Jim Hall is in the moment for a half century

by Paul Whyte

In the upcoming days, longtime musician Jim Hall will be playing a couple of shows to celebrate over 50 years of playing music. Throughout the past several decades Jim Hall has been a regular, playing small venues such as the Thirsty Pagan in Superior and Sir Benedict’s in Duluth. One of his more notable acts was the blues band Azure du Jour, where he held down the bass. A multi-instrumentalist, Hall has played guitar, fiddle and harmonica as well as bringing in his lower pitch vocals and sometimes throat singing, a unique talent. 

Hall’s voice is currently in recovery, so he’ll be sticking mainly to the fiddle. Check out this Twin Ports mainstay at the Cedar Lounge with Charlie Parr on Saturday, June 22 and at Sir Benedict’s on Saturday, June 29 as Jim’s Country Laundry with various guests. 
We had the chance to catch up with Hall and ask him a little about his years as a musician and what he’s done more recently. 

Reader: So you’re looking at 50 years of being a musician?

JH: Yeah. Well, it’s 51 I guess. 

Reader: You snuck a year in on us. Jim’s Country Laundry, is that a new project for you now?

JH: No, both these things I’ll be playing fiddle, I lost my voice. Jim’s Country Laundry is Big Country (of Feeding Leroy) and Joey on the washboard. 

Reader: Ah, pretty much the group you play with out at Wasko’s (for their Sunday open jam). I think the last time I chatted with you was for the Azure du Jour reunion show a few years back.

JH: I played with Azure du Jour since 1997 as a house band at Bev’s Jook Joint, but I got hit by a truck in around 2002 and that sort of brought an end to that. 

Reader: List off some of the instruments you play. 

JH: Guitar, harmonica, fiddle. I played bass with Azure du Jour and also with the Blue Healers, which was kind of a jazz and blues band before that. 

Reader: Have you ever toured?

JH: I don’t know if I’d call it a tour but when I got my settlement from that accident I bought a minivan, I put a bed in the back and I went to Texas for about six months. That was fun. I’d just walk into a bar or a coffee shop and asked if I could play there and they’d say, “Sure, we’ll hire you.” 

Reader: Tell me about when you became a performing musician.

JH: I was the only guy on our block that could sing, so these guys were trying to start a band. We were doing covers, I wasn’t playing guitar or anything, just singing. We’d do The Doors and Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin. 

Reader: I think what’s unique to you, if you don’t mind me saying, is that you tend to sing with a deeper voice. Kind of a Tom Waits thing going on. 

JH: It’s because I lost the upper half of my vocal chords, that’s kind of what I rely on now, the low stuff. It’s hard to get volume with that unless you “put a little thing into it.” (Hall demonstrates with a raspy growl.)

Reader: You also sometimes use this guttural sound. Can you tell me anything about that particular vocal technique?

JH: You know babies they experiment with different sounds? I guess I use to throat sing when I was a baby. That’s where it started, in the crib. 

Reader: Here’s maybe a broad question. In the last 50 years, what has music been for you?

JH: Well, it’s always been kind of a meditation of being in the moment. I put my head down, close my eyes and just be in the moment. It’s a way of communicating. Even though I’m not watching the audience I can feel what’s going on out there. So the audience brings this other level to the experience of being in the moment.

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