Song Premiere: Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band “Jim 3:16”

October 31, 2014

On January 27, 2015 Yep Roc will release the collaborative debut of Jim White and The Packway Handle Band. The album, which is titled Take It Like A Man, is credited to Jim White vs. The Packway Handle Band. The Athens-based musicians first came together when White called in The Packway Handle Band when he produced The Skipperdees’ 2013 album, Some Bright Mourning. White describes Take It Like A Man as “a synthesis between their zany bluegrass sound and my long-suffering, implosive-depressive novelist view of the south.” White adds that it fulfills his “conniving goal to become a happy bluegrass man.”Today we premiere “Jim 3:16” from the forthcoming record. White provides extensive commentary below the clip.

I’m not sure if it was a practical joke or just a dumb mistake, but right after I released my second record the Calgary Folk Festival booked me to appear as a special guest in their Sunday Morning Gospel sing. This was miscasting at it’s worst, or best depending on how you take your tea. From the standpoint of organized Christianity I’m persona non grata—worse than backslidden, more like an apostate on the slippery slope toward true heresy. But I guess since my debut record name dropped Jesus a whole bunch they assumed I’d be amenable to the proposition.

I did a little digging and discovered I’d be joined by several hard core bluegrass Christian groups in the round robin event. Hmmm. Okay. The one saving grace for me was that they’d also invited rockabilly legend Sleepy Labeef to join in as well. Compared to Sleepy I was a choir boy. For the uninitiated, Sleepy LaBeef is a legendary whisky-drinking, hell-raising, womanizing ne’er-do-well barfly musician, and while I’d done my fair share of wrongs, they paled in comparison to Sleepy’s.

The day of the event the bluegrass bands arrived looking true to form—white southerners all: banjo player in a trucker cap wielding his instrument like a deer rifle, prim, robust upright bass player (female) in a modest gown, bearing a pious upright, slightly pained expression on her face as she warmed up, and the de rigueur, precisely configured flat picker in spotless LL Bean attire. They nodded warily at me—I guess my reputation preceded me. Then came Sleepy, all six foot six, three hundred pounds of him. He was loud and conspicuous and it was like being joined by a guardian grizzly bear. He plopped down in the chair next to me, winked wryly and off we went.

The first band played a truly moving bluegrass version of That Old Rugged Cross, a song we often sang in my Pentecostal church back home when I was a boy. The second band was not to be outdone—they jumped in with What A Friend We Have In Jesus which I also knew well. Then it was my turn so I launched into a non traditional praise song I wrote called God Was Drunk When He Made Me. I was watching the faces of the crowd as I sang—maybe a thousand or more good Canadian souls—and was surprised when the began to smile and tap their feet. When I hit the line, “God was drunk when he made me/but that’s okay, ’cause I forgive him” and everyone cheered, I remember thinking, “We need more Canadians in the world.”

At the end of the song there was a big round of applause. I turned to head back to my chair and noticed my fellow performers were not as enthusiastic as the crowd, in fact over at the bluegrass area a form fundamentalist Christian jihad looked like it might be brewing. I glanced over to Sleepy for support. He studied me with a puzzled look on his face, leaned forward, then in full grizzly bear baritone muttered ominously in my ear, “You will burn in Hell for that song, boy.”

He then proceeded to the microphone where he informed the crowd that he had recently renounced his dreadfully sinful past, turned from his wicked ways and accepted Jesus Christ as his personal lord and savior. He sang a lovely old hymn, then, heading back to his chair, growled menacingly in my ear, “Sing another song like that, boy, and you and me will have some business to attend to.” By that I’m fairly certain he meant that he would kick my ass in the name of Jesus if I did not come around. Happens all the time down South.

I wanted so bad to sing a song that represented how I felt at that moment, but when my next turn came, I decided to err on the side of caution, so I sang a song I wrote about a guy who tries to cut a deal with the Jesus, asking God to tell a little white lie to a woman he’s in love with but doesn’t deserve because he’s such an asshole. The song went over well and really seemed to touch Sleepy. He could tell I’d once been a good Christian and so with a converts zeal, right there on damn stage as the bluegrass bands intoned their amazing gospel harmonies, Sleepy began to try to win me back to Jesus. It was all very cinematic.

Thankfully it was a short set and I made it through the event without getting either pummeled or saved and I fled that stage as if afire. Over the course of the next few days I found myself frequently ducking Sleepy whenever he’d come ambling down this path or that. He’d showed up at another of my performances, apparently deciding to take me on as a salvation project and that of course is no fun. Thanks, but no thanks.

When I got back home to Pensacola it occurred to me that I needed to be more prepared for situations like this, so I decided to document the experience and attempt to explain in musical form why I didn’t put much stock in the whole proposition of organized religion. The result of that effort is Jim 3:16, which appears on this new record, Take It Like A Man. I found some fellow heretic bluegrass players to join me on it.

Good luck out there in the big crazy world. And if you see Sleepy, send him my best regards and tell him I’m still happily unsaved.