Remembering Jason Molina: Gary Calhoun James’ Tribute

Gary Calhoun James - Box of Baby Birds

As part of a series called “Remembering Jason Molina,” I’m collecting stories about Jason and his impact on songwriters, musicians, and music writers. These are all individual tributes, on how Jason has affected their music, their perception of music, or just anecdotes on meeting him or seeing him live. Each story is being posted to promote the new album Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina, which not only celebrates Jason’s music, but will also help the Molina family and MusiCares with its proceeds.

Today’s remembrance is from Box of Baby Birds’ Gary Calhoun James, who discusses Jason’s willingness to take him under his wing while giving him an opportunity to open a show at Schuba’s. To many who knew Jason this is how they remember him — generous, friendly, helpful, and wise.

Box of Baby Birds contributed their version of “Didn’t It Rain” to Farewell Transmission continuing Jason’s spirit of generosity and lending a helping hand to struggling musicians who are trying to find their way. Although Jason never found his way back from his struggles with alcohol, he was always a good Samaritan to those musicians who were struggling to find their path and voice as artists.

molina_in_lights_large

I first heard the music of Jason Molina around 2003 when I picked up a copy of Songs:Ohia’s Magnolia Electric Co. at a record shop in Chicago. From the iconic lap steel opening melody to the lilt of the closing plaintive plea, I was hooked. Serendipitously, the new Magnolia Electric Co. would play just days later in Milwaukee and my friend and I dropped everything to go. What hit me first was the power Jason and the band had. A huge, natural and open sound. The band, the lyrics, the recordings, it was so honest. This honesty is what resonated with me and anyone else nursing a thoughtful mind and a broken heart. I could not pick up the back catalog fast enough, and I fell for his first record (The Black Album) just as hard.

Jason was the midwest’s poet laureate. He would describe my hometown and the surrounding country with a poet’s tongue. He would remind you to notice.

“Its finally looking good up there our skyline, see how it fits right in there with heaven, the constellations and Comiskey’s lights.”

In 2006, I had the great fortune of opening for Jason with my group Lacona while he was holding a solo residency at Schuba’s in Chicago. I reached out to Jason and he said yes. I remember he said something like it’s just that easy, ask and you shall receive. I went to every one of those shows, it was great talking to Jason and spending time with him. His voice was amazing during that time, the best I ever heard it. He did not even need to play the guitar, his voice was so huge it would fill the room and barely leave space for you.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to explore one of Songs:Ohia’s compositions for the making of Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina. The experience has helped me to reflect on the gifts of a great artist who has been a major influence and inspiration. I hope this helps all who need it. Thank you for everything Jason!

-Gary Calhoun James
Box of Baby Birds

Purchase Farewell Transmission: The Music of Jason Molina: Amazon; iTunes
Jason Molina: Website; Secretly Canadian; Graveface Records
Magnolia Electric Co.: Website; Secretly Canadian; Facebook
Box of Baby Birds: Website; Facebook; Twitter; Bandcamp

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