Big Jim and The Mean Old World is a blues-rock duo based in Syracuse, New York. Formed in 2016, the band is the brainchild of vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Jim Long, known by friends and fans as Big Jim. The band began with a simple vision: to bring back a sense of "danger" and novelty to the classic blues tradition.
Right off the bat, Jim had a well formed concept for what he wanted the band to be:
"The blues is the root of modern American music. You can hear it in modern rock, in the new soul movement, and even in hip-hop. I think the radical idea in singing the blues is that saying 'I love you' is easy. Saying 'I want to hold your hand' risks very little. That's pop music. But saying something more profound than that, like 'I don't love you anymore', or 'I want you out of my life' is really hard to do. The ending to that story isn't sunshine and rainbows, its the blues.
I fell in love with the blues accidentally. I listened to a lot of Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Hendrix, and Megadeth as a teenager. I'd pick up my guitar and, for whatever reason, what came out was always the blues. It probably had a lot to do with Hendrix, but even when I was trying to play grunge, the blues always came out. That was just my voice, my sound. I resisted it for a long time, until eventually I said, 'O.K., Fuck it, I'm a blues man.' But, the blues that I fell in love with, that style was still novel when the music was made. Leadbelly, Son House, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf... these guys all had a lot more in common with Biggie Smalls, Gangstarr, and Wu Tang Clan, than with your average suburban blues cover player of today. I'm not against a good traditional blues band, by any stretch. But I don't feel the same way from their music as I do from the old stuff. It's not menacing. It's not raw to me. I want to be a part of the innovation, not just a curator of great music that came before me. Robert Johnson would have been a rapper if he was born when I was. And if he had been born in the 90s, he might have been an EDM DJ. In his day, he was doing something new. Point is, I don't want to try to sound just like the greats, I need to do my own thing if I want my art to be great too...
...I wanted to bring back a certain level of menace and newness to the blues. You'll hear punk in my blues music. You'll hear hip-hop beats. I literally sat Wheatley down and made him listen to Nas for the first time so he could feel what I'm talking about. I wanted to make the blues move again, and groove again, not just be a platform for guitar backflips. I want the blues to also be a vehicle for expressing anger, expressing hurt, and done in a way that doesn't feel hokey to me."
Jim grew up in northern New Jersey, about an hour drive from New York City. He moved to Brooklyn, New York in the early 2000s, cut his teeth on the Lower East Side music scene, but took a detour from music making for almost 10 years. He eventually settled down in a little farm town outside of Syracuse, New York:
"I had been in a hard rock band called Sonic Boomfinger during my Brooklyn days. North Brooklyn was a scene for artists and musicians. It was already hipster-chic, but it was still in transition then. You could be broke and still afford to live there. We had a great scene, and people really supported each other. If your neighbor was an aspiring magician, you went to the magic show. If your co-worker did poetry slam, you'd check out their poetry, snap fingers and show support. It was a very nurturing place to be. From hanging out with bands like The Vitamen and The Giraffes, I learned a lot about how to put on a show, how to make a good song, how to network with people, and how to make a connection with an audience. People did double duty for different bands. Roz and Jesse from The Vitamen were our drummer and bass player for a bit. They produced our demo. We got a new drummer who then left and later joined the Giraffes as their bass player. It was all very incestuous, but it was cool. Some of my favorite albums were made by people I got to play with. And I got to play with people who really inspired me.
Eventually, it was time for me to leave the bohemian life, and I went to school, got married, got a job, and all of the things that I'm supposed to do. I missed music a lot, and I'd still write songs on my acoustic guitar at home. I might play at a party, or sit on the front porch and belt out a tune. Finally, around the end of 2015, I got the itch to get serious about producing music again. I wrote a song on an acoustic guitar, which I called 'Sold My Soul For A Suit', which pretty well summed up how I was feeling about my life, and I was like, this song really needs an electric guitar, and a band behind it. I asked around, and played with a few people. I talked to musicians around Syracuse about my vision. A lot of them didn't get what I was trying to do, and kept trying to steer me back into sounding like a bar cover band. But, I pressed on, and I found players who would be willing to support me, and help me see this thing through. Jim Wheatley has been on drums almost from the beginning. We practiced for a while; I wrote new songs. We've played bass with a few guys over the last couple years, but I eventually realized that I can get the bass sounds I wanted from a SuperOctave, and with just two of us, I have the ability to take a song wherever I want, live on stage. We started playing open mics around town and got a really great reception. Eventually, Scott Sterling at Dinosaur BBQ took us under his wing in a sense, gave us some gigs and some tips and things started moving in the right direction from there. So, that was Spring 2017 when we really started to make headway. Since then I've found that the more I put into this music, the more support we get back. It's immediate and clear, which feels really good."
Next for the band, Jim is producing the band's debut album, Songs of Revival, at his home studio, also known as Gloomy Sunday Studio. They expected to release singles from the album by the end of 2017, with a full release of the album in early 2018.