Orlando musician and scene fixture Jim O'Rourke passed away this week, leaving friends, fans and loved ones in the local music community and beyond shocked and saddened.
“In terms of music, it doesn’t get any more Orlando than Jim. He was already an esteemed veteran when I was but a freshman on the scene," said Orlando Weekly music columnist Bao Le-Huu. "He kept on creating over the decades, right up until the end. He was always there. And now the Orlando music family has a big, indelible hole in its soul.”
Going back to the 1970s — as part of a young, loud and snotty punk project dubbed the Mess — Jim O'Rourke was seemingly never far from an Orlando stage. Whether playing solo, with groups like Rainy Day or hosting his now-legendary open mics at the Peacock Room and Bodhisattva Social Club, O'Rourke was constantly treading the boards and performing at dives large and small all over the City Beautiful. "Jim O'Rourke was the first person to play live music at Will's," remembered Will's Pub owner Will Walker. "He was integral in pushing me into adding music."
After the Mess migrated northward for a few years to try their luck, O'Rourke returned home to Orlando in the late 1980s. It was then he started the first of his open-mic affairs at Yab Yum, at the same time performing solo and with a succession of bands like the Shrubs, the Mercy Chain, the Shut-Ins, the Quiet Ones, the Rugs and the Filthy Little Lies. (Are we missing some? We bet so.)
Photo by Jim Leatherman
One man who had been faithfully watching — and documenting — O'Rourke performances through the decades was local photographer and Orlando Weekly contributor Jim Leatherman. Though Leatherman was still reeling from the news this week, he did his best to sum up the outsize influence O'Rourke had on him and the local music scene.
"He was a staple, and maybe kind of a father figure of the Orlando music scene. A tireless supporter of others art and music too. One of the good guys, for sure. I was friends with him for over 27 years. A great songwriter and storyteller," recalled Leatherman. "I saw him so many times over the years, in every venue imaginable — house parties, restaurants, bowling alleys, little bars, smoky clubs to theater-size stages. The open mic nights that he hosted at the Peacock Room, those were extra special. He had a gift for taking a cover song and truly putting his unique style to it, making it his own. I am really going to miss my friend."
O'Rourke's bandmate in latter-day psychedelia quartet Rainy Day — "lots of garage, a little psych and some bright power-pop hooks in there, but it’s all rock & roll, babe," said Bao Le-Huu of the beat combo back in 2019 — and comic artist Dave Mitchell shared memories about his good friend and musical mentor.
"Being in a band with Jim was everything you'd grown up imagining it would be like. Egos in check, all for one and one for all. He hated Rainy Day being referred to as 'Jim O'Rourke and ...' even when it would have pulled more people to a gig. He was (and I still have problems with Jim and the past tense) so far beyond me musically in every sense, but all four of us were equal partners," recalled Mitchell. "He always encouraged me to write some material, despite my having no leaning towards that at all. I was happy getting to do the occasional lead vocal. Getting to be bandmates with him the last half-decade plus was a blessing and a gift I can only repay by trying to be as decent a man as Jim was."
Photo by Jim Leatherman
If you want to delve into O'Rourke's considerable body of work, there is a wealth of work up on his Reverbnation page. Some YouTube digging can also turn up more than a few performances. (Check out a couple below.) And this 2001 OrlandoWeekly feature by Billy Manes does a wonderful job of capturing O'Rourke in full flight.
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