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Ricardo’s extolling Thank You A Lot spurred my investigating both movie and musician.

On the film, you can see:

The web naturally holds much more on the man.

  • I’m glad I got to see him play a bunch around town, kinda like this:
from his home down in Texas, little bit east of Tokio

This video also captures The Broken Spoke well.

Willie Nelson once remarked, “Folks, like I said before and it’s still true, James Hand is the real deal,” which one can tell just listening to him talk or play:

Sadly, James passed on June 8, 2020, and, if this YouTube description is legit, here is his last recording:

This was the last time James was ever recorded singing. I consider it a great honor and a blessing to have gotten to record this. I believe James had a spiritual compulsion to perform this song that night. This was at the end of a filming session we did for a Central Texas news station. James contributed to the charity event with his performances. At the end of the session James told me, “If you want to record something get your phone and record this.” I had no idea what he was about to perform. He sang this, a song about the end of his life. Not long afterwards, he passed on.

James Hand: April 26, 2020

Haunting lyrics poignantly delivered:

Here I stand in this lonesome valley
Death at hand, no peace I find
Many souls have gone before me
But there’ll be no peace for mine

James Hand singing “Last Ride

The Austin Chronicle reported his death:

Combining real Texas toughness and teary-eyed vulnerability, James Hand existed as authentic a country singer as they come.

Although he’d begun singing and playing guitar in public as a young man, the spotlight escaped him until late in life. He lived with his family in a small town called Tokio, just outside of West, and would frequently come down to Austin to play. When the public began taking note of him during a small weekly gig at a Sixth Street bar called Babe’s, he was already well into his 40s.

He soon became a regular at live music staples, including the Continental Club, Ginny’s Little Longhorn (now Little Longhorn Saloon), and the Broken Spoke. Ever dressed in suit, tie, and cowboy hat onstage, Hand’s rich voice and unflagging realness invited constant comparisons to Hank Williams Sr. 

That man, who followed his heart so unwaveringly that it presented challenges for people in the music industry he worked with, owed simple allegiances – to family and God. The latter, he believed, put him on this earth to sing songs.

“It’s not all I can do,” Hand said of performing. “I’m a pretty fair horse trainer. But it’s what I’ve got to do. And I’m not talking about someone pointing a gun to my head and saying, ‘You’ve got to do this.’ I believe that God has put them inside of me. I’ve said this many times before: I don’t write no songs, life writes them.

“I just try to remember the words.”

In doing so, Hand consistently maintained an unpretentious combination of being poetic and working class.

In 2000, when asked what he counted as life’s most important facets, Hand told the Chronicle:

“My family, of course. Getting to heaven is pretty important. God, and my family, and being honorable to people, and for people to know that I’m not pretentious, or that I think I’m somebody, or that I’m different. Now, the most important thing to me is my momma, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s like – what’s that poem, ‘My kingdom, my kingdom, my kingdom for a horse’?

“The very most important thing to me is to know what happiness might be, like to love somebody and have them love you back, and not be about a money thing.”

“James Hand’s Gone to Heaven at Age 67

I also recommend The Austin Chronicle‘s:

Hand’s character also shines in David Brown and Leah Scarpelli’s Texas Standard post.

I once asked him what song influenced him most. Without pausing to think he said “‘Houston,’ by Dean Martin.” 

He must have seen my jaw drop to the floor because he began to explain without prompting. 

“See, we used to have an old cistern in the back yard. A cistern. You know, one of those great big old tanks to hold water and it was always dry. And when I was a little boy I’d go out there and lie on my back looking up and sing that Houston song like Dean Martin did on the records. With the echoes and whatnot. And I’d dream I’d be a singing star someday.”

Remembering James Hand
recorded in 1965

After Dean Martin charted Lee Hazlewood‘s song in 1965, a young James Hand would sing it while lying on his back and dreaming outside the tiny town of Tokio where he was born in 1952, “just three exits down the highway from where Willie Nelson was born.” Music really moves.

David and Leah continued:

In between gigs, he’d spent some time as a horse trainer, and later as a truck driver. 

“I liked the speed” he said, not exactly explaining, but letting it just sit out there for a moment. And then, as if to answer the question before it could be asked, he looked down and then up again. “I ain’t nobody’s role model. I’ve done a lot of bad things I ain’t proud of. But I’m glad I’ve got my music and people like you.” 

And by “you” it was as if he really meant you. As if that was what really mattered most.

It wasn’t uncommon for James Hand to make the rounds of the tables during a set break, offering a personal hello and a hearty thanks for coming to every person in the room. But he also wanted to know your name, where you were from. And I can hear him repeat it out loud in that drawl – like he could hardly believe it, himself – that people would come from far and wide to see him perform. 

But after all, a James Hand show was never a show. You came for the real deal: earnest and unpretentious – simple stories of heartbreak, hard times and a longing for the promise of heaven, straight from the heart of Texas. West. Texas. Just a bicycle ride away from a lonely cistern in Tokio.

Remembering James Hand

The Slim Hand Music Foundation has a remembrance including kind words from Dale Watson, Ags Connolly, Charley Crockett, Hank Williams III, and Jake Penrod. One of his best friends, Michael Weinberger shared that “He would often say to me, ‘always tell your loved ones that you love them. You never know when it will be the last time.'”

Charley Crockett told American Songwriter he “had no choice but to record his music,” releasing this record in 2021:

And thankfully Spotify has a few James Hand records:

Earnest, serious work. Authenticity without pretension. Simple stories. Connection. To love somebody and have them love you back. Family and God.

Hear, hear, good man.
Thank you.