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SurfGuitar101 Forums » The Shallow End »

Permalink James Calvin Wilsey rip

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Sad to report that James Calvin Wilsey left this earthy life yesterday (12/24/18) (Source: Wikipedia and Wikiwand). He was 61. I hope he has found that magic place some call El Dorado. Play on James.

Happy Sunsets!

Last edited: Dec 27, 2018 13:44:23

Rowland Salley appears to have confirmed this sad news


Last edited: Dec 25, 2018 12:56:53

This is a crusher! RIP, James Calvin Wilsey, the King of Slow.


Oh, no!! I absolutely love his soulful playing style. He will be hugely missed.

aka WoodyJ

Last Mariners (2021-present)
HulaHounds (1996-2005)
The Mariners (1964-68, 1996-2005)
The X-Rays (1997-2004)
The Surge! (2004, 2011-2012)
Various non-surf bands that actually made money (1978-1990)

I am going to miss this guy. I learned a few of his tunes (fairly simple) from YOUTUBE videos and by ear listening to his only album. I was always hoping for another release by him.
I had heard that he was a bit of a handful in real life. That opening intro in "Wicked Game" is a classic. Those first two intro notes and the way James played them tell you the song, player and singer immediately.

Think I'll listen to "El Dorado" on the way to work tomorrow. Hard to believe that album was 10 years ago.

R.I.P Jimmy..
J Mo'

Oh no! Very sad indeed. I just started working on “Wicked Game” several days ago and was listening to some of his other tunes and saw some video of him on YouTube. A very soulful player.

He played a Stratocaster perfectly.

Matt "tha Kat" Lentz
Skippy and the Skipjacks: 2018-
Otto and the Ottomans: 2014-2015
The Coconauts surf band: 2009-2014
Group Captain and the Mandrakes 2013
The Surfside IV: 2002-2005, 2008-2009
the Del-Vamps: 1992-1999, 2006-2007

No doubt about it he had a special touch with his Stratocaster.

I posted the below on my FB page - sorry it's so wordy (Jimmy would probably NOT approve! Big Grin )

I'm late with this, but I wanted to pay my respects to James Calvin Wilsey, who passed away on Christmas Eve. Jimmy's name was not extremely well known, but he's the man behind the iconic guitar riff on Chris Isaak's immortal "Wicked Game". Jimmy was Isaak's guitarist for something like 12 years, and appeared on his first four albums. I first heard him when "Wicked Game" came out, around '90, immediately getting all three Isaak albums up to that point, being just blown away by Jimmy's playing, especially on Isaak's second, self-titled album. I could hear the Hank Marvin and surf music influences, but so much more than that, too. In '91/'92, a Chicago radio station I was able to tune into while attending Purdue University live-cast an Isaak show which I recorded on cassette and listened to over and over again for years afterwards - I'm sure I still have it among my tapes. It showcased the band and Jimmy in particular in full flight, his guitar playing was just amazing. I was very disappointed when I heard that Jimmy left Isaak's band around '93-'94. (An interesting story: some time after that, probably around '95-'96, I heard that Isaak was still looking for a permanent replacement for Jimmy. I somehow procured the email address of Isaak's long-time drummer, Kenney Dale Johnson - I have no memory of how I managed to do that - and emailed him, asking him if they were still looking and if I might be able to audition!! I was in my third year of grad school, so I'm not really sure what i was thinking! I probably figured that the odds of it were so minuscule that why not? The only time I'd ever done anything like that. Surprisingly enough, Kenney was actually gracious enough to reply to tell me that they already found their guy and thank me for my interest!) Jimmy's replacement, Hershel Yatovitz, is an incredible guitarist, technically more proficient, and has been a great fit for Isaak, but Jimmy will always remain my favorite. In fact, I remember some articles back in the day that said that the "Chris Isaak sound" should more accurately be described as the "Jimmy Wilsey sound", and I think there's actually a lot to that.

In Jimmy's post-Isaak years I kept hearing about him playing various all-instrumental gigs - I remember he had a band named the Mystery Men for a while, I think, where he played the Shadows, Duane Eddy, etc. His one solo album, "El Dorado" from 2008, was IMO good, but a bit too light on melody for my taste, instead relying more on ambience, Jimmy's incredible Stratocaster tone and sheer playing brilliance, which were undeniable. I've seen videos of him playing live even in the past few years, and he definitely still had it!

I did get to briefly meet him, at the 2012 SG101 Convention, which was a huge thrill! We chatted for a bit, and he was extremely complimentary of my playing and the Madeira set, which really made my day - heck, my month! He was mild-mannered, even shy, in person, but I'm so glad I had a chance to tell him directly how much I love his playing.

I heard through the years various reports of his struggles and issues, but had no idea what they were. I still don't, but I guess they finally got the better of him. He was 61 but appeared much more youthful than that when I met him two years ago. Still, too young to go.

R.I.P. Jimmy Wilsey - your music deeply touched many people, me included, and I have no doubt you will live on through it.

Here's where I first heard of Isaak and Jimmy - in a very short feature in the July 1987 issue of the Guitar World magazine.


And finally, here's a great (albeit fairly short) interview with James Calvin Wilsey from the September 1991 issue of Guitar Player Magazine - the only time he was really featured in a major guitar publication that I'm aware of.


The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Blair-Pongracic Band on Facebook
The Space Cossacks on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube

Last edited: Dec 29, 2018 11:05:29

I just also came across this great, fairly recent interview (from 2015):

The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Blair-Pongracic Band on Facebook
The Space Cossacks on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube

Sitting here on a Friday night listening to the old Isaak tunes and once again reminded what a guitarmeister, he was. So cool. Tuneful and skilled.

El Twitter
El Ray
El Ray on Bandcamp
El Twang on YouTube

I am still trying to wrap my head around the recent death of Jimmy Wilsey. I remember Insect Surfer guitarist Dano Sullivan and I were mega mega fans of his first and especially second album, and even used to throw his'Blue Hotel' into our sets in the early 90s. Wilsey's guitar was indeed the 'Silver Tone' that Isaak referenced on the first album and his style was yet equally dependent on the spaces that he left in his melody lines. I'd made a cassette comp around this time featuring 'my top ten favorite guitar leads'and of course Wilsey was on it ('Wild Love'!)We were such fanboys that we gave Chris and Jimmy cassette tapes of our yet-to-be-released 'Reverb Sun' after one of their gigs.They returned the favor by having us open up for them at a local show a few months later!(This was before 'the hit',of course!) The show that we gave them the cassette was also the show that we noticed that Wilsey had a red LED on the bridge of his guitar. "What's that little light on the bridge?"asked Dano."Oh,I've got my guitar hooked up to MIDI" he calmly replied.Dano's face fell,we we had been so sure that he was getting his tone from some arcane combination of vintage equipment. Dano was almost despondent as we drove back home."They say you should never meet your heroes!" he moaned."Yes, but at least he's using his powers for good and not evil!" I quipped.I WILL say that we did NOT notice any computer enhancement the next few times we saw him,but,who knows? And really,does it ultimately matter? We were certainly super bummed when he and the band split a few years later. We were honored by both me and Dano being asked to audition for Isaak's band a few months later at a rehearsal studio in North Hollywood. We were both TERRIFIED. Dano went first.We had been told to know how to play 'Wicked Game'and I think 'Blue Hotel' and another of our choice. We both choked a little. Plus the song that I picked 'You Took My Heart'it turned out they didnt even play any more! But really,how are you supposed to fill those shoes?
It was awesome that Wilsey came back with his band'The Mysteries' about a decade later.He'd been making more money through computer programming(yes,still quite the tech-head) than he had from playing music! But it was great to see him play again. A big highlight of the set was him tearing into Jeff Beck's 'Beck's Bolero',and of course they'd play Wicked Game as an instro they'd call 'Wicked Thing'. He also always got a kick out of kidding the audience that his bass player(who was younger than him)"had played with 'Wishbone Ash"! He had a really funny and super sly and dry wit. He'd always rib me about playing an SG and ask me "When are you going to get a real guitar?". I put 'The Mysteries' on my first 'Acid Beach Party' bill in January 2000,they were a huge hit but the enigmatic Jimmy stopped playing shortly afterwards and basically dropped out of sight for a few years. He called me up a few years later and sent me a copy of his latest effort ,the fabulous 'El Dorado'and said he was starting to play out again. A new highlight this time was his rendition of the Leon Russell-penned Carpenter's hit 'Superstar'! I was able to see 'The Mysteries'a few more times over a period of a few months before he dropped out of sight again.I must add that his tone was better and more,well,transcendental than ever at these gigs. He'd show up in the audience at some of the SG101 gigs,and I think I last saw him at one of Deke Dickerson's 'Guitar Geek Festival' gigs. What can I say now that he's gone? He was a super big inspiration,a genius of tone and composition,and a super nice and enigmatic guy. I think if you were any kind of fan of surfy tone he'd be on your deep twang radar. Long live and all hail Jimmy Wilsey!!

Thanks also for Ivan"s excellent and heartfelt remembrance above,it helped me to remember some dates!
-David Arnson

I could write days about him but I just found out about this 30 minutes ago and not only am I shocked but heart-broken.

I just posted this on Chris Isaak’s Facebook page...

“I became a Silvertone fan in the 80’s and was inspired by Jimmy to pick up the guitar and learn to play it. Over the years, I worked and rebuilt his Twin Reverb amp in 2005. I credit Jimmy for that opportunity to springboard into building tube amps (Gomez Amps, LLC). I remember driving up to Eagle Rock to hang out, talk and learn from Jimmy. He was kind, patient and funny. I regret being a pain in the ass at times with him but he was genuinely forgiving and I thank him for that.

My personal music I wrote was highly influenced by Jimmy and I can only hope he heard more before he passed. He helped me with the technical stuff in recording and guided me in the right direction that I have always appreciated.

I miss my friend. I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend at times. I’ll live with that regret but I can honestly say that my heart was always in the right place with Jimmy. I’m sorry it didn’t come out right. He was and I will always consider him a brother.

My condolences to all his fans, friends, and his family. He was a true artist and no one can ever replace him. L8r g8r R.I.P. Jimmy

Dario G. Gomez
(Gomez Amps, LLC)”

Good to see you Dario. We spoke at the Deke Dickerson event some years ago.

The eighties were a challenging time for guitarists. There were oases of guitar goodness, but a great deal of the music then was synth and synth-drums playing to a sequenced track. When I hear Wicked Game, I was blown away. I had feared that the recipe had been lost forever, but there it was, real guitar work hitting the Top 40, once again.

I have ElDorado in my collection and have certainly used it as a source of inspiration for creating an ambiance for my guitar sound. After a decade of synthesizers, chorus pedals and THD figures approaching 100%, Wilsey’s sound was a breath of fresh air. Undoubtedly, he, along with a handful of others, were a big part of why we hear clean, twangy guitar sounds again in our day.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

Sad news to say the least. James Wilsey made and played beautiful music that will continue to be enjoyed and inspire.Each note he left for us is a gift to be absorbed and learn from the man. "Play for the song".. Say more with less notes.. Listen to the silence between the notes.. Absolutely chilling.
Turn someone on to his gift with music who may not be familiar,or a aspiring guitarist.. or player of any instrument for that matter. All can enjoy and learn... Rest easy James.

Bump for a sad anniversary Cry

RIP Jimmy.

Nice find, Dario - thank you for that.

LOTS of great songs there. Notable time stamps especially for this community: 48:00 and 1:02:25.


El Mirage @ ReverbNation

Oh! Oh! Oh! Look at what I just found. Apparently up since Feb, but only 534 views so far. Perhaps a few more from this crowd. Shads, some El Dorado work. Gold. Pure gold. Enjoy!


El Mirage @ ReverbNation

Last edited: Dec 25, 2019 19:12:42

Thanks for sharing this Brian! It's awesome! RIP, Jimmy.


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