Jim Sullivan grew up in the Linda Vista area of San Diego, California, where his Irish-American parents had shifted from Nebraska to work in the defense industry. A tall man, he was a high school quarterback, but Sullivan decided to play music after listening to regional blues groups. He married and played guitar in a local rock band, the Survivors, with his sister-in-law Kathie Doran. He and a friend purchased a bar near their college, but it lost money, and in 1968 he shifted with his wife Barbara and young son to Los Angeles.
While his wife worked at Capitol Records, Sullivan wrote songs and performed in increasingly prestigious clubs in the Los Angeles region. In particular, he became established at the Raft club in Malibu, where he became friends with Hollywood figures including Lee Majors, Lee Marvin, and Harry Dean Stanton. He appeared as an extra in the movie Easy Rider and performed on the José Feliciano television show.
Sullivan And Friends?
His friends provided the funding that enabled him to record an album of his songs with leading Los Angeles session musicians, keyboard player Don Randi, drummer Earl Palmer, and bass player Jimmy Bond, who was also the record’s arranger and co-producer. After Nick Venet at Capitol turned down the chance to release the record, it was issued by Sullivan’s friend Al Dobbs on a small record label, Monnie, a label he set up for that objective. The album, U.F.O., was released in 1969 and featured Sullivan’s songs in a style blending folk, rock, and country that has been correlated with Fred Neil, Tim Hardin, Gene Clark, and Joe South, with arrangements in the style of David Axelrod. You can listen to the song U.F.O. here
The album was remixed and reissued by Century City Records in 1970, and the track “Rosey” was issued as a single, but they made tiny effect at the time. Sullivan proceeded to perform in clubs. In 1972, he recorded a second album, Jim Sullivan, arranged by Jim Hughart, produced by Lee Burch, and released by Playboy Records. Again, nonetheless, the record was unsuccessful. As Sullivan increasingly turned to alcohol and his wedding started to worsen, he decided in 1975 to travel to Nashville, where Kathie Doran was working as a singer and songwriter, and attempt to find success there.
Sullivan left Los Angeles on March 4, 1975, to drive to Nashville lonely in his Volkswagen Beetle. The following day, in the early morning hours of March 5, he was pulled over outside Santa Rosa for swerving. He was taken to the local police station for a sobriety test, which he passed. He was swerving from exhaustion caused by the taxing 15-hour drive. After being instructed by the highway patrol officer, he checked into the La Mesa Motel in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Later, police reports suggested that the bed in his room was not slept in, and the key was discovered locked inside the room. Someone also reported that he purchased vodka at the town store.
He was noticed the next day about 26 miles (42 km) away, at a remote ranch owned by the Gennetti family. His car was later discovered abandoned at the ranch, and he was reportedly last noticed walking away from it. When the police discovered Jim’s car it was locked, and the engine was dead. The car contained Sullivan’s wallet, cash, guitar, clothes, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, silver appointment book, and a box of LPs of Jim’s 1972 self-titled album on the Playboy label.
He was never noticed again, and reports have variously attributed his disappearance to being killed, becoming disoriented and lost, or, especially in the light of the title of his first album, alien abduction. Jim’s family traveled out to join search parties, and the local newspapers printed missing person stories, but the search proved unsuccessful. Search parties failed to discover any trace of him.
Jim’s manager Robert “Buster” Ginter later stated that during the early morning hours of a long evening, Jim and Buster were chatting about what would you do if they had to vanish. Jim said he’d walk into the desert and never come back. A decomposed corpse resembling Sullivan was later discovered in a remote area many miles away but was assumed not to be his.
Sullivan’s records, particularly U.F.O., developed a cult following in later years, partly because of their rarity and obscurity. In 2010, Matt Sullivan (no relation), the founder of Light in the Attic Records, decided to reissue U.F.O. and made significant tries to uncover the mystery of Sullivan’s disappearance, interviewing several of those who knew him and those involved in his recordings, but disclosing little new information. The album was issued on CD in 2011.
Did he walk away willingly? Did he have some kind of mental break and disappeared? Was foul play involved?