I became aware of Jim Whitman in the mid-1990s when I lived and worked in Pittsfield. His wife, Virginia (a.k.a. Sam) Whitman was the receptionist for Dr. Cunningham, my dentist, and told me about her singer/songwriter husband. I had been in my Sweden digs for a couple of years before I interviewed him for the first time in 2003 concerning his release of his “Twilight Motel” CD. Then flash forward a decade, and I interviewed him again for a gig that he was going to do at the Old Mill Pub in Skowhegan. Not long after that, Sam contacted me to let me know that Jim had retired from live performances, so I figured that that would spell the end of the story, so imagine my surprise and pleasure to learn that he had recorded a new album called “Break of Day.” Well, I just had to find out more, so I called him at home on July 6.

Whitman: Hello?

Q: Hi, Jim.
Whitman: Hey, Lucky — how are you doing?

Q: Not too bad, all told. And yourself?
Whitman: Well, I’m still surviving.

Q: Hey, in this pandemic that we’re in now, that’s always a good thing.
Whitman: Yeah, that’s definitely an accomplishment in its own, isn’t it.

Q: It certainly is all of that! Well, I got to say, I’ve been enjoying “Break of Day.” I like the simplistic approach to the singer-songwriter genre because it puts all the emphasis on the words and the story without a lot of bells and whistles. And you’re working with Floyd White. You’ve worked with him before, correct?
Whitman: On “Twilight Motel,” yeah, and there was also another one — after “Twilight Motel” — that I never released. I got like six songs deep into it and thought, “Well, it’s not the album I want to put out at this time.” It still sits on the shelf.

Q: Do you find that, with the time you have on your hands now, that you’re in more of a creative mood?
Whitman: It does come into play, yeah. I mean, I was gigging a lot for a long time, and for the most part I was playing cover tunes in bars and restaurants. It was wearing on me; it was stifling me creatively. I began to feel like a jukebox, you’re looking at the clock on the wall and thinking to yourself, “Why am I doing this now?” So, when I stopped doing that, these songs really came to me. … It was like taking your finger out of the dike or the floodgates opening up, however you want to put it (chuckle).

Q: Just out of curiosity, has the pandemic been an inspiration or catalyst to the creative process for you?
Whitman: Well, I just wrote one a few weeks ago called “COVID-19 Hair,” so, yeah, I guess it has. … That one’s pretty comical. People I’ve played it for seem to be liking it. A couple of guitar students like it, and Sam put it up on her Facebook page. I mean, how can you not have something to say about all of this (chuckle)?

Q: When did “Break of Day” come out?
Whitman: In November of 2018.

Q: Have you gotten some pretty good response back from people to it?
Whitman: I have, yeah, absolutely.

Q: I really enjoyed it. Stand out tracks for me include “Morning Star – Eden” and “Unplug My World,” which is extremely timely nowadays. I swear, they call it social media but at times it seems very anti-social.
Whitman: It swallowed us alive, it really has. We’re so connected that we’ve become disconnected. It’s like a snake eating its own tail, kind of, at least to me.

Q: And I concur wholeheartedly. Now seeing it’s almost two years since your last CD, are you working on something new album-wise?
Whitman: No, but it’s always in the back of my mind. I’m always writing songs, so who knows? I didn’t think this one would ever happen. I thought after “Twilight Motel” that that was going to be the end of it, and I would probably never record another CD. But lo and behold, how can you not create? If it’s in you, it’s got to come out of you. You know what I mean?

Q: Yeah, I do. So, Jim, how did all of this come to pass?
Whitman: It all began with me drawing and painting down in West Virginia at a high school down there. I had two teachers, both ladies — Jane (Lowe), she was my music teacher, and Kay (Steinbeck) was my art teacher. Kay was the first one that saw something in me … she just let me pick my own projects and work independently. Jane wanted me to be more involved with music, and gave me my first guitar and lessons. One day I was sitting by the football field on the bleachers and she came up to me with her acoustic guitar and played a song she had just written. That was the spark, and I knew right then and there I wanted to do that. So I threw away my brushes and paints and stuff and started using poetry and imagery and melody (and) tried to paint pictures that way. That was my approach to songwriting.

Q: And it seems to have served you well.
Whitman: I think so. … That and being exposed to people like Bob Dylan, of course. Everybody says it’s Dylan-esque and I go, “Well, how could it not be?!” (Chuckle) That guy casts a pretty long shadow.

Q: That he certainly does. Have there been others who have had an impact on your creativity and your musical career?
Whitman: Well, in addition to those ladies in West Virginia, right here in Maine it has to be my lovely wife, Sam. I mean, she’s so supportive about the music and everything. Another one would be Floyd White, because I’ll write a song, I’ll go into the studio and lay down my tracks, but he just gets these arrangements in his head. … He gets really creative that way, and he’s so talented.

Q: How long have you known him?
Whitman: Since 2003 — that’s when I did the first one with him, “Twilight Motel.” Prior to that I was doing pretty much all my own arrangements and was working in another studio up in Bangor.

Q: How can people get a copy of the newest CD?
Whitman: They’ll have to call me right here. In fact, I’ll give you my home phone number — I’d rather put that out there than anything else because we can just monitor the calls; … it’s 487-3290 — the old land-line.

Q: Is there anything that you’d like me to pass on to the readers of this article?
Whitman: Well, for me, even if I never ever get to do anything else at all, I’m so grateful that I get to do this. I mean, so many people never even get to dip their toe in the pond, so to speak. And there’s something to be said for looking in the rearview mirror, you always want to be open to things in the future, but boy, you don’t ever want to dismiss the things that you’ve done in the past. I’m just grateful for all the people that stepped forward to help me on this journey. You see, if it’s in me, it’s up to me to get it out, you know?

 

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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