Jimmy Landry celebrates another year of no guarantees

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
For the past nine years, Jimmy Landry has been celebrating his second chance at life.

Birthdays mean different things to different people. Some mark the occasion with a quiet evening among friends and family while others treat the annual milestone as they would any other day, without the traditional celebration.

But for Black Mountain singer-songwriter Jimmy Landry, who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2008, birthdays are a thing to be revered. And there is no better way to celebrate defying the odds, he believes, than with music and the people he loves.

Feeling lucky to be alive, Jimmy Landry performs Aug. 27 at Organicfest in downtown Asheville.

During Jimmy Landry’s 9th Annual Birthday Bash at White Horse Black Mountain Saturday, Oct. 7, he will share the stage with longtime friends and fellow musicians Chuck Brodsky and Jonathan Byrd.

Landry has been bringing talented musicians to the Swannanoa Valley for more than two decades. He has been a familiar face around Black Mountain's celebrated music venues, which have attracted well-known musicians from throughout the country. 

“When I first moved to Black Mountain in the early 1990s, I was a part of the birth and growth of the Grey Eagle (before the venue moved to Asheville in 1998), which tried to fill a void left by the closing of McDibbs Music Hall,” Landry said. “I have such wonderful memories of meeting and hearing so many wonderful musicians and helping to bring some of them here to perform.”

Landry created an emerging songwriter series at Grey Eagle, which featured musicians like Shawn Mullins who would go on to be nominated for a Grammy Award for his 1998 hit song "Lullaby." He brought three-time Grammy Award winner Bill Miller to the Grey Eagle as well. 

In March 2008 Landry received the news that he might not live through the end of the year. 

"A noted cardiologist told me 'textbooks would say you have six months,'" he said. "I made a commitment to becoming the most compliant patient they had ever known."

Landry made a complete lifestyle change, switching to a vegan diet and exercising regularly. His music career was moved to the back burner as he focused on living. 

"I look at every day as a gift," he said. "I say 'thank you' every morning."

Although he couldn't play regularly, Landry didn't lose his love for music. In fact, about 18 months after his diagnosis, he decided to host the Jimmy Landry's 1st Annual Birthday Bash at the White Horse.

Each year he invites on stage a few of the friends he's made during his career in music. The setting is casual, like the fireside sessions that took place at events Landry played before his diagnosis, such as the Kerrville Folk Music Festival in Texas.

"Much like late nights after shows at the Grey Eagle, many of us would sit in circles around a campfire at Kerrville and swap songs with each other," Landry said. 

Seeking to replicate that feeling, Landry turned to Brodsky, a prolific singer-songwriter who has lived in Asheville since 1995. The two became friends while playing together at the Kerrville festival. Brodsky played in Landry's singer-songwriter series at the Grey Eagle.

"That was such a great period in Black Mountain," Brodsky said. 

Chuck Brodsky has been Jimmy Landry's friend for many years.

Brodsky, celebrating his 25th year as a touring musician, is known for telling vivid stories in his music about colorful characters. A Philadelphia native and passionate Phillies fan, Brodsky has written 20 songs about baseball that have been enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame's recording library. 

"I've never played at Jimmy's birthday bash," Brodsky, who played at the White Horse in June, said. "But I am thrilled to do it, it's going to be a great show. Jonathan Byrd is a real favorite of mine, I think he's one of the great, great songwriters of our country."

Byrd, who performed in the 18th annual AmericanaFest in Nashville Sept. 12-17, said he was happy to be a part of the show. 

Jonathan Byrd will be performing with Jimmy Landry and Chuck Brodsky at White Horse Black Mountain on Saturday, Oct. 7.

"Jimmy's great," he said in an email. "Also, Chuck Brodsky has been a mentor and a guidepost in my own career and writing. And the White Horse is one of my favorite places to play."

The chemistry between the three artists should make for a "special show," which will find the trio trading songs with one another, Landry said. 

"I think of this show as sharing on so many levels, sharing the stage with these writers, as well as sharing with audience," he said. "It's a multi-level sharing opportunity."

But mostly, it will be a chance for Landry to celebrate another year of life. 

"In January of this year the doctor at Duke Heart Transplant Clinic reminded me that everybody else who had been his patient when I showed up one year into my diagnosis was either dead or had already had a transplant," he said. "He told me that I was a remarkable story for him to use to encourage others."

Considering the prognosis given to him when he was first diagnosed, Landry marvels at how many days, weeks, months and years he's has since. 

"It's really a miracle when you think about it," Landry said. 

Celebrate with Jimmy Landry

What: Jimmy Landry’s 9th Annual Birthday Bash

When:8 p.m. Oct. 7

Where:White Horse Black Mountain

Cost:$15 advance, $18 door