Remembering Jim “Mighty Big” Devine

The passing of Jim Devine has been a tremendously difficult loss for me, as we were brothers in harmony. We were songwriters and performers together. We were kindred spirits. These are the hardest friends to lose. I’m still processing his death, and will be doing so by continuing on our passion. I’ll be finishing the few songs we didn’t complete and will be recording many of the songs that remain unreleased.

On Aug. 16 there was a memorial for Jim at his beloved Gem Theatre in Wibaux, Montana. Below are the words I shared for him at the special gathering:

Jim Devine was many things: a husband, a father, a friend, a businessman, a brewer, a baseball stud, a rock star (I mean, really, when you think about what it means to be a rock star, Jim had it all. You don’t need fame and riches to live the rock star life…and Jim knew that more than anybody. Being a rock star is as much a mentality as anything…plus, of course, you need a band, and Jim definitely had that. Mighty Big Jim and the Tall Boys had a Mighty Big sound and blew minds and melted skulls in eastern Montana, the Black Hills, Sturgis and beyond. 

This is all true, and his bandmates can talk plenty more about Rock Star Jim. I’m here to talk about Jim as a songwriter. I had the good fortune of knowing Jim deeply in this regard, writing with him in countless sessions, sometimes cranking out 7 songs in a weekend. This was intensive, intentional work we took seriously. Of course, as you know Jim, even when you’re getting down to business, you still have a good time. I always looked forward to writing with Jim. We connected and we were honest with each other. We took constructive criticism well and were pleased with the finished products.

Performing Without You Here,” Miles City radio, 2012

It goes beyond this, though. When you’re writing with someone you get to know their true selves. I’m not the only one here who has written songs with Jim, nor am I the only songwriter. You know what I’m talking about. Songwriting, at its best, is truth, and Jim searched for that. So did I. We encouraged and pushed each other to do this. And, yeah, you write 2 or 3 like this, and then you want to take a break and throw something silly together. Jim enjoyed keeping it light, too, and when MBJ got going he loved writing more rockers, and they did exactly that – they rocked. He also loved inserting his sense of humor into songs, which isn’t always such an easy task. It can be hard to write funny, but Jim did it well, and a big part of that is a testament to his sincerity. He wasn’t trying to be someone else. His personality as a songwriter – just as it was in other aspects of his life – was effortlessly likable.

I’m proud of many of the songs Jim and I wrote together, but, more than that, I’m grateful. It’s easy to look back and say we could have had more sessions together. It’s easy to think, man, if only we’d done this trip or that trip. No…I look back now and am glad we were intentional about those times together. I’m glad we reached out to one another, put the miles on our cars and got down to it, taking time away from our busy lives to devote weekends here and there to the craft of song. 

At the premiere of “The Writers’ Ghost” in Billings, which featured our song, “Beaten Down By Love.”

Having this time together morphed our friendship to a brotherhood, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Those times will stay with me, and, as I continue to write songs, his influence will be ever present. Life might go on without Big Jim, but his presence will never leave.

Thanks, big brother, for following your heart and for reminding us of what’s important. Thanks for your emphasis on art and your conviction toward creating – and finishing – so many tunes. I’ll miss you.

Performing at a house concert in Glendive, Oct. 2021
Performing “The Man for You,” a song we co-wrote, at his memorial

About CharliesTrail

Originally from Indianapolis, Denison is a writer and musician who has picked up culture and influences from eccentrics all over the U.S. and overseas. He is a University of Kentucky Journalism School grad and an award-winning Montana journalist. Through the years he's had work published by "Chicken Soup From the Soul," DVD Netflix, Montana Quarterly Magazine, NUVO and Americana Highways. He has a solo album, "Whispers of the Lonely," and continues to chip away at his first novel. Currently Denison is the editor of The Boulder Monitor in Boulder, Montana, where he lives with his wife.
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