On March 4, 1975, Jim Sullivan mysteriously disappeared outside Santa Rosa, New Mexico. His VW bug was found abandoned, his motel room untouched. Some think he got lost. Some think the mafia bumped him. Some even think he was abducted by aliens.
Jim Sullivan was born on August 13, 1940. He grew up in the Linda Vista area of San Diego, California, where his Irish-American parents had moved from Nebraska to work in the defense industry.
A tall man, he was a high school quarterback. According to self-written liner notes on his first LP, he “grew up in a government housing project with a bunch of other Okies and Arkies,” and decided to play music after listening to local blues groups.
Sullivan married, and played guitar in a local rock band, the Survivors, with his sister-in-law Kathie Doran. He and a friend bought a bar near to their college, but it lost money, and in 1968 he moved 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 area. 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.
|Jim Sullivan appeared in the 1969 movie Easy Rider.|
His friends contributed the funding that allowed him to record an album of his songs with leading Los Angeles session musicians. After Nick Venet at Capitol turned down the opportunity 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 purpose. The album, U.F.O., was released in 1969, and featured Sullivan’s songs in a style blending folk, rock and country.
The album was remixed and reissued by Century City Records in 1970, and the track “Rosey” was issued as a single, but they made little impact at the time. Sullivan continued to perform in clubs. In 1972, he recorded a second album, Jim Sullivan, released by Playboy Records. Again, however, the record was unsuccessful. As Sullivan increasingly turned to alcohol and his marriage began to disintegrate, he decided in 1975 to travel to Nashville, and try to find success there.
|U.F.O. (Monnie, 1969)|
|Jim Sullivan (Playboy, 1972)|
Sullivan left Los Angeles on March 4, 1975, to drive to Nashville alone in his Volkswagen Beetle. The next day, after being cautioned by a highway patrol officer regarding his driving, he checked into the La Mesa Motel in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Later reports suggest he did not sleep there, and left his key inside the room, and that he bought vodka at the town store. He was seen the following day about 26 miles (42 km) away, at a remote ranch owned by the Gennitti family. His car was later found abandoned at the ranch, and he was reportedly last seen walking away from it. The car contained Sullivan’s money, papers, guitar, clothes, and a box of his unsold records.
He was never seen again, and reports have variously attributed his disappearance to being murdered, becoming disoriented and lost, or, particularly in the light of the title of his first album, alien abduction. Search parties failed to find any trace of him. A decomposed body resembling Sullivan was later found in a remote area several miles away, but was determined not to be his.
Sullivan’s records, especially 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 serious attempts to uncover the mystery of Sullivan’s disappearance, interviewing many of those who knew him and those involved in his recordings, but revealing little new information. The album was issued on CD in 2011.
A new collection of previously unreleased demos by Sullivan, If the Evening Were Dawn, was released in 2019 by Light in the Attic Records.