RIP, Jimmy Norman
Jimmy Norman was not only a personal friend, but a window into the music of my youth. He told me hours of great stories about the music legends I had grown up with and humanized them for me. He knew and worked with them all, especially Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. He was on the road with Soloman Burke and played with Ricky Nelson at his famous “Garden Party” at Madison Square Garden.
Jimmy took me with him to Harlem to clubs where I would have never gone alone at 4 a.m. We were always treated like royalty, because Jimmy WAS royalty to his many fans who always honored him.
I had the pleasure of knowing Jimmy for more than a decade. When I first met him in 2001, his health was very poor. He’d had a heart attack and had been forced to retire after three decades of singing with The Coasters. Even though he was always sick, his very best work lay in the years ahead.
By sheer luck (many of his later songs were rescued from notebooks in a trash bag on the street by the Jazz Foundation of America) to Jimmy’s improbable pairing with producer Kerryn Tolhurst, a series of random events led to the making of Jimmy’s last two records. I was honored to assist Kerryn, Jonny Rosch and the other musicians who played on Jimmy’s last two records. It was a wild ride.
The first recording was Little Pieces, released in 2004, and the second was The Way I See It, released earlier this year. Both records wove together Jimmy’s unique musical background of country, gospel, blues and jazz. He had tossed the songs aside, but later realized they were among his best work.
Jimmy’s last public appearance was on October 29 at a Loft Party for the Jazz Foundation of America. Jimmy’s last song was fitting, Time is On My Side, a work for which he was well known as co-writer but which never generated a penny of royalties for himself.
Visit Jimmy’s website.
Photo: Jimmy Norman at his last public appearance on Oct. 29, by Frank Beacham