I began writing songs with collaborator Collin Reid in Jamaica and recorded “In Jamaica” (2015) and “Breathe” (2017) in Jamaica and Saskatoon. Just before Covid hit, I was sitting at the piano with lyrics, developing “feels” for songs and many new ideas just flowed. I found that the lyrics and feel led to finding an appropriate musical genre for each song, and that is how the song diversity of “Collage” occurred.Jim Balfour (2022)
Jim has been the front man for reggae bands “Natural Mistik” and “Jim Balfour and the Outer Rings”, and blues bands “Full Moon Blues” and “Ernest Ernies’ Panfried Blues” performing for many years at the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival and many other venues. Since 2009, he has been a guest artist performing at a number of venues in Negril, Jamaica, often introduced as “White Bob”! He is also an accomplished percussionist
Jim has also been a long-time social worker and community activist, having spearheaded three years of “Musicians for Peace” on the International Day of Peace (September 21) He participated with the City of Saskatoon’s race relations committee for a number of years and in 2020 recorded a one-take performance of “Wild West” which traces the history of inequality in the United States.
Article for Parascope (Saskatchewan’s Newsletter for People with Spinal Cord Injuries and Other Physical Disabilities)
I thought my accident and resulting disability would be the end of my life as a musician. Boy, was I wrong.
When I was 17 years old, I was in a motor vehicle accident. I lost one leg above the knee and suffered severe trauma to my other leg.
At the time, I played the drums but assumed that my days of playing were over. Many years later, I found that I could connect my artificial foot to the bass drum pedal. At that point, I continued developing my technique with blues, reggae, jazz and rock. My sense of rhythm and music further developed, although I had difficulties playing uptempo songs because I couldn’t move my prosthesis fast enough.
When I began to perform publicly, I went to jam sessions in the city and looked for other musicians with similar musical interests and abilities. Finding people who I could develop musical chemistry with was a journey of trial and error. I relied on my love of music to overcome any moments of discouragement or self-doubt.
In 1996, through my involvement with Ness Creek Music Festival and a fellow amputee, I became a selftaught (via videos) conga, bongo, and djembe performer and soon became a freelance percussionist, performing with a number of Saskatoon artists including Tim Vaughn, Oral Fuentes, and BC Read.
The heroes in my life include Terry Fox and Bob Marley for their passion and commitment to a cause. A phrase in Jamaican patois is “mi nah give up” (I’ll never give up). My love of music - in particular, the music and message of Bob Marley - led to the development of a ninepiece Bob Marley tribute band, Natural Mistik. The band had difficulty finding a vocalist who could emulate Bob Marley’s style, and almost by accident, I became the lead singer. For seven years, the band performed at the SaskatchewanJazz Fest, Fringe Fest, local clubs and weddings. I’ve also been the front man with two different blues bands, and performed with a folk band for over a year, but my ary musical connection is with reggae.
In 2009, I visited Negril, Jamaica for a month. Since that first visit, I have returned annually to immerse myself in Jamaican culture and music. I perform at a number of venues, and have earned the nickname Whitebob, Jimbob or Bob Marley from local residents and tourists. For the last two years, I have been recording in Jamaica and laid the foundation for the recently released EP Jim Balfour in Jamaica (for details, see jimbalfour.com and Facebook, or search online for Jim Balfour musician/band).
This summer, several musicians from Jamaica are joining me for a six-week tour and recording sessions in Saskatchewan, beginning with the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival. Watch for Jim Balfour and the Hygh Wave Jamaicans. I’ve also been able to assist Jamaican friends whose family members have lost limbs by taking used prosthesis parts to Jamaica with the help of my prosthetist.
Of course, music, is only part of my life. For more than 30 years, I’ve been a politically-minded social worker and activist. About a decade ago, over a period of three years and with contributions from many of Saskatoon’s finest musicians, I developed and coordinated an annual event called Musicians for Peace, held on September 21, the International Day of Peace. For many years, I was an active member of the City of Saskatoon’s Race Relations and Cultural Diversity Committee. I believe in doing what I can to make Saskatoon a stronger city by working to empower the most marginalized people in the city. I’ve participated in sports with many people with disabilities and find the main trait we all have in common is focusing on the things we can do, and not on the things we can’t do. I find it to be the same in performing with other musicians. It’s essential to listen to what the other musician is doing to create music together, and a positive energy is the driving force. I will always be grateful to anyone with whom I have shared a basketball court or stage, as I have learned so much from other people.
I think of myself as a musician who also has a disability. Thankfully, my congas provide some stability for me on stage - I have to dance with the music, but I haven’t had any major falls. I plan to retire this June from my position as a supervisor with the Ministry of Social Services to devote more time to family (spouse Angela, step-children Katrina and Christopher, daughter Regan (Yann), grandson Roman, and son Aaron) and more time to music. I’m planning an event with the Jamaican musicians for late July to celebrate both the end of the music tour and retirement. My local band is called Jim Balfour and the Outer Rings, and I will kick start that band once the summer tour is completed.
I plan to record a song titled Put it Out There, which is all about finding your passion and pursuing it regardless of obstacles, and believing in yourself and your path ahead. I’ve found that, when one door closes in life, another one always opens. I just have to keep knocking - or drumming!