My good friend guitarist Jimmy Wyble died Saturday a.m. after a short run of bad health. He was 87. The above photo of Jimmy, with another friend, singer Kurt Reichenbach, was taken a couple of years back at the Great Day in L.A. jazz photo op at UCLA.
I met Jimmy a few ago when I was researching the SSJ Records (Japan) release of singer Carole Creveling's 1955 LP Here Comes C.C. My first act was to ring up one-off Creveling sideman Wyble, Surely, he could help me crack the case of the "phantom" singer's identity (I eventually did). But with a career stretching back over hundreds of studio sessions over more than half-a-century, Wyble could remember next-to-nothing. Only that---underscoring the oftentimes ironic aspect of selective memory---“She wore glasses, came to the recording session with her mother, and hailed originally---I think---from Louisiana.” (Oklahoma, actually, I found out later). Considering that much studio time had passed under the bridge since he worked with the singer in ‘55, it was an understandable long term memory lapse. After that, we became fast phone friends, and soon I met Jimmy in-person when he was playing afternoon gigs at a tea room in Pasadena, CA.
What an interesting man he was. What can you say about a musician who began his career with western swing icon Bob Wills in 1942 and, come 1959, could be found touring with Frank Sinatra? Along the way, he also worked with the vaunted likes of Benny Goodman and Red Norvo.
Sometime around the mid-1980s, his wife contracted muscular dystrophy and Jimmy entirely gave up his professional career to take care of her. But when she died around 2005, Jimmy came back with a vengeance and the L.A. musical community was all over him (in the immortal words of Raymond Chandler) "like a cheap suit." He began playing publically again, and teaching and touring (all the way to Argentina and back a few years ago).
In 2007, guitarist (and Wyble protege) Larry Koonse produced a CD of Wyble compositions (actually exercises from a famed guitar instruction book by Jimmy) entitled What's in the Box? Also heard on the CD, in addition to Koonse, are such musicians as (pere) Daved Koonse, Gary Foster, and Joe La Barbera. IMHO it was the album of the year, but I fear that it never received much mainstream attention.
The album's title came from a sparrow adopted and domesticated (!) after Jimmy and his wife, Lily, rescued the baby bird when it fell from it's nest. Writes Koonse in the liner notes for the CD: Chicken (the bird's name) "would sit on Jimmy's lap as he practiced the guitar looking inside to seemingly ask the question 'What's in the box?'" That story should give you some idea of just how sweet and gentle Jimmy was. I don't think I ever met a kinder, lovelier guy.
There are lots of interesting recent clips of Jimmy on Youtube playing and anecdotalizing. Here's one of them:
Here's the main link to the other clips.