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In Memory of Jim Rooks

Jim Portrait

On Friday, October 21, 2005 Jim Rooks died suddenly of an Aortal Aneurysm.  Jim had been a long-time enthusiastic member of the Rambling Bluegrass jam session since way back in the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse days.

Paul (October 24, 2005):

We first met Jim when he simply showed up at the Rambling Bluegrass jam session one day.  He had been doing some work in the Portland Oregon area, was looking for a local jam session, and encountered our Rambling Bluegrass jam session web page.  We were very happy to have him join us because he was an ideal bluegrass jamming friend to have:
I had a perfectly selfish reason for liking to have him in the jam: he sang leads in a vocal range that was in an ideal range for me to sing tenor harmony.  Jim was a real fun addition to the jam session.

One of my other bluegrass friends made a comment one time that I thought was really perceptive.  He was talking about what kind of people to select for your band.  He said,

"You have a choice of selecting good pickers or selecting good people.  You want to select the good people.  Even if good people are not good pickers now, they will learn to be good pickers eventually.  But people seldom to learn to be good people, so you have to select pickers that are already good people."

The thought applies at least as much to the people you want in your jam session.  You want to have people who are fun to be around, who give as much support as possible to the music and to the other musicians.  You look for the qualities Jim had as described above.  Jim was "good people".

The instruments

Bass players tend to be a scarce commodity in bluegrass jam sessions.  The best kind of bass to have is one of those standup "doghouse" basses.  They are way too big to fit in the glove compartment of your car.  I think that this is one of the reasons that bass players are so scarce.  Few people want to schlepp one around.  We had bass players off and on in the Rambling Bluegrass jam session, but it was hard to keep them.  As soon as we would get one trained up, they would be snapped up by some band.  Then we would be back to having no bass player again.  It's hard to play bluegrass without a bass player.  The sound just isn't quite right.  Where's the big fat "BOOM" of that "boom-chick" sound that bluegrass is supposed to have?  After a couple of weeks of the jam struggling along without a bass player while Jim played his guitar as usual, Jim surprised us all one Monday night by showing up with a big old doghouse bass that he had just bought.  We said we didn't know he played bass and asked him how long he had been playing.  He said, "Oh, about a couple hours so far".  He wanted the music to sound right.  It didn't sound right without a bass, so he went out and bought one and learned how to play it.

Jim would be the first to admit that he wasn't the world's greatest bass player at first.  But after a couple of weeks he was right on time and right on pitch with the right chords and everything.  Of course, he still continued to play guitar.  He always considered that to be his "main axe".  He switched back and forth between bass and guitar depending on the situation.  He was one of the more flexible bass players I've encountered when other bass players were around.  He was always ready to let another bass player take over or to fill in on bass when another bass player took a rest.

Guitar is his main axe

Jim was one of the most dedicated jammers I have ever met.  For a while there he was commuting back and forth between a couple of jams a week near his home in the Seattle area and a couple of jams a week in the Portland area.  This ran up a lot of mileage and gas prices were rising.  One day Jim showed up laughing because he had just bought a new car: a Honda Prius.  It's one of those hybrid gas-electric cars, extremely fuel-efficient at the time of its introduction, getting on the order of 75 miles per gallon.  He was laughing because his test-drive for the vehicle consisted mostly of making sure he could fit both his bass and his guitar in the car at the same time.  The perfect bluegrass jam commuting vehicle!

About a year ago, Jim showed up one night with a mandolin.  I guess that was one of the few instruments that would fit in the remaining space in the Prius.  As with the bass, it was a struggle for him at first, but he got better and better.  I think we can all take some inspiration from this.  One of the reasons many of us go to jam sessions is that it gives us a chance to share our love of music with other people, no matter what our skill level may be.  The Bluegrass community and our jam session friends have become our family.  The family supported Jim as he learned new instruments and tried new songs.  He in turn supported the other family members in their music.  We are all grateful to have had the opportunity to do so.


Jim was a regular at all the bluegrass festivals up and down the Pacific Northwest.  I always loved it when he would show up, because it takes a certain "critical mass" of people to get a jam started.  Jim was always ready to start up a jam, and he was excellent to have in a jam session because of the huge font of songs he knew.  And he was always up on stage in some band scramble.

Jim hated to camp out, so he usually commuted back and forth to festivals.  The Honda Prius was handy for this.  One of the few times we saw him camp out was this past summer at the MooGrass festival in Tillamook.  Kathleen caught a great picture of him struggling to set up his tent while it was blowing away into the fence.  Jim vowed never to camp out again after that.

Just earlier this month on October 15, there was a somewhat different bluegrass festival in the town of Ridgefield, Washington.  Many of the businesses open up their stores to host jam sessions that go on until late at night.  We ended up spending 6 or 8 hours in a hot jam session in the laundromat of all places.  Jim was doing something else that day but happened to be passing by, stopped in, and ended up staying for many hours.  This is probably the last festival that Jim attended.  One of the highlights of the evening was when someone sang the song "I wonder where you are tonight".  One of the standing jokes with this song is the parody verse that Jim sometimes sang.  He joined in and sang a verse that goes something like this and had everyone in the laundromat roaring with laughter:

You took the washer and the dryer
There's not a thing to wear in sight
Since all my clothes are in the laundry
I'll wear your underwear tonight.

That old rain is cold and slowly falling
Upon my windowpane tonight
And though your love is even colder
I'll wear your underwear tonight

Wear your underwear

The bands

Jim has been in a couple of bluegrass bands over the years I've known him.  I've seen some of the performances, and had the pleasure of being in one of the bands with him.

Rogue bluegrass band:  This band was formed from some of our jam members that moved over to jam at the Rogue Pub in North Plains during one of those times when the Rambling Bluegrass Jam was looking for a new place to play (see the history page for details).  We both played a couple of gigs with them, although the Rogue band has eventually replaced us with different members who can play with them on a more frequent basis.  I was on fiddle and Jim was on bass.  We really enjoyed doing this but neither of us were playing our main axe, so maybe it was just as well that we moved on.

Hawthorne Lane Band

Hawthorne Lane:  This band formed a couple of years ago and worked their way forward through the retirement home circuit and played a few of the smaller festivals, including competing in the band contest at the Stevenson bluegrass festival.

Bluegrass In The Grove

Bluegrass in the Grove:  I think this band had just one gig: at MooGrass in September 2005.    Jim was on bass again.  The band sounded great, with each of the band members leading a couple of songs.  I love to hear that kind of variety.

Jim plays bass at Moograss

The songs

Anybody that ever jammed with Jim was amazed at all the songs he knew.  Sometimes we used to call him our "bluegrass music archivist".  He could always pull out a great old classic from Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Country Gentlemen, Bluegrass Album Band, Stanley Brothers, Jimmy Martin, etc.  For some reason a sort of courtesy develops among groups that jam together often, in which songs become attached to a certain  person.  The list of "Jim's songs" is so long and comprehensive that it is hard to enumerate them all.  Some songs that are distinctively "Jim's songs" come to mind immediately, though.  I would appreciate word from anyone who can mention other of Jim's favorite songs that I should add to this list.

Moonlight Motor Inn
A hundred years from now
On and on
Forty years of suffering
Body and Soul
Who will sing for me
Pain in my heart
I've just seen the rock of ages
Someday we'll meet again sweetheart
I wonder where you are tonight
Won't you come and sing for me
Don't get above your raisin'
I cried again
Live and let live
Love and wealth
Love come home
Never again
Once More

I figure that one of the best things you can do to honor and preserve your memory of Jim is to learn one of his songs and sing it in jam sessions.  One of Jim's songs that I loved to sing harmony on is the song "Who will sing for me".  I talked with Jim a few months ago regarding this song, because he sang it with three verses and I usually only see two in arrangements.  He had noticed the same thing, but had run into two different second verses from different recordings so he put them all together to form a three verse song, since it was too good of a song to be over in just two verses.  We also remarked that whenever you sing this song, there is always the knowledge in the back of your mind that it will come to pass some day.  But one great thing about the bluegrass family is that there always will be someone to sing for you when you are gone.

Oft I sing for my friends
When death's cold hand I see
But when I reach my journey's end
Who will sing one song for me

I wonder (I wonder) who
Will sing (will sing) for me
When I come to the cross of that silent sea
Who will sing (who will sing) for me

When a crowd shall gather round
And look down on me
Will they turn and walk away
Or will they sing one song for me

So I'll sing 'til the end
And helpful try to be
I''ll rest assured that some friends
Will sing one song for me

Farewell Jim, and thank you for sharing the music with us.  Through your songs we will remember you.

-- Paul

Jim Singing

Kathleen (October 25, 2005):

With Jim Rooks gone from our lives, I feel as if I’ve lost a part of my voice.  Wherever Paul and I jammed, we could always count on Jim to help us get a jam going and devote his full attention to the music and the people in the jam.  He eagerly led tunes and took breaks, provided solid harmony support, welcomed folks to the campsite and made them feel welcome, and also humored us with his ready wit.  He was like Waldo, popping up everywhere, and a welcome sight when we arrived because he never had any excuses not to jam.  He knew a lot of songs--or at least the choruses--and if he didn’t, he’d do his best to read lips and sing the harmony part on the fly. 

Jim started playing with us in our weekly jam sessions at the Cornelius Pass Roadhouse about seven years ago and soon became a solid regular--a pillar, really--in our jam.  One day he showed up with a bass because he was fed up with not having a bass player on a regular basis, but as soon as we got one, he happily went back to playing guitar.  He also bought a mandolin but often shook his head and laughed with disgust after he took a break.  

I could always count on him to provide the third harmony part for the songs we sang.  In fact, I didn’t like to sing certain songs without him, especially “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues” (in which we sang the three different choruses because, as Jim pointed out, how could we leave out the old dog Trey?), “Seeing Nellie Home,” “Are You Missing Me,” and “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight”(to which Jim added a fourth verse at the end:  “You took the washer and the dryer/There’s not a thing to wear in sight/But now it’s cold outside, dear [I’m not sure I’ve got this line right]/So I’ll wear your underwear tonight.”

Wherever I was jamming, I waited until Jim showed up before singing those songs because I knew he would make them sound so much better.  It wasn’t just his harmonizing but also the energy and joy he brought to the song, thereby supporting me in the best way he possibly could.  The only song he would not sing harmony on was “Going to the West,” because he felt very strongly that it should be performed as a duet.  This was another example of his reverence for the songs we sang and his respect for those who wrote them.

"A beautiful life"

There were many other songs in which Jim played an essential role.  "The Rose,” “Sing Me Back Home,” “Once More,” and “A Beautiful Life” without him.  Paul often sang “Sing Me Back Home” as the last song of the jam, but one night Jim said he wanted to add something to it.  Towards the end of the song, he inserted a portion of  “Amazing Grace,” which he thought the song deserved. 

Jim also loved to sing “A Beautiful Life” a capella (or acapulco, as we called it) at the end of the jam.  He sang the baritone part and coached others on the bass part, which I’m sure he would have sung too if he could have cloned himself.  That was the last song he sang with us.  “Each day I’ll do a golden deed/By helping those who are in need/My time on earth is but a span/And so I’ll do the best I can.”

In some way Jim was like a brother to me.  We gossiped like friends but argued liked siblings.  He wanted me to sell him my guitar because he thought it sounded better than his, and since I didn’t play it enough, he might as well play it for me.  We also commiserated about politics, although not often enough for Jim.  He was very upset about the war in Iraq and about the takeover of our government by the “neocon cabal” in Washington, and he felt that it was important for us to discuss openly what was happening, even if we disagreed.  He cared about what is happening to our country and the world with an intensity that affected and troubled him deeply. 

Tenting in the wind

On the lighter side, one of the last memories I have of Jim was watching him set up camp at Moograss in Tillamook on the Labor Day weekend.  He hated camping with a passion, but needed to stay overnight because he was performing in a band.  He took out his fury on his camping gear, grumbling, and flinging things about impatiently.  His untethered tent tumbled in the wind and got caught on the fence, and the pump for his air mattress broke down, so he had to waste even more precious jamming time by going out to buy another pump.  Of course he swore he’d never camp again.

But despite his dislike for sleeping on the cold, hard ground, he showed up at most bluegrass festivals we attended, even if he had to drive hundreds of miles to get back to his bed.  He often called me on his cell phone to ask when we’d be arriving or to find out where we were camped or where we were jamming.  Our campsite often served as his home base, and sometimes when Paul and I came back to our canopy, we’d find Jim there jamming or just waiting for us to show up.  As I think about it, I realize that in his own way he was home to us.  He was giving us the best possible welcome by just being there.   

More recently at Ridgefield a week before he died, I jammed with Jim and a few other friends in the beauty salon in back of the antique shop in town.  We were all giddy at how good we sounded because of the amazing acoustics--like singing in a chapel--and our jam session was relaxed, intimate, and very special.  When I left, Jim was gratefully helping Ed and Vicki devour their pizza.

And then there was our last jam together at Papa’s Pizza, the night before Jim collapsed.  I wish I could remember all the songs he sang that night.  I’m hoping to learn some of his songs.  “Moonlight Motor Inn” is the first that pops into my mind because when Jim was fishing for a song, I often held that one in my thoughts and was delighted when he chose it.  It’s a quiet song with a chord progression that evokes a sense of moody dissatisfaction and yet hope, and I think it conveys the essence of Jim’s complex personality. 

I see now that there was so much I didn’t know about him, stuff he kept inside or  tucked away when he picked up his guitar.  Sometimes he wore me down with his intensity and impatience to make things right in the world and with himself, but I knew I could be myself with him.  Jim was a walking-talking-singing-major-to-flatted-seventh-chord progression and knew all too well what it means to be human.  He sang and played as best as he could and as often as possible, he took risks and made mistakes, and didn’t seem to worry about impressing anybody.  He wanted very much to be in a band in which he could sing all the complicated songs he knew, including the potential jambusters.  And yet he also showed me that it’s enough to try, enough just to be real, as long as you give it all your heart and soul. 

One night at our Monday night jam, Jim asked me if he could share my pitcher of water.  After that I always requested a second glass for him.  This seemed like such an insignificant thing, and yet it felt to me like communion, sharing that humble pitcher of water with him.  It was like the music we shared--such a simple pleasure and yet so basic and so essential to life.  Now I wonder, how can I ever stop asking for that extra glass?

I must confess that I had hoped Jim would sing at my own memorial service, that I thought I would go before him.  One of the last songs he sang with us was “Who Will Sing For Me?”  I know the answer now.  I think we all do. 

Aloha, Jim.  Go in peace. 


October 24, 2005

Jane (November 3, 2005)

I met Jim over five years ago, and got to know him better while jamming at Harvey Roger’s house.  The people in our jam eventually formed a band named Hawthorne Lane.  Our band spent many hours practicing together and played at a few gigs.  In addition to the band, I would see Jim at Monday night jams and at festivals.  At the jams and festivals, Jim would make me feel like part of the group when he would request one of my songs, and want to sing harmony with me.   Jim would generously share his knowledge of music with beginners like me.  He patiently helped me with the harmony part to “A hundred years from now”.  At the jams, he would always ask me to sing harmony with him even if there were better singers in the group. I always felt like I had a stronger singing voice when he sang harmony with me.
Smilin' Jim

I used to harass Jim about talking too much at jams (he had so many stories to tell).  Now I wish I could hear a few more.  I had a great time jamming with him at the Laundromat in Ridgefield the week before he passed away.   We miss Jim at the Monday night jam and we’ll miss him all through the festival season. You knew when you found Jim; you’d be in a welcoming jam.

Jim’s friend,


November 3, 2005

Rich (November 3, 2005)

I remember Jim,

Until the last few weeks, I didn't even know Jim's last name! As with most members of the Monday night Rambling bluegrass jammers, I knew him first as "Jim, guitar & vocals", later to become "Jim, guitar, vocals, & bass"' then "Jim, guitar, vocals, bass, & mandolin"!   We go back to the "early days" of the jam when it was way out on Cornelius Pass Road (a long way from Vancouver).  It was great to have Jim around because he also picked great songs for vocalizing.  We have jammed together for over seven years and it has been a wonderful experience.

I recall one humorous event that took place at Wintergrass a few years back.  One of the "upper rooms" was suppose to be hosting a jam.  I trotted on up, entered the room and saw Jim with some others playing.   I proceeded to get out my guitar and stand in with the group new to Jim.  After only a few seconds, Jim leaned over to me and said, "Rich, this isn't a jam, we're spotlighting our band."  Boy, was I embarrased.  I tried to causually slip back out of the room and proceed to hang myself!   Talking to Jim about this later, he just brushed it off and told me, "we really probably could have used your help, we weren't that good!"

Jim had many great songs that he introduced to the group. I especially liked "Moonlight Motor Inn".  After hearing Jim sing it I went home and immediatley downloaded it from the internet.  I always think of Jim when I hear it.  There is a song that I've sung a couple of times over the years called "Come and Sit By the River With Me" by the Country Gentlemen.  I sang it way back in the early days, but just a couple of years ago, Jim asked me to sing that song again.  I was so surprized he even remembered me singing it.  Another more recent song was "Mill Towns".  Even though this is a somewhat difficult tune for standard jams, I really liked it and Jim did also.  Every session he asked me if I was going to sing it.  He wanted to get the "echo" part in the chorus just right.  Jim always strived to improve himself and to encourage others to improve also.

So long for now, Jim.  I look forward to meeting you back stage in the hereafter.  Let's make some great harmony!


(November 3, 2005)

Rick (November 14, 2005)

When I decided to try to play bluegrass, I searched for any conveniently close jams that looked like that might be open to accepting a total bluegrass neophyte. I found the Rambling Bluegrass site. The first thing you see on the Home page is a picture of the jammers in action. Perfectly centered in the picture is Jim. I figured that this guy was important and looked for him as I walked into the Papa’s Pizza’s jam for the first time. Yep, Jim was important. Since that day, I asked many musical questions and received many answers from Jim. It was clear that he loved the genre and had learned and was still learning a great deal about bluegrass: song origins, who or whom recorded a particular song, keys it has been performed in, new tunes, on and on. He loved to talk about it and loved to play it.

This last summer I hooked up with Jim at Odell (Mt. Hood Bluegrass Festival). Jim had driven down from Seattle to attend for the evening with guitar, mandolin, and Einstein his parrot. He needed to take care of Einstein so had to bring him. Well, it was very early evening and Jim was ready to start jamming and was pumped. Unfortunately Einstein wasn’t ready to quite call it a day at such an early hour and he began to complain vehemently, squawking up a storm. Jim was not about to let a bird interfere with his jamming so Jim shook his finger at Einstein and said “NO”! Einstein fought back squawking and then snapping a bit at Jim. This time Jim gave Einstein the evil eye, another more serious “NO” and then got nose to beak with Einstein! Big bird, big beak. But, Einstein quit squawking and gave up. Jim, having kept his nose, put the bird in its cage, placed a blanket over it, grabbed his guitar and anxiously headed into jam country. No bird was going to prevent him from jamming.

I played with Jim in the band Bluegrass In The Grove. The first gig with Jim was just a four-piece (we didn’t have the fiddler yet). We played a set for my company picnic. It was obvious Jim was a born performer. Couldn’t wait to get on a stage. During the set I noticed an odd clunking sound occasionally coming from the PA. I eventually discovered the source. Jim, who was playing bass with the greatest of enthusiasm, was pivoting the base on the floor pin and as the right-side of the bass swung out it would whack the bass microphone (I cautiously adjusted the mic so Jim could just keep on swinging). I think rockabilly bass players would love to be able to do that with their basses. Pretty showy!

Jim sang harmony

Jim was big on singing. Harmonies were a big strength of his. I had the opportunity to sing harmony with him on the three songs he was featured on in our sets at the Tillamook County Fair and at Moograss. I really looked forward to trying to get a good blend with Jim so I recorded a rehearsal and sang harmony along with Jim on his songs over and over again. At Moograss, while harmonizing with Jim on one of his great tunes, I saw an odd look on Jim’s face. He dropped out on bass for a bar or two and then came right back in. I stuck with Jim the best I could and man I believed we nailed the harmonies. Later, Jim explained why he had dropped out on bass. He told me that the harmony sounded so good that he was stunned and had to just listen so he accidentally quit playing the bass! He recovered very well, really. Hearing Jim’s pleasure in this performance was the highlight of the night for me…REALLY!

One of the songs I got to sing with Jim was “Moonlight Motor Inn”. This is one of the fine songs that Jim made many of us aware of at the Monday night jam. I thought that this song would be a fine one for me to learn and kept alive. I bought Steve Spurgin’s version, the one Jim had mentioned to me. Steve’s vocal on this tune is great. Studying and learning it has improved my very humble singing. I’ve just realized that Jim hasn’t quit teaching me yet. Class is still in session and Professor Rooks continues to inspire!

Jim, every measure was a pleasure. You’ll always be in our hearts and in our songs.


Sam (November 16, 2005)

Hello all...   this is Sam.  I just learned of Jim's passing, and am saddened by the news.  What can I say about him?  He was always a friendly sight.  I remember when he first showed up at the Roadhouse looking for a place to play.  All he ever wanted to do was play.  I liked him from the start because we shared that common drive.  I remember how encouraging he was towards me while I was still learning the basics of the Bluegrass genre.  I remember how he used to encourage me when I would give the big old bass a try.  What stuck out most was how he was supportive of my military service and never said an ill word towards me in that regard.  He had his opinions and I had mine, but that never got in the way of our mutual love of playing music.  I very much respected him for that.  I had the opportunity to play a few live shows with Jim, including my very first performance as a member of the Rogue Bluegrass Band.  That was one of the best times of my life!  His enthusiasm brought the best out of me.  He continually called me out because he knew it would make me a better picker.  For that, I say thank you, Jim.  I wish I could attend the memorial, but I am now stationed in Athens, Georgia.  However, my thoughts are with him and his family.  I will be sure to pull out some of our recorded material and play along.

 Rest well my friend.

-- Sam

Tony (November 16, 2005)

We were saddened by the news of Jim's passing, but also have some unique memories of him, as well.

First and foremost, I (Tony) remember his hands.  Why ?  Because I picked up his big ol' bass one night and tried to keep a rhythm going for an entire song.  I don't remember my hands being that tired in a looooong time.  Yet Jim could play that thing for hours, it seemed.  Way to go, Superman!

We loved to watch him take a break on his guitar, too.  He was one with the music.  He could feel it and it showed...mostly in his face.  His expression would change with each individual note, it seemed.  It was amusing and definitely was part of what made Jim, well...Jim.

Mostly, though, we also recall him being a walking, talking, bluegrass jukebox.  There seemed to be no end to the songs he could sing and play.  When I (Tony) would get tapped to lead a song, I had to think long and hard to remember the name of even just one tune.  When it was his turn, Jim thought, too, but most likely because he had so many in his head to choose from.

We don't want to say goodbye, so we choose to say "See you later" instead.  We'll see you again down the road...in that big ol' bluegrass jam in the sky.

-- Sam & Tony

Charlie (November 19, 2005)

Jim played bass and sang for "Hawksview" with Bill Francis, Pat Connell, Gene Alger, and Charlie Williamson round 2001.  We played at the old Snake and Weasel opening for the Stragglers and up at the Salmon Creek Brewery in Vancouver and in the Stevenson Festival Band Contest.  Jim did some great high harmonies with Bill Francis and with me on Greenville Trestle.   I jammed with Jim at Wintergrass just this year.  He was always fun to sing and play with.  He was a good man.  I will miss him.

--  Charlie Williamson

Memorial Jam:

On Saturday November 19, 2005, we organized a memorial jam session at the Frog Pong Grange Hall in Wilsonville, Oregon.  About 50 people attended, including Jim's wife and a daughter who lived close enough to be able to travel to the jam.  There was no ceremony -- just a lot of jamming as many in the bluegrass community would like to have it.  A very special moment was having the whole group join in on singing one of Jim's favorite songs: "Who Will Sing For Me?".  Thanks to everyone that joined us to sing for him and to say goodbye the bluegrass way.

The Rambling Bluegrass Jam
Beaverton, Oregon