Jim Miller May 24, 1947 – July 6, 2013

Yet another cornerstone spirit has left the Minnesota folk music scene.  Jim Miller of Bemidji died last Saturday at the age of 66.  We last saw Jim about a year ago when he came to town to enjoy the Minnesota Fiddle Tunes Project concert and he stopped by to grab a quick banjo lesson with Bruce.

One of Jim’s friends in Bemidji was thoughtful enough to send us a link to his obituary as it appeared in the local paper and asked that we share it with all of you.   We will give you that link at the end of this post so you may send your condolences to Kristi and son Amos via the on-line guestbook provided.  Many of you will want to read the entire obituary, and we hope you will, but we are pleased to give you some of Jim’s background as it appears therein.

 Jim was born in Brainerd.  He attended Nisswa elementary school and graduated from Brainerd High School in 1965.  Jim’s parents owned the Deauville Landing and Resort on Gull Lake.  The resort was frequented by a variety of musicians and bands which provided the stimulus for Jim to take up the guitar and become the musician he was until the day he died.

Jim’s college days were spent at Brainerd Junior College and Bemidji State.  It was during those years that Jim got more serious about writing and performing music.  Notable among his early visits to the big city was an appearance at the Scholar Coffeehouse.  After attending Woodstock in 1969, Jim travelled west hitchhiking and doing a bit of surveying in Colorado.  Jim returned to Bemidji in 1973 and married his wife, Kristi in October of 1974.

Musical congregations that Jim was notably part of included the bands “Known Only Locally” and “Blew Monday”.  In the late 80s, Jim participated musically in Bemidji’s Mississippi River Revival and Mardi Gras celebrations.  He co-wrote and performed the music for the Minnesota History Theater’s production of “Mesabi Red”.  Jim was involved in several Bemidji area theater productions.

In his last years, Jim worked on a documentary film series about explorers on the Mississippi River headwaters.  He took up the gourd banjo for the project and composed historical ballads for the production.  Jim appeared with his son Amos in the reenactment scenes of the film and served on its crew throughout.  Jim had just finished recording a series of instrumental pieces for the soundtrack.

Jim had been in failing health in recent years and had a kidney transplant in 2010.  Another empty chair in the Minnesota folk music roll call.  Thanks for the memories Jim and for your countless contributions to the music we love.  The link I mentioned earlier where you can learn more about Jim’s life and send condolences to the family is http://www.ceasefuneralhome.com/fh/obituaries/obituary.cfm?o_id=2145282&fh_id=11968.

Jim Millerf

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  1. signjay
    Posted July 14, 2013 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Jim Miller was an original, and like Bill Hinkley, a musical genius who absorbed musical influences from Bach to blues, Chuck Berry to Hank Williams, and a hundred other sources. A tunesmith and wordsmith who applied himself to his craft with the same aplomb that a skilled cabinetmaker or boatbuilder would in fashioning raw materials into works of beauty, he stood tall as one of the finest songwriters and musicians the north country has ever known. It will always be a black mark on the Winnipeg Folk Festival that he was never asked to perform there, akin to Jimmy Martin never being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry. I hadn’t seen Jim in 15 years, yet his music continued to inhabit my ears, head and heart all the while. There is a hole in the sky over Bemidji, and it won’t be filled. Farewell, and fair winds to you, O mighty and gentle troubadour.

    • Nancy Glenn
      Posted July 21, 2013 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

      Beautifully spoken!!!

  2. Ron Miles
    Posted July 17, 2013 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Inimitably, Bill Hinkley said he and Jim Miller were “The ‘JAN AND DEAN’ of Genre Surfing.” ~ Ron Miles

  3. Posted August 11, 2014 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    What also amazes me is that no one has picked up on Jim’s remarkable song catalog. Contemporary song writers would be well served picking up and interpreting any number of Jim Miller’s written work. Jim was a poet as any of the best, songs that are timeless. And, his talking blues were as good as it gets.

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