An Article By Dave Hoekstra
of the Chicago Sun Times
Jimmy Damon is proud to be a saloon singer. He has been gigging around Chicago since 1971, when dim candles and long playing records still stood for something. Damon has played the Empire Room. Mister Kelly's. Venues all over the world. When Bill Murray was at Second City, one night after work he dropped into That Steak Joynt to catch Damon's last set. Murray morphed Damon into "Nick the Lounge Singer" for "Saturday Night Live." Murray knows saloon singers.
On this CD "The Jimmy Damon Way," the swingin' Mr. D. is not afraid to tackle the rhythm and blues of Lou Rawls ("You'll Never Find"), the Brazilian shuffle of "Girl From Ipanema" and even Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." A great saloon singer knows no limitations. Damon tells me he likes Neil Diamond because of his "haunting lyrics and sound." I've heard Diamond described a thousand ways, but "haunting" is the voice of a saloon singer at last call.
"Saloon singers are down with the elements of life," Damon says. "They are telling a real story." The 13 songs on "The Jimmy Damon Way" tell the story of Jimmy Demopolous, a self-made native of Memphis TN. His father Nick ran the New York Cafe, a 24-hour/last call restaurant about a mile from the birthplace of the Stax Records soul label. Damon changed his name to Damon in 1968 and split for Chicago three years later.
These songs are postcards from the past 33 long playing years: "Summer Wind", "Chicago," "Nice and Easy," (a dramatic, loungey) "The Way You Look Tonight" and only Mr. D. would have the cajones to rearrange Tony Bennett's impeccable "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." The songs are all done the Jimmy Damon way, an appropriate sense of style mixed with Southern audacity.
If Elvis had been a saloon singer, he would have been Jimmy Damon.
When Damon arrived in Chicago, one of his first gigs was at the, now defunct, Cousin's Club, a 1970s nightspot for subterranean swingers in the basement of Benihana of Tokyo, 166 E. Superior. Damon sang pop covers of Lou Rawls' "Lady Love" and Peter, Paul and Mary's "Leavin' on a Jet Plane." Alan King and Count Basie are a couple of the big shooters who would drop into the Cousin's Club when they were in town. Damon played the room for three years. This is where he learned to become a singer.
"I learned how to concentrate, because the crowds didn't pay attention when I started," Mr. D. told me a few years back. "I learned how to get into the lyric and how to present myself. It takes a long time. I learned how to phrase, I learned how to stand. I learned how to look you in the face and tell you a truth. An audience can spot a phony anytime. And what I've learned over the years is that I'm fallible.....You just realize you're real." This is how Damon endeared himself to Chicago, America's biggest real town. Mayor Harold Washington once went to see Damon sing at Navy Pier. He left with a big smile on his face, saying, "Entertainers like Jimmy Damon have helped maintain Chicago's image as a swingin' town." Christie Hefner is a fan who attended Damon's 1995 "My Way: Jimmy Damon Sings Sinatra" concert at Park West. Kup and Essie loved Mr. D. So does Stella. The CD's title comes from a stretch of street that the city recently named in tribute to Chicago's finest saloon singer. I think you'll feel the same way after listening to "The Jimmy Damon Way."
Damon is a saloon singer, nice and easy. And no one does it better.
DAVE HOEKSTRA has been a Chicago Sun-Times writer and columnist since 1985. He is a contributing writer to the Chicago Reader and the Journal of Country Music. He is the author of the travel book "Ticket To Everywhere" (Lake Claremont Press), for which Jimmy Damon sang Roger Miller's "King of the Road" at the swingin' book release party.