Tribute to “Flames” (James Lee Brennan)

posted in: Articles, September 2011 | 0

Flames passed from this world to the next in the early hours of May 28, 2011

“As we look back on this week, his passing will be one of those times where “everything changed”. [r]

James Lee Brennan, or Flames as he was known to all his friends, shook off his mortal coil on May 27th of this year. I never knew him personally but I was a big fan of his guitar work in Raspberry Jam. I believe that the Oceanic album was absolutely way ahead of its time and never given the recognition that it deserves. What I always remembered about Flames (outside of his music) was his long red hair and his mustache… he always reminded me of how the old time sideshow announcers looked back in the day. Flames was obviously well-loved by his friends and family and I have been touched as I have kept track of well wishers and his peers who have continued to toast and tip their hat to their friend through various online postings. I was completely unaware of Flames work outside of Raspberry Jam, and it was really cool to see how much of a hand he had in helping numerous bands and supporting them through his work and his friendship. Below are the memories from a few of his closest friends and I want to say ‘thanks’ to these guys for letting Down the Line give respect to Flames in a small way, we have been fans of his work for a long time.

Herb Grimaud Jr. (Raspberry Jam, Stranger Kings, Sound Gallery)…

How did you meet Flames?

I met Flames at a friend’s BBQ/party around 1989/1990. I remember that night’s music ending with someone putting on a cassette of old Irish drinking songs & Flames & I just talking.

What projects were you involved in with Flames?

Raspberry Jam. Wes Faulk & I started the band in spring of 1991. Flames was the guitarist we wanted to play with us. We had to beg him a little to come down and practice with us. The three of us just fell right in line with each other and he joined after that first practice.

How would you describe Flames as a person and as an artist?

Flames was a humble, caring and giving person. He was a great listener. He didn’t just wait for his turn to talk; he listened, took it in and always had something interesting to say. As an artist Flames was open to ideas. He was happy just to create, to be a part of the creative process. Flames was the glue.

What is a great memory of Flames that sticks out most in your mind when you think of him?

What stood out about Flames was his willingness to be a good friend. Holly Nelson put it best, “Flames was one of the “good ones”.

There are too many stand out memories to pick just one, but one that I know Flames enjoyed was when we saw the Ramones in concert at the Hollywood Palladium October 15th 1992. We were both singing along with the band and having a great time. At one point we jumped into the pit arms over each other’s shoulders, laughing, holding each other up and singing along.

Where did the nickname Flames come from?

Flames got his nickname from when he was much younger. A friend and he were in a little tiff. It was kind of like boys ribbing each other and one of them said “Flame On!” like the human torch from the Fantastic Four comics would do. It just stuck with him.

Steve Rightnour (Subdivision Records, Stranger Kings, Leslie Dupre Grimaud)…

My friend flames…

I met Jim (Flames) through Mike Brown. It was November 1989 at a Denny’s in Riverside, after a Cafe Noire show.
On the way home Mike mentioned that Flames was into “some Canadian guy that wears these little glasses”. I offered up Bruce Cockburn’s name and Mike told me I should bring it up the next time we met. I did and our friendship began with a conversation about someone only shared by an “elite” and “select” few (hyperbolic emphasis intentional). One of his favorite Cockburn albums was Dancing in the Dragons Jaws. When I mentioned I hadn’t heard it, he gave me a copy that he dubbed off the vinyl – with transfer lettering and hand drawn artwork.

Flames was the guy who you could count on to come to all of your shows, he was a big supporter of just about everything I did musically (including a band whose rhythm section would eventually be the rhythm section of Raspberry Jam). It was exciting to witness Flames overcoming his fear of performing live, doing the first RBJ gig and within a short time fronting the band on “Hand Me Down Hate.”

The 90’s rolled on, we all grew up and pursued our paths (some of them away from music). RBJ folded. Flames had relocated to the beach and he was crewing for bands like The Supertones and Folds Zandura. When his health prevented him from driving tour busses he stayed rooted around Huntington Beach. After I moved to Long Beach (across the sidewalk from Mike) we hung out often enough for Flames to join in on the fun, building synthesizers. Flames eventually built gear that went on the road with NIN and the Chemical Brothers.

Flames was one of those people who made you better for knowing them, and he didn’t waste a single day.

Eric Campuzano (Stranger Kings, Cush, Charity Empressa, Lassie Foundation)

How did you meet Flames?

To be honest, I cannot recall ever meeting Flames. I just assumed that he had always been there and been a part of my life for the last 15 years. His personality was just that cool. You never had to “fall in love” with Flames… He was just Flames and that was that was the best thing about him and what made him a great friend. In our relationship, he never brought any baggage, but he had certainly listened to all of mine. He was a great listener. Looking back, I am embarrassed to say, he listened to me more than I listened to him.

What projects were you involved in with Flames?

None. Although, Flames was around many times to keep my head on straight and give respite on the Charity Empressa and The Lassie Foundation recordings. It was always nice to walk into the stairway of El Casino and see his face.

How would you describe Flames as a person and as an artist?


What is a great memory of Flames that sticks out most in your mind when you think of him?

Well… the mustache; C’mon! Waxing poetic in the stairway in Huntington Beach… laughing and smiling.

Sam West (Saviour Machine, The Violet Burning, Stavesacre, Scaterd Few)…

I met Flames when he was the production manager/light op on a couple tours Stavesacre did with Fold Zandura in the late 90’s. Since we barely had a crew, Flames made sure everyone had a load in/load out job, and that they actually did it. He went on to work for the Supertones after that, and we would run into each other at festivals in the summer.

I didn’t know him as an artist, although I knew of RBJ; when we met he was running crew/logistics for other artists. He was a gentle guy, but didn’t have a problem getting people to pull their weight. I always loved running into him and hearing his great stories about touring. He and Frank Lenz used to crack me up with stories about traveling in the south…none that I can repeat though. All the Stavesacre guys referred to him as Flamus (like Séamus, the Irish boys name), using horrible Irish accents whenever we would run into him. He was a great guy with a wonderful sense of humor, and a world class mustache.

Allan Aguirre (Men As Trees Walking, Scaterd Few, Spy Glass Blue)…

I met Flames through the Fold Zandura boys. He toured with them, and if I remember correctly he was a friend of Frank Lentz. I wasn’t involved in any projects with him, but as a person Flames was a great guy. I never “knew” him as an artist, but I knew he was in a band and he was the guy with Fold Zandura. Rarely do you remember a “touring crew member” which says a lot about the man. He was definitely one of our favorite people in this thing called the music biz. I just remember him being one of the nicest and most likable guys around. He had a huge servant’s heart. Those two things, his servant’s heart and his genuine friendship are what I think of when I think of Flames… besides the mustache 🙂

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