My introduction to singer-songwriter Jim Sullivan came a few years ago, when Light In the Attic records released his long-lost album UFO. Jim Sullivan has one of the great rock and roll stories out there–he was an up and coming performer who mysteriously disappeared without a trace back in March of 1975. He vanished in the middle of New Mexico, on his way to a gig, his car discovered abandoned with all of his belongings including his guitar. What was so creepy about his disappearance was the fact he often sang about alien encounters and frequently wished some “out-of-town” travelers would scoop him up and take him for an interstellar drive.
The mystery has been unsolved all these years, although the facts of the case seem to suggest that Jim, long-haired and irascible, might have crossed paths with a hippy-hating New Mexico state trooper who didn’t like his attitude. That’s a more reasonable explanation, to be sure, but someone thought it wise to “print the legend.” So the mystique of Jim Sullivan continues to this day.
I have another reason for liking Jim Sullivan and his music. He’s a rather typical ’70s singer-songwriter, mellow and firmly ensconced in the country-rock style that was huge in Southern California at the time. At first listen, he seems a little unremarkable. He’s a decent guitar player with a raspy voice, but his lyrics are unusual for the aforementioned reasons. UFO, in fact, sounds like an unfinished album, one that sounds a little simple and rough around the edges. The legend, in other words, elevated the reality. But there’s one more note of interest–Jim Sullivan used to play at a local watering hole in Malibu, sort of the house musician. His fans, regulars to the club, included Lee Marvin and a young married couple known among locals as Lee and Farrah. There’s something about Jim’s style that bring back old SoCal memories for me, relaxed, laid-back and ultra-cool, with a smattering of celebrities.
Light in the Attic has just expanded their catalog with these two Jim Sullivan albums, 1969’s If the Evening Were Dawn and his eponymous 1972 album. While UFO seems to suggest what could have been if Jim Sullivan had become a household name, someone in the same ballpark of Jim Croce, Dave Mason and a few others. If the Evening Were Dawn follows that same formula, a man and his guitar captured on the fly, but Jim Sullivan is a more fully-realized album, one that features a full band backing up this mystery man and his songs.
Neither of these releases would carry the same allure as UFO if they didn’t sound so damn good. Light in the Attic has avoided that “outtake” feel”–these two releases sound full and warm and more representative of the times. For lack of a better word, they sound much more professional. These sound like true releases rather than curios, and for me that helps the legend of this singer-songwriter to blossom further. Even if Jim Sullivan met his demise in a tragic, albeit more earthly manner, the three albums together suggest that we are poorer for his absence. Or maybe, just maybe, his music was better appreciated on some other planet for the last few decades.