Jimmy LaFave, beloved Austin singer-songwriter, facing terminal cancer

3:55 p.m Thursday, April 20, 2017 Local
Jimmy LaFave plays an in-store performance in 2012 at Waterloo Records for the release of his album, “Depending on the Distance.” Friends and musicians are planning a May 18 concert to honor LaFave, who has revealed that he has cancer.

Friends and fellow musicians are planning a May 18 concert at the Paramount Theatre to honor longtime Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave, who was diagnosed with an aggressive and incurable form of cancer last year.

LaFave, who moved to Austin from Oklahoma in the mid-1980s and became one of the city’s foremost Americana artists over the next couple of decades, had kept details of his condition under wraps since last summer. He’s scheduled to play Friday at Threadgill’s South.

“He’s such a private guy,” fellow Austin singer-songwriter Jaimee Harris said Thursday. “He hadn’t asked for anything this whole time except for people to hold off.”

The May 18 Paramount show will be titled “Jimmy LaFave’s Songwriter Rendezvous,” according to his longtime friend Christine Albert, who spoke from Los Angeles on Thursday.

Two weeks ago at a San Antonio Food Bank fundraiser, LaFave performed sitting down. But his voice remained strong on a 90-minute set that mixed original tunes with his trademark covers of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie songs, as well as old favorites from the likes of Procol Harum and John Waite.

Dylan songs are among a wealth of material LaFave has been recording recently at Cedar Creek Studios in South Austin, Harris confirmed Thursday. “I kind of oddly discovered Dylan backwards through Jimmy, because I’d heard his versions of Dylan’s songs,” she recalled.

“Jimmy was one of the reasons I moved here,” continued Harris, who came to Austin from Waco and grew up listening to LaFave’s music. She says she used to drive down from Waco to hear him play free summer shows at Shady Grove, then got to know him after being asked to sing on his 2015 album “The Night Tribe.”

Harris cited his encouragement to other Austin artists such as Ruthie Foster, Betty Soo and Grace Pettis as central to his value to the local music community. “He’s like a bridge for a lot of people,” she said, explaining that he helped connect younger-generation artists to the city’s veteran songwriters and musicians.

Albert, who founded the nonprofit Swan Songs to arrange concerts for people in end-of-life care, recalled a show LaFave played for the organization around the time he underwent surgery to remove a tumor from his chest.

“Last summer, when Jimmy first told me about this, the next day we got a Swan Songs request for Jimmy’s music,” she said. “I told him, ‘Please don’t do this if it’s too difficult for you.’ And he said, ‘No, I want to do this.’ He did the show in July, and by then he knew that it wasn’t benign.”

Details were set to be announced late Thursday about a crowdfunding effort to raise money for charities LaFave has selected, but not for his own care, at his request.

Albert said LaFave also has been directly involved in setting up the artists for the May 18 show. “At one point I said, ‘I don’t think we should do this; it’s too soon,’” Albert said of the Paramount concert. “But Jimmy was really adamant. He said, ‘It’s the only thing I have to look forward to right now.’”

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