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Remembering Jim Shepard. Compiled by David F. Hoenigman

Jim Shepard photo by Rusty Stonerock

Jim Shepard was a poet, songwriter, musician and producer involved with the Columbus, Ohio bands Vertical Slit, Phantom Limb, V-3 and Ego Summit. His music won him the respect of Thurston Moore, Bob Pollard and David Bowie. His artistic energy left a stamp on all music that has come out of the region since. His creative spirit forever changed everyone who knew him.

Many thanks to Charles Cicirella, Ron House, Don Howland, Mike “Rep” Hummel and Nudge Squidfish who so generously contributed their time and thoughts.

“The experimental rock scene lost one of its leading lights over the weekend when Jim Shepard, the charismatic leader of such influential underground bands as Vertical Slit and V3, committed suicide at his home in Columbus, Ohio.

“Shepard, who was forty, began his primordial assault on the collective consciousness back in the late Seventies, presaging the lo-fi revolution to come on a slew of self-released cassettes and micro-pressed albums. After an enforced break — one caused by a work injury that left him with a severely mangled hand — Shepard turned the Vertical Slit “project” into a full-time band, with an attendant name change to V-3.”

- David Sprague, Rolling Stone Magazine, Oct. 20, 1998

I don’t watch the news. I don’t read the papers. I’m not really in touch with society. I was born. I’m here, but I don’t believe any of it.” – Jim Shepard

Ron House (Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Great Plains)

Did he want to be famous?

He wanted to be a cult figure.

What influenced or inspired him?

Mostly English progressive mid-70s stuff like King Crimson and BeBop Deluxe, but he was truly all over the map. He loved downer outsider stuff Leonard Cohen and Phil Ochs, and post-punk like Pere Ubu and Joy Division. JG Ballard and Philip K Dick were two of his favorite authors.

Who did he admire?

Um he got to open for John Cale and that was big. Cale handed Bowie the Slit and pre-Slit lps. You could say he admired junkie whores too.

How did he make a living?

This might be one cause of his eventual demise because he scraped a good part of his life. His best job was as a jukebox routeman. He went from bar to bar replacing 45s on jukeboxes. He sort of inherited that job from Mike Rep. Earlier he worked at a record chain store called Record Tape Outlet. He met his friend Charlie Miller there. Charlie had a jean jacket with “Vertical Slit” sewn on the back. That was my first exposure to Jim’s existence. Jim’s last job I think was as a dishwasher at the Buckeye Hall Of Fame Cafe and he was not a sports kind of guy.

What do you feel was his most significant contribution?

He really had a body of work. Every release had at least one good track. My favorites are the “Negotiate Nothing” and “Psychic Dancehall” cds on Ropeburn but many people swear by the Slit stuff. I love his Ego Summit stuff but I am personally involved. The suicide note “Motorcycle Movie” I find irresistible but tainted with the usual “Why did he do it?” baggage.

What’s your favorite Jim Shepard song, poem, performance…etc?

Many performances come to mind. Seeing V-slit in the kitchen of a farmhouse in ’78. Phantom Limb shredding in ’81 before 3 people in the crowd! A CMJ show in NYC that was volcanic in ’93 or so.

Was he as dark/depressing in person as the persona he presents on his albums?

He was very serious and committed earlier. Later he got that laugh that reminded me of a doll with something rattling inside. I wrote about him in depth for the Jim Shepard tribute album. That used to be online somewhere unless his ‘family’ got it taken down.

Was he as hard-living as legend has it?

Yeah he was. Don’t let it happen to you!

Mike “Rep” Hummel (Mike Rep & The Quotas, Ego Summit)

Did he want to be famous?

Jim wanted to be appreciated as an artist by as many people as he could reach, but not at any cost. His idea of success was to be able to make 20 LPs on a major label like an artist like Peter Gabriel or someone like that for example. He had that 70’s dream of uncompromised freedom and major distribution too…… but those days were long gone by the late 90’s

What influenced or inspired him?

personal demons and watchful angels

Was he as dark/depressing in person as the persona he presents on his albums?

Absolutely NOT. Jim was one of the funniest people I ever knew, loved to have fun and make jokes and funny drawings. A very unique sense of the absurd. His darkness emerged when his demons dominated his spirit… but most of the time he was quite easy going.

Was he as hard-living as legend has it?

Almost as much as myself! somehow I survived, he didn’t. life is unpredictable and a ‘next day’ is not guaranteed to any human being. Jim’s fate reminds me of that fact whenever he crosses my mind. I still miss the fucker…..

Don Howland (Bassholes, Ego Summit)

Did he want to be famous?

By the time Jim and I spent any real time talking together – I wrote an article about him for the Village Voice, I think – he seemed very content with his status as it stood then. He liked artists who had what it took to inspire cultish followers and he’d become one himself.

What influenced or inspired him?

He introduced me to the psycho fusion guitarist Sonny Sharrock. he like James “Blood” Ulmer a lot. Also Kraut rock bands like Amon Duul II. Prose-wise, he was a William Burroughs fan, I know.

What do you feel was his most significant contribution?

He created memorable music that does not sound remotely dated 10, 20, 30 years later. Nor will it ever.

What’s your favorite Jim Shepard song, poem, performance…etc?

Too many songs… “Inside Outpost.” My favorite V3 show was a double bill my band the Bassholes played with him, maybe in ’95. Less than a song into his set his guitar went out, along with his amp. So it ended up he needed a guitar and amp and I let him use mine. I never let anyone play my guitar or ever touch it, even – ever. But I was honored that Shepard played it for a set. It was like Tony Perez borrowing a baseball bat or Larry Bird my basketball. He was one of the only people I knew who was both a regular guy and a larger-than-life figure at the same time, a Larry Bird.

Was he as dark/depressing in person as the persona he presents on his albums?

By the time I would say I knew Jim pretty well, the last three or four years of his life as it turned out, he was one of the funniest guys I knew. Recording Ego Summit was a riot and Jim – not just his demeanor but even his guitar leads – was the main reason why. I think that’s one reason we (Ron, Tommy, Mike and I) never recorded a follow-up. Not just that Jim’s guitar would be glaringly missed, but that it might not be nearly as much fun. Great sense of humor.

Was he as hard-living as legend has it?

He was a big-time drinker. Alcohol is a depressive. Woman-wise, I just know that the way his marriage disintegrated really ate him up.

Charles Cicirella (Funeral Child, Red Cloud Orchestra, Root Cellar)

Don’t take this the wrong way but I can not answer those questions – they are too mundane. Being on a stage with him was like being on stage with a caged panther. He was manic – maniacal – incendiary and there was no one else like him anywhere period end of story. Famous? Infamous was more like it. I wont tell you what I thought Jim may have wanted because I do not feel that is mine or anyone’s place to say. What I can tell you talent like his happens maybe every 100 plus years or so. And to even use a word like talent is ridiculous because what he did can not honestly be categorized or labeled or put in some ridiculous prefabricated box. He was inspiration incarnate and I believe every single person he came into contact with was forever altered by his art brutality and chamber music sonic requiems. He was for real and there was not a single ounce of pretension in his entire skullbank. He played the guitar like scorched Earth and he sang like his life depended on it because it did.

Nudge Squidfish (V-3)

- Jim onstage

The night of the big gig Jimbo & Vertical Slit put on one truly amazing show at the Northwood Community Center. Jim would pace back & forth in this manic homicide frenzy. Jim never stopped pacing whenever he was on stage. It was his trademark. There was this sarcastic angry energy bottled up inside. If he didn’t pace he would explode! After the show I went outside & smoked a joint with Jim. I hadn’t expected that much intensity. Jimbo was from a different planet.

- Jim’s struggle to create

Jim would come over to the dyke house and we would talk about music. We would go on for hours about art and music, which led us to research history. We were excited about Tet Offence Fanzine, which followed the local music scene. I gave him my paper on Object Music and the next thing I know everybody is experimenting. I am not sure if my paper had anything to do with it but it felt good. During one of our talks Jimbo reveled his plans for a book to be called Drapez. Not being able to record music he figured he could still create by way of painting & writing which he pursued with rigor. He patterned the book after Philip K. Dick’s Blade Runner. It ended up becoming a 7-year project for him.

Soon Jim had enough cash coming in to make a go at a band again. Phantom Limb was a cash drain but to them it was a necessary cash drain. It kept things in balance for Jim. Food and bills were still a major problem. Jimbo began to work construction or odd jobs; anything to make ends meet. When it came to his family Jimbo would do what ever it took to survive, even if it meant putting off his art. One time I was in the store and he stole some steaks for dinner. I was so shocked that I gave him $20 bucks to help out.

- Jim on his own legacy

I don’t know why I started to bug him about putting a “discography” together but he told me, “Squid, if anyone cares about my art they’ll find it is scattered. If they really want to know then they must solve the puzzle”. At the time I thought Jim was stupid but looking back I see the wisdom of it. It was Jim’s way, so he thought, of saying goodbye to a world that didn’t give a rat’s about him or his work.

From the linear notes of Photograph Burns:

liSTEN UP. I ONCE KNEW A GUY WHO LOST IT ALL AT THE HORSE TRACK. EVERY DIME. IN ONE NIGHT. HE HAD BET IT ALL ON A HORSE NAMED ‘WIFE’. AFTER JUMPING IN HIS LITTLE G.T.O. , HE FLOORED IT UP 71 nORTH AND CAME TO A V-3 SHOW. THE CROWD WAS CATTLE..I MEAN THEY WERE PACKED IN LIKE CATTLE. THIS MAN STOOD RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE STAGE SINGING ALONG TO 3 OR 4 SONGS. HE KNEW ALL THE WORDS AND KEPT PUMPING HIS FIST INTO THE AIR ( HE ONLY HAD ONE ARM.) THE PARRALEL (sp.) STORY TO THIS IS A GUY AT WORK TOLD ME HE WORKED 70 HOURS A WEEK. I ASKED HIM IF HE CONSIDERED SEEING A PSYCHATRIST ABOUT THIS PROBLEM OF HIS. HE TOLD ME IT WAS OUR BAND WHO NEEDED A SHRINK aND “MORE PRACTICE”. HE THEN PROCEEDED TO TURN UP HIS RADIO WHICH WAS TUNED INTO “ONLY THE 70’S” ROCK. (CHECK THIS OUT)..JUST THEN, THE ONE-ARMED GUY WALKED INTO THE RESTAURANT, WHIPPED OUT AN X-11 BLUE CHROME PISTOL, RAISED IT..AND RIPPPED 3 HOLLOW POINT BACK-PATS CLEAN THROUGH THE $29.00 BOOM-BOX. THE SONG ENDED, I QUIT THE LAME ASS 5 BUCK AN HOUR GIG..AND ME AND THE ONE-ARMED GUY WENT OUT AND DRANK SO MUCH, WE HAD TO TAKE TURNS CARRYING EACH OTHER BACK TO WHEREVER WE ENDED UP.

further reading

Forever Lowman

Belakoekrompecher’s Blog

    5 comments to Remembering Jim Shepard. Compiled by David F. Hoenigman

    • Charles Cicirella

      I swear he was forty not forty one when he made up his mind. It’s beyond great he got an obit in Rolling Stone but I wish they had gotten his age correct. Anyway it is great to see a resurgence (whatever that means) in Jim’s art. He is still pimpin’ and that’s a fact Jack!

    • All these years later I still keep coming back to Vertical Slit and Shepard’s music, tracking down one more cassette and being floored by such rough angry gems. I was 18 and seeing my first Guided by Voices show the night that Jim went through with it… I remember the next night seeing a much more restrained, sobered Pollard do a short terse set and later finding out why. The more of his music I hear the more I feel like I am unlocking that dark, sad puzzle, and his bitter honesty has affected my artistic goals over the years as much as anyone. Thanks for keeping his memory alive.

    • om

      I was glad to read these remembrances. I’m a big Jim Shepard fan, from Israel of all places. I hope Jim would have been happy to know that his music has travelled so far.

    • david sprague

      as the writer responsible for the rolling stone notice, i apologize for getting Jim’s age wrong in the initial writing. i didn’t know him well at all, but had a bit of a mail — real mail, not e-mail — correspondence with him after seeking him out due to my great admiration for and love of his work. a brilliant artist.

    • Srđan

      uhm… played bass on judas priest tribute album? you must have had him confused with this guy http://www.discogs.com/artist/516456-Jim-Sheppard
      anyway, do you get paid by the rolling stone magazine?
      as they say in my inferior country, and idle priest will baptise even goats…

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