RIP Duane Jarvis

Original Article by Peter Cooper/The Tennessean

Duane Jarvis, the amiable singer-songwriter who commanded stages with what Rosie Flores called a “Keith Richards flair and a honky-tonk heart,” died this morning in his Los Angeles apartment. He was 51, and he battled colon cancer for 16 months.

Mr. Jarvis, who recorded five critically acclaimed solo albums, lived in Nashville from 1994 until recently. He played guitar on recordings by Flores, Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Dwight Yoakam, Frank Black, Amy Rigby, Giant Sand, Peter Case and many others. He toured with artists including Prine, Black and The Divinyls, and his songs were featured in motion pictures The Horse Whisperer and The Rookie. He was an admirable conundrum: a rock ’n’ roller known for kindness and gentility, and a shy and soft-spoken man known for his electrifying stage presence.

 

“This is what we live for,” he sometimes told audiences at a concert’s outset, before striking a chord on his electric guitar and beginning to sing one of his self-penned stories.

Mr. Jarvis grew up on the west coast, in Oregon, Washington and California. His father — who often played country records around the house — was in the U.S. Coast Guard, and his mother was a nurse. He was fascinated by music from an early age. As a pre-teen, he lived briefly in Florida, where he saw blues legend BB King in concert. At show’s end, he moved to the edge of the stage, where King saw him and handed him a guitar pick that he kept throughout his life. As a teenager, Mr. Jarvis joined a blues band and then became a member of power pop group The Odds. 

“I was very quiet, and music was my big outlet which helped me communicate with people,” he told interviewer Shuichi Iwami. “I think I would have been kind of lost without it.” 

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Jarvis moved from Oregon to Los Angeles, and he became part of an L.A. country scene that included Flores, Yoakam, Williams, Buddy Miller, The Blasters and Jim Lauderdale. Mr. Jarvis wrote songs and worked in Long Tall Marvin, a band fronted by Lone Justice founder Marvin Etzioni, and his session work included playing guitar on Williams’ Sweet Old World album. He also played club gigs and made demo recordings, and the recordings caught the ear of former Replacements manager Peter Jesperson, who ran Medium Cool Records in Minnesota. Medium Cool released D.J.’s Front Porch in 1994, the same year that Mr. Jarvis moved to Nashville. 

“The careening ‘Good On Paper’ and the wistful ‘Back of Beyond’ sound like lost gems that were left off (the Rolling Stones’) Let It Bleed,” wrote Bob Cannon of Entertainment Weekly in a review ofD.J.’s Front Porch. “Jarvis seems to spit out these evocative country-soul tunes effortlessly, indicating that Front Porch is built to last.” 

For Mr. Jarvis, Nashville offered an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded, left-of-center talents such as Tim Carroll, Amy Rigby, Steve Allen, Joy Lynn White and Dave Coleman. Music City was also a place for him to settle into healthier routines. 

“Los Angeles was a fast track, and I was the one driving the car,” he told The Tennessean in 2000. “I’m the eternal optimist. I feel there’s a place for my songs in Nashville.” 

One of those songs, a co-write with Williams called “Still I Long For Your Kiss,” wound up in a movie soundtrack and was recorded by Williams on her breakthrough Car Wheels On A Gravel Roadalbum. 

He also placed songs on albums by Carroll, White, Greg Trooper, Pinmonkey, Peter Case and others. Mr. Jarvis’ music was a mash of rock, country, R&B and blues, distilled into what is now often called “Americana.” As a staff songwriter for Lieber and Stoller, he scored no major radio hits, but his songs and guitar work were key elements in a street-level movement that offered a creatively compelling alternative to the more sanitized sounds coming from Music Row. 

That movement was synthesized on a Bloodshot Records compilation called Nashville: The Other Side of the Alley, an album that featured Mr. Jarvis’ “Cocktail Napkin” alongside cuts from artists including Carroll, Paul Burch, Phil Lee and Jason & The Scorchers. 

In Nashville, Mr. Jarvis recorded solo albums Far From Perfect (1998), Combo Platter (1999),Certified Miracle (2001) and Delicious (2003). Each album found Mr. Jarvis combining hard-won knowledge with his signature soulful wit. 

“It takes a worried man to sing a worried song/ Had no idea I’d be singing for so long,” he wrote on “Spread My Soul Too Thin,” from 2003’s Delicious. On Certified Miracle’s “Broke Not Busted” Mr. Jarvis sang, “I might not be what you bargained for/ I’m a discount bin, not a money drawer.” 

In 2007, Mr. Jarvis — who by then had moved back to Los Angeles — was inducted into theOregon Music Hall of Fame. That same year, he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He endured multiple surgeries and round of chemotherapy, and in March of 2009 he entered hospice care

Music remained a constant through his final days. Friend Billy Block said Mr. Jarvis offered a bed-ridden but note-perfect version of the Ben E King hit “Stand By Me” last Thursday.

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