Jim Eagan of Shelburne Falls may not have started songwriting until his late 60s, but the second song he ever wrote got scooped up by Jorma Kaukonen of Jefferson Airplane.
That was last year, and now Kaukonen is touring with Eagan’s song, “Ain’t In No Hurry,” as the title track for his new album.
Eagan, 72, says he owes his late-in-life musical success to his son.
Eagan says he played guitar for nearly fifty years “without ever taking it seriously” until he saw his son, who has undiagnosable cognitive disabilities, perform a solo onstage at the Berkshire Hills Music Academy in South Hadley.
The academy — a school for young adults with disabilities that teaches music and life skills concurrently — had transformed his son from a young man terrified to speak in public settings to one willing to sing a solo before two hundred eyes.
“Watching him come so far in such a short time really inspired me,” Eagan says. “I’ve played every day since that day.”
Before that moment in 2010, Eagan had “diddled” intermittently but never performed, read music, or written songs. Now that he’s retired — in December Eagan shut down his business of 30 years, Jim Eagan Builders in Amherst — the folk musician dedicates at least two hours a day to practicing. Now he has an album, regular gigs, and a song traveling around the country in the hands of a famed guitarist.
Younger friend and fellow musician Abe Loomis finds Eagan’s success moving. “I think the fact that he has accomplished this so late in life is pretty inspiring,” says Loomis.
As the name suggests, “Ain’t In No Hurry” is a simple song about taking one’s time to enjoy the journey. “I hear the train comin’, comin’ on down the line,” Eagan sings. “But I ain’t in no hurry. Train, take your time.”
It came to him in a dream one night, he says, sitting in his sunny dining room that overlooks the Valley. He woke up, wrote it down, and “stashed it away and didn’t think much about it.” Nearly a year later he played it at the Daily Grind Cafe in Westfield to much applause. “People seem to like that one,” he says.
Then he saw an ad in a guitar magazine for a songwriting workshop at Jorma and Vanessa Kaukonen’s music farm, Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio. He says he decided it would be a good opportunity and attended. The regularly-held workshop includes an open mic night, during which Eagan played the fated song. He saw Vanessa whispering in her husband’s ear. The song must have made an impression, because a year later Eagan got an email informing him that Kaukonen wanted the song for his new album.
“I personally was moved to tears when I heard him do the song,” Vanessa Kaukonen told the Advocate. “The song said so much. In such poetic language, ‘Ain’t In No Hurry’ explored the whole range of emotions of being right where you are in your life. And I say this from a 54 year-old’s view of things and Jorma felt it from a 74 year-old’s place in this world. Lyrically and instrumentally the song is quite simple but it was just one of those songs that we felt needed to be heard.”
Eagan says he was thrilled and surprised that it all came together.
“It was about being in the right place in the right time with the right song,” says Eagan. “It was a series of abstract events — I was thinking about playing a different song [that night]. But this one really seemed to ring a bell for Jorma and his wife Vanessa.”
So far, he says, he’s made “a few hundred” in royalties — enough to be “worth doing.”
Eagan confesses he’s “not much for self-promotion,” but his partner Lisa “helps push me along.”
“She’s my biggest fan,” he says.
Most of the songs he’s written, he says, were born in the space between awake and asleep. “I’ve never actually tried to write a song — they usually come into my head as a stream of consciousness,” he says. “I’ve never sat down and tried to write a song. Consequently I haven’t written many songs.”
But that’s ok, he says, because he ain’t in no hurry. While Lisa works, Eagan sits with his Jack Russell mix, Rosco, and plays the day away in his basement room with a view. From his slider doors and his hilltop positioning, he gets an eyeful of Western Mass. Plus, the tile floors make for great acoustics — so great, in fact, his album, Never Too Late, was recorded in his own home practice room.
As he picks up his locally made guitar, he tells me he hasn’t yet learned any music theory or learned to read music. “I play by ear,” he says. •
Contact Amanda Drane at firstname.lastname@example.org