesn’t bother me, personally. I consider it a reward in itself.”
What is one of your Macjams highlights?
“I have a ‘band’ with Kelli King of San Antonio, Texas called The Fritters. We’ve released 2 CDs that are available online on iTunes and emusic.com. I don’t play out, but Kelli does in the San Antonio area under her own name. I am active at MacIdol and MacJams and submit my music there for people to listen to and download. I collaborate with various people over the internet. I haven’t been in a band for a couple years and going out and playing music live isn’t something that interests me too much at the moment.
“I really enjoy writing songs with Kelli, and finding her was probably the best experience I’ve had on MacJams.
How did you to get together?
“Originally The Fritters started out because Kelli posted a song she had written over Garageband loops on MacJams called Andrea Yates, and I wrote to her offering to write and record real guitar parts for it, since the only weak part of the song would seem to be the dependence on the stock Garageband loops used. I took the GB file that she sent me and built my arrangement around that, but rather than keep to the 1-chord structure that happens when you depend on loops, I analyzed the melody and used chord changes that would go along with and complement the emotional flow of the story told in the song. It came out pretty well and so we kept on writing.
– Andrea Yates w/ Jim Bouchard by macgalver
“Since then, my collaborative process with Kelli has been sort of a mixed bag. I think the songs that we’ve felt to be more of a Fritters song have been songs where I sketch out a song (usually on acoustic guitar with a rhythm part) that I will send to Kelli as an mp3 for her to listen to and see if there’s any words and a melody that goes along with it. Then she will send me her vocals as aiff files or in a Garageband.band file if she has built up a complex set of harmonies. I’ll drop them in and then finish up the music and the mix. Occasionally there’ve been songs that I’ve more or less written and sent to her for additional words and her vocals, and occasionally I take songs that she’s written pretty completely and just replace her guitars and fill out the arrangements. We always share credit on our songs no matter who’s come up with the song originally. We’ve done a bunch of arrangements of traditional songs, mostly because of my affection for that type of thing. I’ve done a few other collaborations with MacJams’s artists, most frequently with ledebutant.”
How do you come up with a song?
“As far as my own solo song-writing, I usually just start out noodling guitar and a concept will pop into my head that seems to suggest a lyric or an instrumental line. Then it takes a long time to polish it off, sometimes it’ll take years, so it’s much more enjoyable to write in collaboration. For a little change of pace I sometimes create a rhythm bed and then find a guitar lick that sits nicely on top of it. Or I pick up a different instrument to make it even more fresh. I guess I’ve played guitar for so long (with only a modicum of skill), that it’s easy for it to get stale for me.”
You never revisited the accordion?
“I play mostly guitar, but the fingers are pretty rusty from lack of practice. These days a lot of the time on the computer is spent in just putting things together, rhythm tracks and structure, and not so much is spent on playing guitar. A couple years back I broke my left elbow and couldn’t play guitar for 6 months. I was in a band at the time and so I switched over to keyboards as I could play rudimentary keyboard parts. I’ve been playing piano a bit more these days. Playing guitar does pain me sometimes due to the injury. But I like trying out new things and am up for trying to play any instrument. I am not very good at drums, but other than that, I’m up for taking a whack at playing any instrument that crosses my path. I am not very good at most of my instruments, but I don’t have much time to practice, and it usually amounts to just figuring out enough to play the part I want to play.”
What instruments do you own?
” I have a lot of instruments… Guitars: Guild acoustic G-37 that I bought off the rack 33 years ago, Fender Esquire electric, Gibson Les Paul Junior, a cheap Yamaha 12-string, G&L Tribute Legacy, Epiphone P-bass clone, Regal dobro, Harmony lap steel. Other string instruments: Gibson longneck 5-string banjo, Johnson F-style Mandolin, Mahalo Ukulele, charango, violin, viola, banjo-uke. I also have a Kurzweil KME-61keyboard and a Marshall&Wendell Baby Grand piano and a couple yard sale dented trumpets and a clarinet. And some various drums, jew’s harps, recorders, percussion stuff.
“I have a fairly rudimentary set up but I’ve tweaked it to make the most out of the least. The studio is set up in a nicely secluded basement room with some nice windows. I use an Intel iMac and Logic Pro 8 to record these days, having just recently moved up from Garageband. I have an ART Tube PAC preamp, that goes into a Tascam US-122 interface. I use KRK ST-6 monitors that I power with a Peavey PV260 studio monitor amp. It’s a pretty simple setup that hasn’t cost a lot but I think I have a pretty well-tuned room. I have a selection of various mics, usually using my Rode NT-1000 to track vocals and acoustic guitar. I usually record my electric through my Peavey Delta Blues amp that I have isolated in an unused closet that I have lined with boxes of comics and blankets so that I can play any time of the day without disturbing the neighbors.”
What is your mixing process?
“I mix the song after recording, and don’t pay much attention to the mix while I am recording; I try to keep things pretty neutral while tracking. I’ll adjust some pans and levels on tracks, but that’s so I can hear all the parts as they are being laid down. I try to keep mixing separate from tracking, since I’ve always experienced them as two different stages.
“I mix and master pretty much all my music at moderate volume on speakers, only rarely using headphones just to check details. I can crank up the volume on the Peavey amp a lot, but I like to save my ears a bit. I listen to a lot of music, so I try to moderate the levels anyway. I have AKG K240 headphones for checking mixes, also some Sennheiser HD280 but I use the AKGs mostly now. I usually check mixes on the iPod in different environments with my M-Audio E10 in-ear headphones.
“I use Peak Pro 5 for mastering software, utilizing the Bias Mastering Suite of plugins in conjunction with Ozone3, though sometimes I’ll do some premastering in Logic Pro for some special Logic effects. There are high-end mastering studios that have more of an emphasis on hardware, but my setup is more geared towards taking home recorded mixes and making them comparable to studio recordings.”
Any special tips?
“Have fun and don’t be afraid to just press record. There’s no time like the present. Life is short.”
• My new personal website: Jimborambles.com
• I have a solo Jim Bouchard CD you can purchase here
• The Fritters has a couple CDs you can purchase here
• The Fritters website
• The Fritters on iTunes and iTunes again
• The Fritters on emusic
• I do a little audio mastering for Songmastering
– If you want to send me a song to master through there
• Jim Bouchard on FolkZone – An ancient page of mine that is somehow still working, from back when I was a folkie
• Jim Bouchard on Alone Tone – A site I joined to post my music that looks cool, but I haven’t put much up there yet
• Jim on the RPM Challenge
• My brother Albert Bouchard’s website and make sure you don’t miss these pics or his page on myspace
• brother Joe Bouchard’s website and his page and on myspace
• My wife Andrea Tamkin website.
• My son Gray’s myspace page
• My friend Kris Delmhorst’s page (she’s super! Buy her CDs!):
• Other friends:
• Accent Banner – Where I work, a great place to get a banner or a flag, but don’t expect anything free! It is my job, after all!
• My infrequent blog: jimborambles.blogspot