Sound & Vision: New Music from the Singer/Songwriter Who Mysteriously Disappeared in 1975

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

Jim Sullivan was a struggling LA singer/songwriter in the '60s and '70s. In 1975, he left for Nashville to see if he could catch a break there. But on the way, he disappeared in the New Mexico desert and was never seen again. All that was left was his car and in it, his guitar, clothes, and records. Those records didn’t really go anywhere. That’s until Light in the Attic Records reissued Sullivan’s 1969 record called U.F.O. in 2010. On October 25, they released an album of an unheard acoustic session, and are re-releasing Jim Sullivan’s 1972 self-titled album.

Matt Sullivan (no relation) is founder of Light in the Attic Records. He’s been trying to figure out the mystery of Jim Sullivan for nearly a decade now. He even produced a short documentary about it:

Matt Sullivan says before Jim Sullivan’s disappearance he was trying to make it as a musician in Los Angeles. His wife worked at Capital Records.

"She tried to get him on the label and I think they said that there were other artists who sounded kind of similar,” Sullivan says.

Sullivan did end up getting some traction with other record labels. The former Playboy record label picked up Sullivan’s second record. One of Sullivan’s single was on RCA Records.

"He had these moments that seem like, as each kind of year passed that maybe this was going to be the big break. And, it, of course, wasn't. But as we all know, it's really hard to make it in the music business,” Sullivan says.

The Wrecking Crew played on Sullivan’s first record — a group that had also backed up The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, The Monkees, and more. That first record was called U.F.O. Copies of that record were found in Sullivan’s car after he disappeared. One of the songs on U.F.O was about being abducted by a U.F.O. in the desert, with the lyrics:

Shakin like a leaf on the desert heat,
his daddy's got a bog that's hard to beat
Bought me a ticket got a front row seat.
I'm checkin out the show with a glassy eye.
Looking at the sun dancing through the sky.
Did he come by UFO?

Then conspiracies about Sullivan being taken away by a U.F.O. or aliens began. There are also theories that he was killed by a family of mobsters.

“[His car] was found next to this family who supposedly had mob ties,” Sullivan says.

Some think there was foul play by law enforcement because he did get pulled over by police in New Mexico before he disappeared. There’s also a conspiracy related to his appearance in the film, Easy Rider.

“Jim has a small part in that film in the New Mexico kind of hippie commune scene. And weirdly, how that film goes is, hippies end up in small town America and bad things happen and [they] get murdered. There's that theory that was his disappearance or what happened, some type of foreshadowing of that?” Sullivan says.

Matt Sullivan says he doesn’t know if Jim Sullivan would have made it big in music if he just kept at it, or made it to Nashville.

“Maybe he would have ended up becoming a teacher, an insurance salesman. Who knows? And then someone like us shows up on his doorstep decades later and wants to reissue his record, but he would be alive. I would love to have met the guy."

The latest reissues of Jim Sullivan’s music can be found at Light in the Attic Records. They are located in KEXP’s gathering space.

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