Why Jim Rooney ’60 was honored for his contributions to Americana music, a genre that encompasses artists such as Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett.
By Simone Solondz
By Simone Solondz
[Music] Last September, record producer Jim Rooney received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Producer/Engineer from the Americana Music Association. Until as recently as the 1990s, the Americana musical genre did not exist. The artists it encompasses—people like Gram Parsons, Lucinda Williams and Lyle Lovett—were heralded as folk musicians or alternative country artists. It is fitting that Rooney should be honored for his contributions to the genre, which is derived from the traditions of American roots music, because his life’s work was one of the catalysts for its creation. “I guess I was a pioneer of this music, but I didn’t know it,” Rooney quips. “And I didn’t even have to die to get the award!”
It all started in the 1950s, when Rooney was a Boston teenager banging out hit songs of the day on his $12 guitar. He’d been turned on to American folk and “hillbilly” music via WCOP radio’s Hayloft Jamboree. Rooney successfully auditioned for the program and made his professional musical debut at the age of 16 as a member of the show’s house band, which played popular songs and backed up guest musicians. His musical idol at the time was Hank Williams, and his friends started calling him Tex.
By the time Rooney arrived at Amherst in 1956, he was a knowledgeable devotee of all kinds of American music: folk, bluegrass, jazz, hillbilly, R&B and gospel. He got a weekly radio show on the campus station WAMF, where he played everything from Leadbelly to Duke Ellington to Aaron Copland. “The only requirement was that it all be American music,” Rooney says. “So I guess I was into this Americana concept way back then.”
Rooney was a classics major at Amherst, which, he says, gave him plenty of time to focus on music and theater. “My folks thought this would pass,” he says. “I was supposed to go on an academic course—I was studying classics, Latin and Greek—but eventually I had to say that music was going to be it for me.
“I love to perform,” he says, “but I think I had a pretty good idea that I wasn’t as talented or as driven as you need to be to be an artist. I still play”—his current band, Rooney’s Irregulars, performs at Nashville’s Station Inn—“but I also have this ability to put things together and help other people get their music out to the world.”
The server encountered an internal error and was unable to complete your request. Either the server is overloaded or there is an error in the application.Other Voices, Other Rooms. He also produced early albums by Alison Krauss.
Photo by Jim McGuire