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Jimmy LaFave

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Biography

Austin-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Jimmy LaFave brought a passionate rock & roll energy to his original folk songs, whether he was playing solo or with a band. LaFave grew up in Wills Point, east of Dallas, but at 17, his family moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma. When he was in his teens, his mother purchased his first guitar for him with green stamps. While Stillwater was not exactly bustling with musical activity, it wasn't a ghost town either, and it was close enough to Tulsa that LaFave found all the opportunities he was seeking as a young singer/songwriter. The musical heritage of the area certainly was rich enough: folksinger Woody Guthrie, jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, and jazz fiddler Claude "Fiddler" Williams, plus songwriter J.J. Cale and Leon Russell's Shelter Studios. But to find a wider audience and, more importantly, a record deal, LaFave thought it would be worthwhile to move to Austin. He found both after moving to Austin in 1985, and he was based there throughout his career in music. LaFave found a home at Chicago House, an Austin coffeehouse, and he spent the next eight years hosting open mikes there, honing his presentation skills as a solo artist. Through the latter half of the 1980s, he also worked with his band, Night Tribe, at other Austin clubs. With backing from Mark Shumate, a computer entrepreneur, LaFave was finally able to record his debut for Bohemia Beat Records, a company Shumate founded in 1992. LaFave released three albums for Bohemia Beat: Austin Skyline (1993), his debut, a live recording titled as a play on Bob Dylan's Nashville Skyline album; Highway Trance (1994), a studio album that showcased his considerable skills as a guitar picker, singer, and songwriter; and 1995's Buffalo Return to the Plains, which contained just one cover, prime inspiration Bob Dylan's "Sweetheart Like You." LaFave counted among his other influences Jackson Browne, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis. LaFave's grassroots approach gave him a strong foundation on which to build a successful career. The way he blended country, blues, folk, and early rock & roll, his work ethic, and his low-key rapport with fans were all factors that worked in his favor. Trail was issued in 1999; Texoma followed in early 2001. His next two albums -- 2005's Blue Nightfall and 2007's Cimarron Manifesto -- were issued by Red House Records. Depending on the Distance arrived in 2012, followed by The Night Tribe in 2015. In the spring of 2017 LaFave announced that he was battling a rare form of cancer, and in May of that year he succumbed to the disease at his home in Austin; he was 61 years old. ~ Richard Skelly
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