Jim O’Neal, Living Blues founder, ill and uninsured

Jim O’Neal, founder in 1970 of Living Blues magazine and a serious independent researcher into American roots music, is among the 59 million Americans without health insurance, and has lymph cancer. A series of benefit concerts are scheduled to raise funds for his treatments and a fund has been set up at Commerce Bank in Kansas City to accept direct donations: checks to: Jim O’Neal Blues Fund, P.O. Box 10334, Kansas City, MO 64171 or donations via Paypal to the account onealbluesfund@aol.com.

I met O’Neal and LB’s co-founder, his now ex-wife Amy Van Singel, while “interning” at Chicago’s Jazz Record Mart in the late ’60s. They established Living Blues as a decidedly non-commercial venture — not that they were trying to go broke or live poor, but it was ok 40 years ago to follow your passion, especially if it was of cultural significance, with the belief that eventually some small amount of security might follow. However, it hasn’t necessarily panned out that way.

University of Mississippi acquired the magazine in 1983, and today it remains an important chronicle of the bedrock music that has helped get people through their troubles for more than 100 years, feeding much of the rock and pop that’s accrued millions of fans and billions of dollars. Yet blues people and the music remain marginalized, and many of them act like that’s to be expected. Which is ridiculous — what great nation treats its artists, researchers and curators so callously?

O’Neal contributed to the Billboard Illustrated History of Jazz and Blues, published in 2005; I was general editor (it has since been republished with different credits, but the book’s the same). Jim’s writing is lucid, understated and exacting. He’s participated in various blues symposiums, and can be seen in Robert Mugge’s excellent documentary Hellhounds On My Trail – The Afterlife of Robert Johnson, filmed at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame when Delta blues legend Johnson was inducted as an “Early Influence” in 1986.

Here’s the schedule of benefit concerts. The music is sure to be good and heartfelt. Further info from Stackhouse-Bluesoterica, Jim O’Neal’s blog. I have no idea what Jim’s prognosis is, but I hope he gets well.

OCT. 20 SURF CLUB, HYATTSVILLE, MD With Memphis Gold and others
OCT. 28 KNUCKLEHEADS, KANSAS CITY, KANSAS Kenny Neal, Memphis Gold and
NOV 19 (date is tentative) BUDDY GUY’S LEGENDS, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS Kenny
Neal, Memphis Gold, Eddie Clearwater, Eddie Shaw, Billy Branch, Elmore James Jr., Nora Jean Bruso and others.

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  1. bob rusch says

    the o’neal’s deserve total respect for their work in the blues
    it was often pioneering and definitive

  2. Skip Henderson says

    We want to hold a fundraiser in New Orleans. Please contact us ASAP.
    Skip Henderson
    Fontaine Wells

  3. says

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I will be at the benefit tomorrow near DC. Memphis Gold along with Kenny Neal organized this series. Skip and Fontaine, I am not sure who you should contact about staging a benefit. You might try contacting Scott Baretta (he is on Facebook) or Living Blues themselves. I will mention this to Memphis Gold tomorrow night.

  4. Amy van Singel says

    The Chicago gig at Buddy Guy’s Legends has been confirmed for NOV. 30. FWIW, I’ve posted this info to the Chicago Reader’s Straight Dope (SDMB) message board “MPSIMS” [Mundane Pointless Stuff I Must Share} and to my Facebook and other forums. OK, blues fans: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is” and put it into the PayPal account. Pony up!

    I’ll be at Legends .. see y’all there … regards from Atomic Mama