Jimmy A: Catching up With One of Our Favorite Artists

posted in: Articles, February 2012 | 0

Readers of our zine are surely familiar with Jimmy Abegg, but I don’t know if most people realize his long standing contribution to some of the bands that we love and have grown up with. My introduction to Jimmy A. was when I purchased Charlie Peacock’s The Secret of Time album back around 1990 and found that he was the guitarist on that record. Jimmy released his first solo album Entertaining Angels the following year in 1991 and I snatched that up immediately. Everything about Entertaining Angels was perfect to me, the music, the lyrics and the artwork for the album was one of my favorites. With tracks like “Contemplate the Emptiness”, “Thin but Strong Cord” and “Passion of Creation”, I knew that I had found a great record that spoke directly to me and who I was. After his solo release I started to find his back catalog of albums from Vector and The West Coast Diaries releases. This was before the internet, so finding out about artists and their work was not as easy a task.

What I didn’t realize until much later was that Jimmy also played in the Scratch Band which was the precursor to The 77’s, and after following his career for years he also became one of the core members of The Ragamuffin Band. Jimmy’s involvement with the Ragamuffins clearly gave credence to work of Rich Mullins, and I think (for me) that is where Rich Mullins really began to separate himself from the CCM-ish scene and moved more towards being an artist with a really good band of musicians who were complex, unique and brought a resume of quality to the table. I am not a fan of what I call “the CCM-ish” side of Christian music, but when I say that I mean the business aspect, the religious aspect and the overall specifics of that entire genre. Rich Mullins was definitely at the top of that heap at one point, but he progressed into an artist that changed not only musically, but personally and professionally as well. I don’t know if people realize that Rich Mullins was like a Mark Heard of the music world, where he ended up at his untimely passing was not where he began. I miss Rich Mullins… talking to Jimmy A. about his involvement with Rich was really cool, because I think Jimmy’s work really helped the band to separate themselves from the shackles of the average and the expected.

“Hair Up or Down”

This is a great interview with one of my favorite artists. Hopefully anyone reading this will be pleased to learn a little more history about one of what I would consider is one of music’s too often overlooked guitarists and artists. Jimmy A. is still cranking out the good stuff whether it is painting, design, photography and music. There is new music on the horizon from him, and I know some of our readers will be excited to hear and learn about a project that he is involved with that is close to being completed. Dig in and enjoy!

Did you grow up in a musical household? How did you get started in music?

I was inspired by music at a very early age, but a great uncle of mine was a pretty renowned band leader. Because of that influence my mother signed me up for piano lessons when I was in elementary school, then I moved to the accordion believe it or not. Both of those were non-starters for me, but then when I saw the Beatles on TV, I saved up my money and bought a guitar. I spent the rest of my formative years learning how to play music. In high school I transferred what I knew from guitar to bass and played bass in some bands.

I was raised in Nebraska and moved to Denver when I was a sophomore in high school. My sophomore, junior and senior years which were between 70’ and 73’, I played in bands and got high and basically lived that no account life. Upon graduation I moved to Sacramento, and in route to moving I got saved in Southern California which really changed my life. I had been teaching guitar and bass lessons in Colorado and after moving to Sacramento I continued to do the same thing and moved kinda full throttle into music and ministry. That was the Jesus Movement era and the bands I was a part of were kind of the wolves in sheep’s clothing… we would play fairs and get-togethers and then have the ulterior motive of trying to get people to come to a concert at church, a Sunday service or a youth group rally. Looking back on it; I was there for the music, I didn’t really realize it but we were “selling soap”.

You played in Vector back in the early 80’s, around like 82’ or 83’ I think… but I know you also played in The Scratch Band before it became the 77’s… how did that whole thing transpire?

I played bass with Mike in the very first Scratch Band, and I had played guitar with Steve Scott and was involved in some of the preliminary things that would launch into what would later be known as The 77’s. By that time I was deeply entrenched with Steve Griffith of Vector and the guys were still assembling what would become the line-up for the 77’s. Jan Eric Volz, who I worked closely with as well played bass… he was actually a guitar player but ended up playing bass with the 77’s for a long time. I don’t remember exactly when Jan split but he was there a good while. Have you ever interviewed Steve Scott?

No, but he is on my list to contact…

He’s fascinating, he’s an awesome guy. He’s the literary Yoda of the whole Sacramento scene. He was born and raised in London and moved here on the urging of Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman and maybe even Tom Howard. After his deal with Larry got off to a slow start he moved to Sacramento and became a part of Exit Records. We did multiple recordings with Steve, he’s a great guy. He’s definitely esoteric, kind of like the Tom Waits of the Exit crowd; he’s real involved in the arts and speaking engagements.

My introduction to you was playing guitar for Charlie Peacock on Secret of Time and then my next purchase was you’re Entertaining Angels which is still one of my favorite albums from the time period. I loved everything about it. Not only were the music and the lyrics great, but the artwork was awesome!

Thanks. That’s a fun one because it still holds up well after all these years. Many records end up just sounding trendy and goofy, whereas that one still sounds semi relevant.

Any chance that Entertaining Angels could ever see a re-release?

I don’t see why not, maybe that is something I should look into doing in the next year or so, I think that release still has teeth in it.

You’ve been working pretty closely with the Lost Dogs at this point, correct?

Yeah a couple of years ago I went on the Route 66 trip. I shot that for them and we had a great time, but it was too short of a time really. I think we had 10 or 12 days and we needed a whole week more to get everything, so the guys went back out last year to try and get the stuff that we missed. I was unable to go on that one, but I’ve known all these guys for decades. Mike and I have played together on and off for years obviously. Terry is a relatively newer friend although I had met him, played with him and shared a few gigs with him, but until recently I had just never really had that chance to spend more than a few minutes with him. It was really fun to get to hang with Terry and be a part of The Lost Dogs efforts, I think they’re awesome.

How did you find your way into the Ragamuffin Band? Were you already friends with Rich Mullins?

I was friends with someone who knew him. My friends name was Paul Emery, he actually managed The Choir for a little while and he was managing Margaret Becker at the time. I had played on Margaret’s first album Immigrant’s Daughter. I played guitar on her album and had met these people who were working with Margaret. Around that time we first moved to Nashville and I got the opportunity to make my first solo record and so I became friends with this guy who very close to Gay Quisenberry who managed Rich. They were about to head out on this big three month tour and they needed a bass player and an opening act. Paul suggested that I join that circus, so we went to Atlanta and saw Rich play and I was really impressed with Rich. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into, but I accepted the offer to play in Rich’s band in exchange for a 30 minute opening slot. Much to my surprise Rich would actually open the show, and then he would have the opening act come out in the middle. He liked to promote the acts that he liked and that was my first experience running a band because in the middle when I came out, his band would switch and play back up on my material.

My relationship with Rich just evolved from there and we became quite close friends. He was just about to start a record called A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band, and he invited me to be a part of that which is where I met Rick Elias and Billy Crockett. Some of the other guys, like Chris McHugh, I already knew or had played with. We made the Liturgy record which I think is a really good record, and then I spent the next few years supporting Rich and his music. I also did my second solo album Secrets as well as the Temptation record by Vector during those same years.

I guess I was just in the right place at the right time in regards to meeting Rich and being available. We had really good times then and it came at the right time for Rich because he was looking for a higher quality of musicianship as well I think. So Liturgy was more like Rich’s attempt to put together that quality of music that he thought was better and I think we made a substantial contribution to Christian music with a really good album.


I think it was a great record as well… Rich Mullins was one of those artists that early on was a little more established on the CCM side of the tracks, but his music always spoke deeply to me and he seemed like such a genuine guy as well. I saw him in concert numerous times and he was one of those guys that I would always take the time to see when he came through town. He had a certain way about him (sincerity) that spoke on a deeper level and he also introduced me to Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel which was a life altering book for me. The Jesus Record was a great album and you guys also released an album as The Ragamuffin Band after Mullins passed away correct?

What happened was that Chris McHugh couldn’t do the Liturgy support tour, so I invited Aaron Smith to join on drums, and a guy named Daniel O’Lannerghty that played bass on the Liturgy record couldn’t do the tour either, so Rick invited Mark Robertson in and the four of us really made the core of that group. After Rich passed we did the Jesus Record and then made a flawed but interesting record Prayers of a Ragamuffin. That was an interesting time because I think if we had had the benefit of not being associated with the CCM world than other things might have happened for us. We really had a vision for something but we were under the influence of the Christian radio scene, and I just think that we could have had a much better record if we hadn’t been trying to get on the radio and really having to kind of have the record company tell us what we were up to. Anyway, I got in about 7 good years with Rich, he was a good guy… he really was amazing.

Are you involved in with the movie that is about Rich’s life?

No, I’ve been in touch with those guys and I’ve met with them a couple of times to just talk about it and offer limited support. I’m not really quite sure yet exactly what they’re doing so I’m one of the more cautious participants because I want to see how they’re telling the story before I sign up for much more than just a source of encouragement. I certainly encouraged them to do what they felt they wanted to do.

You know, from my point of view with that, Rich was certainly a lot of things besides just his public persona. I kind of put this in the same boat as someone from a Christian tradition… let’s say someone like Saint Francis of Assisi. There’s probably been about a dozen books written about that guy, and they’re all different, and they all bring their own agenda to the table. With Rich I think he’s someone that people will write about for a long time and not necessarily have the straight shot available to them. In my case I feel like I knew a side of Rich that was unique and varied beyond just the evangelical right wing version that we hear. I think they might have a hard time figuring out how to portray that, but I certainly don’t see any harm in it. I hope they do it justice because Rich’s personality was huge.

Any chance that you, Rick and Mark might do something again in the future?

Yeah, we actually have plans and we meet periodically to talk about it. I think there’s reason to expect something in the next year or so. Rick is very motivated and I talk to him frequently, Mark is very busy with a band called The Legendary Shack Shakers, he’s pretty tied up but I think he would carve out the time to do something with this for sure. We’ve also been working with a guy locally, a neighbor of mine Matt Slocum, (Love Coma, Sixpence None The Richer) and he plays a bunch of instruments and he’s also been playing with us so we’ll see what develops.

You are a painter, photographer and artist as well as a musician, is that your primary “day job”?

I do photography and videos and I do a lot of CD packaging. I’m a designer so much of the time what I do is an indie artist will come in and want photography, so I’ll design a package for them and do the support materials for the promotion and marketing. I’m in a couple of galleries so my fine art I sell all throughout the year to people locally. My goal is to be in several different galleries and hopefully sell some stuff so that I can make ends meet through my art, photography and film.

This last couple of years has been pretty unique because I’m working on a solo record as well as a project with 3 friends. John Painter is a guitar-based musician and engineer, extraordinary guy, he had a band called Fleming and John at one point, of course I’m sure you know who Steve Taylor is, and Peter Furler who was the drummer in the Newsboys. Peter, Steve, John and I started a band together about two years ago, and we’re almost done with twelve tracks. Steve is doing the movie “Blue Like Jazz” and that kind of slowed us for a bit because we were just about done with the album and then the funding for the movie started coming in. That was probably about 12 months ago, and then around the same time Peter signed a solo deal for an album with EMI. So John and I have been waiting to get it all finished, and we’re all actually getting together next week to talk about how we can get this wrapped up this year. This is a very exciting thing because we have a very relevant and exciting albums worth of material. It’s a 3 piece with a vocalist, and it’s really cool! Steve is on vocals, I’m playing guitar, John is on bass and Peter is on drums. No name yet, so far we’re just calling it The Secret Band…

Do you do commission work?

I do! I do commission work throughout the year, there is always an open door for that. They can contact me through my website; I will be updating my website to incorporate all of the galleries where I am featured as well. I hope to do that soon. I put a website together years ago and haven’t touched it since, but I will be working on getting that going in the near future. I’m always up for whatever is coming! There is a lot of good stuff happening right now.

“Cumberland River Overview”


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