Jim Conway

  • CHS 1966-1968
  • World-recognised harmonica player

Jim is acknowledged as a highly accomplished harmonica player whose distinctive style is well known to blues, jazz and country music enthusiasts around the world.

Jim was born into a family of vaudeville, theatre and opera. Jim and his brother Mic performed in the school’s Talent Quest as The Jelly Bean Jug Band. The band was formed just for a laugh, but they annihilated the competition. He was a member of the Conway Brothers Hiccups Orchestra from 1984–1988 and toured the U.K. in 1986, appearing at the Edinburgh Festival, the Capitol Music Festival and the Newcastle Festival. In 1988, the Conway Brothers appeared at the Houston International Festival, World Expo 88 and the Perth festival.

Jim joined the Backsliders in 1989, touring nationally at festivals which include the Perth, Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne festivals, Womad, the East Coast Blues Festival, the Port Fairy Folk Festival, and the Gold Coast International Jazz and Blues Festival. He has twice been a judge at the Hohner Australian Harmonica Championships at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

Apart from four successful recordings, including two gold records with Captain Matchbox, and an album with The Conway Brothers, Jim co-produced two of the Backsliders albums: Sitting On a Million and Hellhound.

Jim is a sought-after session musician and has recorded with numerous artists including Shane Howard (Goanna Band), Colin Hay (Men At Work), Jon Lord (Deep Purple), Bob Brozman, Slim Dusty, Jan Preston, Tim Gaze, Dutch Tilders, Anne Kirkpatrick and Pat Drummond. His extensive career includes national tours with American bluesman Brownie McGhee, The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Circus Oz and The Backsliders.

Jim has also composed, produced and recorded music for a broad range of film and radio projects, including the Kennedy Miller telemovie The Riddle of the Stinson and the comedy feature The Honourable Wally Norman. He also co-produced several of the Backsliders’ albums.

A documentary film celebrating Jim’s contribution to Australian music was screened on SBS Television in July 2000. The film won a silver medal for Best Independently Produced Documentary at the Chicago International Film Festival. In 2003 Jim was awarded the prestigious Centenary Medal in recognition of his contribution to the Arts.

In 2006 he formed his own band, Jim Conway’s Big Wheel, which achieved a high level of success within the Australian music scene. Big Wheel’s first CD, Little Story, was nominated in the Blues & Roots category for the 2004 ARIA awards.  Since that time, Big Wheel has toured extensively, playing at the Port Fairy, Wangaratta, Bellingen and the Narooma Music Festivals.

In 1983 Jim was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He performed a piece of music specially written to feature his harmonica playing at the 2000 Sydney Para-Olympics Opening Ceremony. In 2003 he was awarded the prestigious Centenary Medal in recognition of his contribution to the Arts.

Jim has been confined to a wheelchair for a number of years. Due to his increasing disability, Jim announced his retirement from performing in 2014. On the 24th May 2014, he played his farewell gig at the Camelot Lounge in Sydney and the venue could have easily been filled three times over. Many wanted to join him on stage, but this wasn’t possible. However, the final performance was filmed and they are now looking at producing a DVD and launching it, possibly at a larger venue, with performances by special guest artists. Many of these musicians have either played with Jim over the last four decades of his career, or have been inspired by his first- class musicianship, perseverance and obvious love for music. Updated 2020

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