Jam Tales: Off Broadway
Updated: Apr 5, 2022
This is the true story of singer Jim LaFortes’ infamous jump from the Broadway Bridge into the Missouri River. It is the 3rd Jam Tale on Jim LaForte. Check out the other two:
A little background:
Jim LaForte was a singer who had one of the most authentic R&B voices of anyone I've heard. I met him in the late ‘70’s but began working steady with him in 1984 when he started the Saturday Afternoon Jam with Hammond B3 player, Rich VanSant.
A whole book could be written about him; he was one of those characters who was surrounded by chaos and drama, most of it his own doing.
Nevertheless, his love for and commitment to performing the music survived massive amounts of alcohol and only God knows what other substances, a grandiose gesture suicide attempt, prison stints, multiple rehab stays, psycho women, reasonably healthy women (he was the psycho!), illness and all manner of trials and tribulations.
If ever it could be said about anyone that, "He lived the Blues" it could be said about Jim LaForte. He passed in 2010. I’d been expecting it for years. I’ve never heard an official cause-of-death but when I saw him six days before he died he was yellow. So yeah, liver. He drank himself to death most likely.
The last time I saw him we were on stage together jamming away the afternoon, extreme jaundice notwithstanding.
The fact that he survived to see 62 is proof that God exists as far as I'm concerned. It's a freakin’ miracle.
At his memorial jam his ex-wife/widow told me he was a math genius; he had a Masters in Mathematics! I think his love of performing music plus the alcoholism sabotaged whatever potential his life could have had in that area. He chose to live the Blues.
I mentioned a grandiose gesture suicide attempt; that’s the subject of this blog. I have pieced together the story based on firsthand accounts and my own memories. I am open to correction if needed. The setting is Kansas City, Missouri.
One day as was his habit, Jim was driving drunk. He came very close to hitting a pedestrian and fled the scene, but not before someone noted his license plate number. An APB was issued.
The next day, a police cruiser spotted him and gave pursuit. The situation escalated into a high speed chase that ended on the southbound side of the Broadway Bridge over the Missouri River with Jim up on the rail threatening to jump.
Meanwhile, my good friend and Blues guitarist, Rick Hendricks, was crossing the bridge on the opposite side.
As he passed the scene he thought, “Goddam! That looks like LaForte!”
Rick happened to have a satellite phone in his car (this was before cell phones) and called Mama Ray,
“Hey, I think I just saw LaForte up on the Broadway Bridge!”
Mama: “No shit? That’s LaForte? It’s all over the news!”
Rick: “You think I should go back?”
Mama: “Hell yes! Tell them you know the guy, maybe you can help!”
So Rick turns around and checks in.
He’s talking to the officer in charge and says,
“Look, I know this guy, we’ve been friends since grade school. He’s got alcohol problems, drug problems, women problems, you name it. Is there anything I can do? You want me to talk to him?"
The officer says, “Nah, he’s been up there for an hour. Statistically, if they don’t jump in the first 20 minutes, they're not gonna jump.”
Three hours later - he jumped.
That was plenty of time for all the news crews to be there, and there were boats and divers in the water below waiting for him.
From the bridge to the surface of the river was 80 feet.
He lived. He was black and blue from the waist down, cracked his spine in 3 places and hit the riverbed so hard the ER docs were digging gravel out of his ass.
In spite of all that, he was swimming for shore when the divers picked him up! He kept saying a woman’s name, over and over.
The next Saturday at the Harling’s Jam everybody was like, “Dude! Did you hear about LaForte?!?”
I said, “One of these days he’s gonna really screw up and actually kill himself!”
I had an idea for a Blues tune called, “Holdin’ Down LaForte.”
After a couple of weeks in the hospital he went straight to prison for several years.
Upon his release, he showed up at the Saturday Afternoon Jam at Harling’s sporting a new prison tattoo of a cross on his forearm. He walks up to me and the first thing he says to me is,
“Jay, I can’t pray for a half-hour, but I can pray every half-hour!”
I didn’t know what to say. I mean, it wasn’t a question, it was a statement, but it felt like he was looking for a response. I wanted to encourage him, so I replied,
“Well Jim, then pray every half-hour. Whatever it takes.”
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