Northwest B.C. musician Jim Ljungh, 58, has performed around the region in places like Terrace, Smithers, Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii.
Soon, he’ll be taking his talents to Mexico.
Two years ago, he met a fellow Canadian performing at an Irish pub in Puerto Vallarta. He told Ljungh that the owner paid airfare and for the performance.
Ljungh met the pub owner, and after submitting some video of himself playing and a little persistence, he got the gig.
“I think they would dig what I do because I have played in Mexico, just on the beach, or on the deck of our condo or whatever, and people really liked it,” Ljungh said.
“So I think it’ll be a success. It’ll be unnerving for the first couple tunes for sure.”
The date of the show is tentatively scheduled for February 2022, barring any setbacks related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Up to this point, he has told people in his inner circle only.
“I’ve been keeping it under my hat a bit, well, my sombrero, I should say.”
Despite that, Ljungh already has a troupe of friends and fans thinking about taking a holiday so they can be a part of his first international show. Long before Ljungh was a solo act booking gigs in foreign countries, he was a young drummer, originally from Prince Rupert. He moved to Terrace with his musically inclined family around the age of four so his father could work at the brand new CFTK radio station.
Both his parents were skilled musicians, as was his sister, who played the piano. Ljungh’s mother was Toronto Conservatory-trained, and his father was an improvisational jazz guitarist.
“You had one [parent] saying, ‘learn your theory’ and the other one’s like, ‘get over here, let’s wing it, follow me,’ so it was pretty cool.”
The family band needed a drummer, so Ljungh started keeping a beat on cardboard boxes. He graduated to a cheap kit purchased second-hand from neighbours. Then in 1975, when he was 13, his parents spent around a month-and-a-half’s wages on a Rogers Londoner 5 drum kit.
Ljungh said that Neil Peart was his hero growing up, and he would learn Rush albums as they came out.
“I can play a lot of Rush pretty well bang-on, and that’s an achievement because that’s hard stuff to play,” he said.
“I was like, basically like a gamer but who learned Rush albums, not video games. You know how these gamers just keep playing the game over and over and over until they get every pattern down … that’s what I did with Rush albums. I would just sit there and play them until I got them down pretty darn good.”
That practice helped when he joined a band called Tempest, touring with an advanced setlist that included songs from artists like Rush and Deep Purple.
“We would surprise people because we had a good guitar player, a good keyboard player that could play all this stuff too,” Ljungh said.
“We actually replaced Jerry Doucette at the University of Calgary once because he couldn’t make the show. So that was kind of our pinnacle of success, as far as the band went. We actually also got to open for legendary Motown artists Rare Earth for two weeks at the Ranchman’s in Calgary.”
Ljungh returned to the northwest in 1983 and took electronics at what was then Northwest Community College. He stopped playing drums for years because he thought there was nobody in the area that was a high enough calibre musician to form a successful band.
“At the time, I just kind of came back a little bit swollen-headed. Then I regretted not playing with anyone for like 10 years, really regretted it.”
He then moved to Prince Rupert and played with his sister in a band. Ljungh started teaching himself to play the guitar and went to live on Haida Gwaii. It was the perfect place to hone his skills on the guitar and gain enough confidence to perform it in front of a live audience.
“The people there are so supportive, they don’t get a lot of artists coming around to play, so if you can play a little bit, they’re going to support you and come to shows.”
By the time Ljungh returned to Terrace he was confident enough to perform at the farmers market and was the Skeena Bar’s opening act. He would go on to play at Sherwood Mountain Brewhouse and other events, making memories along the way.
“I’ve done the R.E.M. Lee [Theatre] when they had the Syrian refugees fundraiser and evening there … I did Imagine, and I had the whole place with their phones going back and forth in the air.”
“I was almost had to stop because it was just overwhelming. It was really a cool coming together of many different cultures and people, and yeah, it was pretty neat.”
When COVID-19 struck, it devastated the live music industry around the world, but Ljungh was fortunate because his switch to guitar meant that he was able to perform solo without the need for a band. He played at small birthday parties and outdoor gatherings.
Now he’s back entertaining people in pubs around the northwest and preparing for his stint in Mexico.
“I just gotta get as many gigs as I can just to keep on my toes because the wake-up call in Mexico is going to be that they expect me to do five gigs in a week,” Ljungh said.
“I’ve played Terrace so many times … I think It’ll be cool to just go to a whole new place, wipe the slate clean, start over kind of thing and hope for the best.”