Passings: Jimmy LaFave (1955 - 2017)

by VVN Music

Austin's legendary singer/songwriter Jimmy LaFave died on Sunday after a fight with an aggressive form of cancer at the age of 61.

His label, Music Road Records, announced his passing:

The LaFave Family regrets to inform Jimmy's friends and fans across the world that the Austin based singer-songwriter passed from this world, surrounded by loved ones in his home, on May 21, 2017 after a courageous battle with cancer.

LaFave had only played his farewell concert last Thursday (May 18) at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, TX, an evening that saw such artists as Ruthie Foster, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Butch Hancock and others take the stage to salute the singer. As the four-hour show was coming to a close, LaFave took the stage in a wheel chair and attached to oxygen to sing I'll Fly Away, This Land is Your Land and Goodnight Irene.  Three days later, he was gone.

Jimmy was born in Wills Point, TX but moved with his family to Stillwater, OK where he started by playing drums but eventually changed to guitar.

Once out of school, LaFave worked during the day and played music at night, recording his debut album, Down Under, for Snowbound Records in 1979. He and other Stillwater singer-songwriters developed a sound called Red Dirt Music which is part of the Americana and alt-Country scene and mixes a wide variety of styles including folk, rock, country, bluegrass, jazz, blues, western swing and more.

LaFave recorded one more album for Snowbound (Broken Line (1981)) and made one independent release (Highway Angels...Full Moon Rain (1988)) before moving to Austin, TX where he became a major contributor to the music scene.

In 1992, he signed with Bohemia Beat Records and released Austin Skyline, kicking off one of the busiest times of his career. In 1996, he won Songwriter of the Year at the Austin Music Awards, made an appearance on the national Austin City Limits program and traveled to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to appear in a tribute to Woody Guthrie.

That latter appearance would set the course for much of the rest of Jimmy's life. He made his first appearance at the Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, OK in 1998 and, in 2007, became part of the Woody Guthrie Coalition that put on the yearly festival. He also put together a tour of Woody Guthrie music in 2003 that toured the country.

After six releases for Bohemia Beat between 1992 and 2001, LaFave formed Music Road Records where he would put out the last six albums of his career.

In early 2016, LaFave found a lump in his chest that was diagnosed as a malignant sarcoma. He kept the diagnosis private and, after an operation and some radiation, made the decision to forego any further treatment. In November, he told a publication that he was terminally ill and, last month, he officially announced he was battling spindle cell sarcoma which had primarily affected his lungs.

Prior to his death, Jimmy had recorded a number of new songs in hopes of keeping his legacy alive after he was gone along with starting on a book of his photographs. He knew that he had been elected to the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and would have been inducted on June 14.

LaFave is survived by his son, Jackson LaFave, his father, and two brothers and two sisters.

Arlo Guthrie wrote on Monday:

My daughter, Sarah Lee texted me earlier that my old buddy, Jimmy LaFave had exited the stage and gone farther down the road than any of us here can go. I had a chance to chat with him some weeks ago, as I knew he was in rough shape, and wasn't going to be around for too much longer. He left as a young man 61 - young in my book. He also left too many friends to count, and memories his friends will share until they meet again. Sarah Lee noted that I wasn't supposed to say anything public until they'd had a chance to get the news out the way they wanted... So, I didn't, until I saw the news everywhere. Now, I'm just adding my 2¢ to everyone else's dollar bills. He felt like a brother, and I loved being together whenever that happened - Usually at WoodyFest in Okemah.

I could go on and on, but I'm not going to. It's enough to simply say "It was a pleasure." In this world, that actually means something.


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