The state of Oklahoma and the wider music community has been rocked by the untimely death of Jim Paul Blair on February 11, 2020. He was 58 years of age and had recently been hospitalized with a lung infection.
Blair, an Okie from Muskogee, was literally born into the music business, the son of Ramona Reed, a Grand Ole Opry performer and Texas Playboys band member.
Jim Paul (JP) always had a story to share about his time on the road with Bob Wills. According to a Tulsa World article, previously written, Blair shared the following:
“I remember when I was real young and they were playing down at San Antonio,” he told the Tulsa World in 2003. “I was with my mother and, as I recall, we were in this new motel that had just been built on the edge of town. I was amazed at how big the toad-frogs were around the pool, and when I came back to our room, I had a wastebasket full of ‘em. Bob was in the room and, when he said, ‘Son, what have you got there?’ I reached in, pulled one out and stuck it in his face. “My mom just about came unglued, and so did Bob. As I recall, he didn’t stay in the room very long after that.”
Jim Paul Blair chose his own path to destiny and made many contributions to the musical world. A permanent sighting at Berline’s Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival, Jim Paul (named after his Dad, a veteran of the Korean War, Jim Blair), played a huge part in the performances as he annually put together the Friday night All Band Jam. Blair, a multi-talented performer, who could play anything with strings, had a huge interest in bluegrass music and western swing. He played bluegrass banjo with all of his heart, and his licks were so hot you would have thought you were near the equator.
Blair’s fist experience with bluegrass was while attending college at Oklahoma State University when he was playing in the Red Valley Barnstormers. Garth Brooks often made an appearance with this local group. It took ten years of hitting the pavement in the state of Oklahoma for the itch to travel southeast to Tennessee took over. In 1989, Jim Paul Blair became an original member of the Neverly Brothers & the Neverly Hillbillies. In 1998, he moved back to Oklahoma and could be seen playing and enjoying all styles of music.
Jim Paul was more than a musician. One could say he wore many hats, as he portrayed Hank Williams, Sr in the band, Hankerin’ for Hank, and also was given the lead role in Muskogee Little Theatre’s production of The Buddy Holly Story. He released a solo banjo project in 2003, Fresh Off The Strings.
In October of 2019, as I was walking through the campgrounds at OIBF, Jim Paul and his wife, Katey Sherrick Blair, stepped out from under their awning to visit with me. Jim was parked near his friends, Virgil Bonham and the Neverly Brothers. One thing for certain, JP was the life of the campgrounds as he took the stage and played the part that he so deserved.
Serving as the executive director of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame, Jim Paul Blair touched many lives in the music industry, and was considered a civic leader in Tulsa for all the charitable work he took on. In his day job, JP was the CEO and President of the Muskogee Medical Center Authority.
Fiddler Jana Jae took to social media this morning describing the loss as a “heartbreaker.”
It is with great heartfelt sympathy that we note another legend that has passed on, but Blair’s legacy and contributions to the music world will live forever.
R.I.P., Jim Paul Blair.