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Jim Chappell’s time in Nashville, 1979 to 1984:
Jim called me one day from his home in Santa Barbara. He introduced himself as a former student in a lyric writing class with Buddy Kaye at UCLA. Buddy’s songs have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Peggy Lee, Barry Manilow, among others. I had already taken that class before him when I lived in Santa Monica in 1978. Buddy suggested to Jim that he should consider moving to Nashville where there might be a market for his songwriting. He told Jim that one of his former students was a “nice guy who can show you around Nashville.” I invited Jim to stay at my place until he could get settled and find a place to live. I had a one bedroom apartment, but he could sleep on the sofa if he wanted.
Jim had to buy a car to make the trip from Santa Barbara to Michigan, where his parents lived, and then to Nashville. He bought a rusting Opel Cadet for $250. He looked into having it painted and learned that painting it would cost more then what he paid for the car.
Jim was about 23 years old when he set out on his journey. His car broke down four times, the first time in Los Angeles, not far from where he started. When he got to Nashville, he parked it in the alley behind my apartment where it remained until he could pay someone to tow it away. He proceeded to get around Nashville on the MTA bus system, mostly making the trip from my apartment near Centennial Park to the Spaghetti Factory downtown where he waited tables.
Jim was is not tall, and he fit well on my living room sofa. He ate only healthy foods, and in small quantities compared to how I ate, and he took up very little space in my refrigerator. His only instrument at the time was his acoustic guitar. He was resourceful in finding pianos for practicing and composing his melodies. One such place was the lobby of a women’s dormitory nearby at Vanderbilt. He was so talented that students must have thought he was being paid by someone to play there. He also bartered with a dance studio near Bishop’s restaurant, which is now Tin Angel, playing for dance classes in exchange for time to practice. Eventually, he moved into a house with someone who was a staff writer at Elektra Asylum, which was bought later by Warner.
A side note: I would sometimes co-write lyrics to Jim’s melodies, one of which was Jim’s emerging story of trying to find his place here. He told me after writing the melody that it was inspired by his loneliness. He knew how to get around Nashville, but couldn’t find a relationship. He suggested the idea of “how can I call in love?” I proposed changing it to “Where Can I Fall in Love?” We signed a contract with Elektra, and no one ever recorded it. After Jim moved back to California, Eddie Arnold’s producer, Noro Wilson, called me one day about the song. He wanted Eddie to record it. He handed Eddie the phone, and the country music icon told me he liked the song and wanted to record it for a new album. Jim might not know all the details about how I blew that opportunity for us.
Just before Jim returned to California to pursue a different route for his music career, he told me he had decided that pitching songs in Nashville was not what he was meant to do. He was always compelled to follow his heart. He returned to California, studying, practicing, and letting his creations flow from the depths of his soul. Thank God for that!
After establishing himself as a popular new age piano soloist, Robert De Niro’s manager called him one day, introducing herself as the actor’s manager. Jim’s first reaction was, “Yeah, and I’m Santa Claus.” She pleaded with him not to hang up, explaining that she was serious. Her boss wanted her to find him. He was a fan and wanted Jim to play for his birthday. Jim did, and in the process, he got to meet many actors he had only seen on the screen.
Jim has played to audiences in other countries and all over the U.S. He has had songs in movies and as background in television shows. I called him once when I heard one of his songs playing in the background at the beginning of Barbara Walters’ interview with Julia Roberts on an ABC magazine program. Jim is retuning to play in Nashville since performing at the opening of the Bellevue Mall.