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Jim Salmon (a.k.a. Fish) - Percussionist - Jestick Inventor


A Fish in Tune

An interview article by Rosemary Phillips, April, 2012

Jim Salmon - Percussionist

Jim Salmon (a.k.a. Fish)

Introducing Jim Salmon
Mr. Percussion Extraordinaire
Video - playing a bridge with Norman Foote
Video - percussion with Jim Foster
The importance of LIVE music
Video - playing Jestick with Norman Foote
Jim Salmon - Jestick inventor
Links to Jim's web site, and more information

Introducing Jim Salmon
Jim Salmon (a.k.a. Fish) is one of the most unique and down to earth humans I have ever met. He is also a percussionist extraordinaire, stage-lighting and stage-manager wiz, inventor of the Jestick and other incredible percussive instruments – and a friend.

I first met Fish in 1992. I was producing an experiment – A Healing Concert – featuring local and Vancouver talent at the Tidemark Theatre in Campbell River. I was a real greenhorn when it came to putting a show together, but Fish helped me through with his professionalism, his camaraderie, his spirit and his heart. Yes, heart - the concert was a healing journey for all who participated, and for many in the audience. During the concert Fish shared with the audience his story about how healing for him came through his percussion. He then did his now famous “Jestick Dance”.

In 1999 Fish participated in another experimental concert I produced, “Over the rainbow”, at the new Port Theatre in Nanaimo. Before the concert the Nanaimo harbour was blessed with a double rainbow, and Fish said later, “As I got on the ferry to go back to Vancouver the next morning there was another huge rainbow!” What a sign!

Over the years I’ve bumped into Fish in a theatre somewhere, stage managing, or performing with Valdy. Now and then we get in touch by phone and catch up on life. More recently he popped a copy of his latest from Quest Records, Robbie Steininger’s ‘Stonecutter’s Gear’. His accompanying note says, “The enclosed CD is one of the finest recordings I have been part of to date.”

Mr. Percussion Extraordinaire
Jim Salmon is percussion. He moves, talks, plays percussion. His creative genius with sound has led him around the world performing with incredible musicians, or teaching them to use his most popular invention, the Jestick, which could be described as looking like a tambourine run over by a bus (meaning it’s long and narrow), with a clave. As a recording studio percussionist for just about 40 years he has played congas, timbales, shakers, and a myriad of old, new, traditional and some not so traditional noisemaking devices. “You know,” he once said, “I’ve found that a water bottle from a cooler filled with ping-pong balls makes an awesome sound.” Walls and railings and anything around him can become a percussive instrument.

Fish playing a bridge with Norman Foote


“Oddly I have always been into percussion, definitely after the school system,” said Jim when he was finally cornered for an interview. “I was kicked out of music for not remembering to bring my plastic recorder. I didn’t understand why they were so uptight. I was dyslexic. After school I became a punker working at the pulp mill. Then I got my first bongos from a local furniture store.”

That very year Jim left Campbell River, spent five years as a recording musician in Vancouver, then in 1978 headed to California. “I had a lucky break as a punker. I got to play with great people, early, and got experience as a lighting director with Frank Zappa and Cheek and Chong. I guess, too, I was one of the few percussionists in Vancouver at that time. Dale Jacobs of the Wade Brothers, the local funk masters, and a plethora of artists took me into the studio for recording sessions. And I did a lot of work for the Ad House in Vancouver doing MacDonalds, Pontiac and others. I didn’t write the jingles, just did the percussion.”

The list of musicians and groups he’s been associated with would fill a Who’s Who in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since the 70’s, from the Rolling Stones to the Doobie Brothers, Beach Boys, and the Grammy Award band Toto and Jeff Porcaro. This guy’s been around. Even now, as he turns 60 (“Hard to believe I made it to here,” he says.) Jim is creating, picking up the rhythm here and there, often seen with Jim Foster, Norman Foote, and trekking across Canada with our national troubadour, Valdy, and working at keeping music LIVE!

Fish plays percussion with Jim Foster

The importance of LIVE music
While he’s still doing studio work for recordings, Jim is very concerned about where live percussion is going. “I still get to do that - experience the magic of a live performance, like the kids with Norm, or adults with Valdy. It’s priceless. People get it – they get the excitement of the togetherness with the artist. As a musician I get to play; everything else like ego, timing, goes away. You keep playing, insinuate joy, and people are still there for you. You’ve won them over.”

In live performances there is spontaneity. “I’ve had some great comedy, like Norm breaking a string, leaving the stage and saying ‘Fish will do some percussion!’. That’s the time to deliver and get the message out!”

And Jim delivers. “From time to time I’ve been told I go blind when I play, I’m in the zone, disappearing into the tune. In one show I honestly was in the middle of a great tune, in a winter town, when basic theatre 101 left my brain. I just stood there, zoned out. It’s bizarre how close you can be to something you are doing.”

In this day of precision technology, of electronic percussion in keyboards, of IPods, iTunes, cell phones, YouTube, there are many who don’t understand the importance of the live delivery of music. “People are not being educated into it – like hearing a brand new string on a Larrivée Presentation guitar. Take the Filberg Festival in Courtenay – that’s wholesome acoustic sound.”

And what of kids? “This generation has never known life without the internet. There’s something about seeing the eyeballs of kids in Norman’s shows. From Hawaii to Chicago to the East Coast of Canada, kids are the same everywhere – they love percussion.” So what is Jim doing about it? “I try as much as I can to be a mentor. I have two nephews (10 and 14) who love it when I come over.” And yes, Jim inspires kids. “I’m still getting fan mail from kids from right across Canada.” And about grown-ups? “I get letters and cards from people who are still using real percussion instruments.”

Fish plays Jestick with Norman Foote, children's entertainer

Jim Salmon - Jestick inventor
It was in 1975 that Jim built the first Jestick for studio work, and then began producing them, building them himself. “When I went to San Francisco in 1978 everybody said they wanted one – the Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart and the “Apocalypse Now” soundtrack recording, Santana, Jim Keltner. That’s when I started looking for manufacturers like Calato, in Niagara Falls, New York, to help. There are some very interesting knock-offs around the world trying to get around the patent.”

Jim Salmon - Percussionist

Jim Salmon (a.k.a. Fish)

Jim has a lot to say about inferior quality products while his Jestick with clave is a work of art – Made in Canada! And of course Jim is always inventing. From the Jestick he ventured into smaller percussion instruments for kids, like the Tunafish and the Fish’n Chips.

But most important to Jim, is performing, LIVE. “I come rehearsed,” he added. “I’ve earned the title of well-rehearsed human.” Meanwhile he is back in the studio with Norman Foote continuing a recording. Right now Jim says, “My embodiment is gratitude.”

And about ‘Stonecutter’s Gears’? A jewel. Jim’s right in there. Way to go Fish! So glad to know you - Human!

Links to more information
For more information about Jim Salmon visit the Jestick website where there are links to videos, instructions and lots of photos.
Visit the articles on this web site about Valdy and Norman Foote

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