Grammy-award winning record producer, Jim Rooney, who was born in Boston, has family roots in Barna and spent much of his time in Galway until Covid stopped travel, working with musicians including Seán Keane and the late Arty McGlynn. In the 1980s, he produced Nanci Griffith’s ground-breaking Once in a Very Blue Moon album and their close friendship has resulted in a new project for Jim, who is now in his 80s. He tells JUDY MURPHY about an unexpected gift from the late singer.
“Good luck with writing that up,” says Jim Rooney with a chuckle, gesturing to the reporter’s notebook on the table as his interview with the Tribune draws to a close. The legendary US-Irish record producer, musician and so much more, has been chatting for more than two hours – he has many memories to share!
Back in Ireland with his wife, Carol, for their first trip post-Covid, he’s been catching with musical friends from Galway to Cork and playing gigs along the way.
And he’s just re-released a box set of four early albums by country and folk legend Nanci Griffith, as well as publishing the music star’s only novel – written in her youth.
Griffith who died in August 2021, at the age of 68, is remembered for singing such classics as Speed at the Sound of Loneliness, Once in a Very Blue Moon and her own composition, Trouble in these Fields. Jim, who was a rookie producer in Nashville in the early 1980s, played a key role in her success.
In later years, she became a recluse and cut off most of her friends, but not Jim and Carol.
Back in the 1980s, just after she’d moved from her Texas home to Nashville, Jim produced her album, Once in a Very Blue Moon, teaming her up with some of the best musicians in the business, including Irish guitarist Philip Donnelly. It was the beginning of their long friendship.
Some of the musicians were seasoned performers and others, like banjo player Béla Fleck, were still almost unknown but Jim, who played bluegrass music, was aware of them.
Making those musical matches was the biggest part of his producing job, observes Jim who also produced Griffith’s Last of the True Believers in 1986 before she signed to a major label MCA.
That deal was “bitter-sweet” for Jim as MCA was “a closed shop”, so he knew he was out of the equation. But they worked together again after Griffith parted company with MCA. That was on 1993’s Other Voices Other Rooms for which she recorded songs by writers who had influenced her work, including Woodie Guthrie, Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Janis Ian and John Prine. It went on to win a Grammy.
Pictured: Jim Rooney with Mick Crehan in the city’s Crane Bar. PHOTOS: JOE O’SHAUGHNESSY.
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