Vintage Vibes: Me and Jim plays familiar songs on classic guitars

Connye Griffin
newsroom@lakesunonline.com
Frank and Jim have performed more than 1,100 gigs together in 11 years.

Me is Frank Phelps. Jim is Jim Biggs. Both play vintage Gibson guitars, and both play songs from a vintage era, the 1960s and 1970s, when melodies waxed smooth and flowed from musician down to dance floors and up to full hearts.

On a warm late summer day as the Shootout wound down, Me and Jim revived those musical moves at Lake Burger. A couple swayed to the Bossa Nova beat of “The Girl from Ipanema” performed at “conversational volume.” Patrons heard and congratulated Me and Jim between songs, each praising the melodies so familiar, rendered anew on those classic guitars.  

Frank’s favorite vintage guitar is a 1973 Les Paul Gibson in patent-leather black. He bought it new and still thinks it’s one of the finer instruments he’s ever owned. On it, he plays chords harmonizing with the melody and taps a foot showing he still loves the rhythms of the day.

Frank not only plays guitar, he also plays the mandolin, just two stringed instruments he began learning to master at the age of 7. Born into a family band in which Mom, Dad, brothers, and sisters played, it was natural that Frank follow them into music.

In contrast, Jim was a late-starter. He didn’t pick up a guitar until age 14. Still, on that Shootout day in August, Jim was playing a candy-apple red Gibson guitar, his fingers moving deftly up and down the neck to bring the melody to life.

Jim makes the guitar sing the notes a vocalist might, but neither Jim nor Frank claims to be a singer. Their duo is strictly instrumental, but oh, how their music sings even though neither man reads musical notes. They play by ear and chords, and it shows. They are keen listeners, a gift that elevates tunes from days gone by into classics.

Jim’s favorite tune, when pressed to choose just one, is “Stormy” made famous by the Classics IV. Jim’s art makes the melody as full of feeling as the lyrics sung by Dennis Yost in 1968. Jim’s guitar wafts like the song’s “warm summer breeze.”

Frank couldn’t settle on just one favorite, but his favorites include an instrumental version of “Baby I’m-A Want You” by Bread, a soft rock tune first heard with the falsetto sounds of David Gates. Heard as an instrumental reverberating from the black Les Paul Gibson, the melody is warm and mellow.

Jim is one man responsible for gas pumps at service stations and convenience stores. His day job was installing them. Frank was a retail grocer, both manager and owner. He is also a crafter with an Etsy business selling CypherWheels, ancient papers, and treasure maps to solve the enigmas every life presents.

Now in retirement, both men have fallen into their first love, music. They’ve been playing together for 11 years. Last year, they celebrated their 1,000th performance. Since then, they have exceeded 1,100, still playing, still going, still making beautifully smooth sounds.

More info:

Me and Jim on Facebook