Rockford Rocked Interview: Jim McDowell
By Todd Houston
Exclusive to TRRT
RRI: What was it that made you want to be in a band or pick up an instrument at such a young age?
JM: My mother was a professional bass player and the first nine months of my life were spent with my head smashed up against the side of a big old “doghouse.” I picked up guitar when I was around 10 and it was just a natural thing.
Then The Grim Reapers happened and I was hooked. Craig Meyers has always been one of my favorite guitarists and influences. If anyone wants to jam on “Cruisin’ For Burgers” I haven’t forgotten a single lick.
In the early 80’s you opened up a music store on Elm Street called Musician’s Choice. What are some of your fondest memories about running that store or just being there?
Everything about it was a blast but the friends I made are the best memories. I love you all. I wanted the store to be a place where people could hang out and exchange ideas and get good service and advice. I’ve seen a lot of those people go on to do some really cool things, like you Todd, and I like to feel maybe somehow I was a small part of that.
Being a stone’s throw away from the Metro Center there must have been times when a celebrity or two would stop in for guitar strings or a piccolo reed. Thoughts?
Tons of interesting things happened with acts from across the street but one of my favorites was the day Steve Vai stopped in. He was all grungy waiting for sound check and sat at the counter reading a magazine. People came in and starred at him and left and all the while he said almost nothing. When he left he handed me the magazine and said he couldn’t believe the crap they printed in those things. I looked at the article he was reading and it was on Steve Vai!
Your other hobbies include photography, acting, building custom instruments by hand and playing bass for the Rockford Symphony Orchestra. Tell us how you got that gig.
I auditioned for the Symphony when I was 17 and got the gig, simple as that. I studied classical with some of the most renowned teachers in the country. And I played all over the country with various orchestras. The problem was I had to always be traveling to keep up the work. In those days we had six-or-seven clubs doing music seven nights a week. Since my career was based on playing all types of genres, both in the studio and on stage, it was much easier to change my direction and stay closer to home.
You were also head sound engineer for the notorious Rockford metal band RIPT. Any stories you would like to share?
Every day brought another story that always seemed to top the one before. Most of them probably not suitable for print. Even though we had some really hard times the end result is that they are some of my very best friends. I would run the gauntlet for any one of those guys any time.
People seem to dig this part of our interviews so let’s keep it! I say a word or phrase and you say what pops into your head. Ready? Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center.
We need this.
The Elvis Brothers Band.
Pork Chop Alley (former diner near Rockford’s Metro Center).
I still have a good 20 pounds I gained there.
Fabulous musician, glad I never played with him.
Bristol Renaissance Faire or any Renaissance Faire for that matter.
That’s the real me.
Irish pub food.
Not as good as Scottish but it will do in a pinch.
Tell us about the Jodi Beach Trio.
I love that gig – of course I am engaged to the afore named. After all of these years of doing everything you can imagine I am enjoying taking some real great standard jazz material and presenting it in a concert fashion. It’s really very challenging and rewarding to see the effect this material has on certain audiences.
What’s next for Jim McDowell?
I wish I could say a nap but no moss grows on this stone. The studio is keeping me very busy. Getting married in October, recording the music for Starlight Theatre’s The Last 5 Years, two new CDs in the works, remodeling the house, tour dates, raking leaves, 5 unfinished guitars on the bench, I published a book and have to get out and shop it around, and of course, I will always take the time to read the interviews in the RR Times.