Remembering: James Hand

photo by Martin do Nascimento

By Matt Muñoz, Cactus Cafe Manager

Country music singer James “Slim” Hand passed away Monday, June 8, at his home in Tokio, TX. He was 68 years old.

Hand was born in Waco, TX where he started playing music as a teen. On his way to becoming a musician, he held various jobs, including horse wrangler and truck driver. In the 1990’s, Hand became a fixture in the Austin club scene, performing at Babes, The Continental Club, and the Broken Spoke. His recording career did not begin until the age of 47, though, with his 1999 album release Shadows Where the Magic Was. He continued to play shows around the country and more albums followed, including two on Rounder Records, The Truth Will Set You Free (2006) and Shadow on the Ground (2009).

“I met James at Southwest Folk Alliance in Austin about three weeks after I moved to town He was wearing a white suit and was everything I was looking for, and we clicked and had a great conversation. He wanted to hire me on the spot, ” recounted local musician and former Carper Family member Beth Chrisman.

James Hand performing at ABGB  in 2017. Photo by Martin do Nascimento

Eventually, Beth did check out James around town and was brought into a recording session by Cindy Cashdollar on his 2012 release Mighty Lonesome Man. Chrisman played with Hand for five years following the recording session.
Speedy Sparks began working with Hand in 2006. “I’m still in a state of shock. We were supposed to play the new Sagebrush last weekend. He was a funny guy and constantly full of jokes. I’m going to miss his commanding knowledge of the music. There are lots of people who are the real deal but he also had that something special that made people pay attention. We played a country music festival in the south of France and we went on at dusk and started with a Hank Williams song…I’ve never heard a roar like that in my life.”

Corey Baum plays in the Austin group Croy & The Boys, one of many local bands influenced by Hand. I first heard his music while on tour with Leo Rondeau and became obsessed with his songs “Midnight Run” and “Just My Heart”. My friends surprised me for my bachelor party and had him play a private show for us at Dry Creek Cafe. He sang from a place that was purely raw and human.”

Although his music is often compared to greats like Lefty Frizell and Hank Williams, Beth Chrisman wants people to remember that his originals “came from a place of heartbreaking honesty. I would catch him on stage in tears during his own songs because he lived that life.”

With the passing of James “Slim” Hand, the Austin music community loses a rare truth teller and songwriter who moved me to tears one minute and made me want to dance the next – a true entertainer in the purest sense.

A tribute concert is planned for July 7, 2020, with details to come.

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