Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My friend Jimmy Valdez

Jimmy Valdez was one of my oldest friends. We met half-a-century ago. I was a disk jockey at KRAE. Jimmy had a band. I was into booking bands at venues around the region. Jimmy invited me to audition his group.

We met for the first time in a garage on the eastside of Cheyenne the summer of 1966. His band practiced there. “Jimmy Valdez and the Blue’s Revolution.” Jimmy was their lead guitar player. Jay Van Jackson played drums, Bobby Giles base guitar. They were “groovy.”

I wasn’t the best manager but we did get a few gigs. It was great fun. Jimmy and I spent those days developing a lifetime friendship. The band recorded a 45 RPM record in an old Ridge Road warehouse. One side was a remake of the classic “Daddy’s Home.” Jimmy wrote the other. “I Want You So Bad.” We received one royalty check for something like eight bucks.

We celebrated at the old “Big Boy” drive-in. We each had a coke. All I had was a twenty-dollar bill. I handed it to the curb hop. Jimmy leaned over and told her “to keep the change.” She did. We laughed, Jimmy harder than me.

Jimmy owned a 1965 Chevy Impala. Purple. Black vinyl top. Bucket seats. Chrome wheels. Beautiful, or as we called it in the ‘60s, “Boss.” Neither of us made much money in those days. There were occasional months when Jimmy couldn’t make the car payment and I could. So I got to drive it sometimes.

One day I walked to the parking lot and found the Impala had a flat tire. I’d never changed a flat. Surely it was easy. I retrieved the jack and lug wrench. I jacked up the back end near the flat tire. Suddenly the rear panel gave way. It looked like an accordion. I had placed the jack under the panel rather than where there was some steel reinforcement. I never saw Jimmy again that he didn’t tell that story with a laugh.

KRAE had a Sunday afternoon Spanish music program. The time came when the station needed a new host. Tom Bauman, the general manger, asked me if I knew someone. I did. Jimmy Valdez. He was hired before we knew he didn’t know a lot of Spanish. Never mind. He knew music and had a charismatic radio personality.

With a little help from his friends, gradually Jimmy added to his Spanish vocabulary. The show was a hit. In one form or another, at one station or another, Jimmy continued to entertain the community with his “Jimmy Valdez and the All-American Spanish Hour” for the remainder of his days.

One afternoon over lunch, Jimmy said he’d decided to go into politics. He was going to run for the city council. I tried to talk him into running for the legislature instead. “City councilmen,” I argued, “are swamped with calls about barking dogs and trash pickup.” But Jimmy was committed to the community and wanted to be involved in problem-solving at the local level.

No surprise. He was elected. Who didn’t love Jimmy? Nor was I surprised at his success in the job.

Of all that Jimmy loved about life, nothing exceeded his family. His devotion to Amelia was unquestioned. He idolized her. I never saw him that he didn’t brag about one or all his children. Nor did I ever see him that he didn’t inquire about mine. Jimmy was an over-the-moon grandpa. Five children, ten grandchildren. Each one carries forward Jimmy’s love of others and his generosity.

Husband. Father. Grandfather. Public servant. Friend. Good person.

For years I’ve kept the old Irving Stone biography of Clarence Darrow, “For the Defense,” because of a quote attributed to Darrow from a eulogy he gave for his close friend. One day I’d have a use for it.

“In the great flood of human life that is spawned upon the earth, it is not often that a man is born.” Jimmy Valdez was that man.

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