The great thing about being Jim Kimsey? When he gets the urge to do something, he usually does it.
The multimillionaire co-founder of AOL saw “Crazy Heart” — the Jeff Bridges movie about a washed-up honky-tonk singer — and said, “That looks like fun!” A friend urged him to try it. “But I can’t sing,” protested Kimsey. “Neither can he,” replied the friend.
And so “My First Rodeo” was born: A double album of rock and country songs — some original, some covers — sung by Kimsey under the persona “Verlin Jack.” (A combo of his middle name and a grandson’s name.) He sent the CD to 700-plus friends just in time for Christmas — and just before he left town for an extended vacation in the Caribbean.
The liner notes tell the tale: “Is he good? Not important. Can he carry a tune? Who cares? To scratch this itch, he created this product. . . the epitome of solipsism. Hell, he even drew his own face on the CD cover!”
In truth, what started as a lark turned into a serious project for Kimsey, 72. The Washington native and Vietnam vet returned to his roots as a bar owner to put together a personal collection of tunes, then hired a voice coach to whip his bass baritone into shape.
“It took longer and was harder than I ever anticipated,” he told us Wednesday from Mustique.
He never performed before; never even sang in the shower. But, as was bound to happen, he got sucked into it: Hiring backup musicians and selecting songs to cover. There’s some Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, June Carter and three original songs he worked on with Ronan Farrow. Yes, the Rhodes Scholar son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen , whom he met through the voice coach. The two collaborated on “Fidel’s Retreat,” a song about Kimsey’s 2000 meeting with Fidel Castro in Havana; “Love or Money,” a ballad about life as a super-rich bachelor; and “Ask Nancy,” a raucous ode to his longtime assistant Nancy Merritt:
I know it may sound wrong,
You’re half my pimp and half my mom
Without you I’d be gone
Kimsey originally intended the CD to be a Christmas gift for the Boy’s Club, a collection of two dozen old friends who meet monthly for lunch. But the list of friends expanded, and pretty soon the album went out to most of D.C.’s top business and social leaders.
The reaction? “To my face, it’s been favorable,” Kimsey said — although he did blow out of town before most of his pals heard the CD.
Listen to Kimsey’s “Ask Nancy” (contains some adult language):
Read also: The busy life of Jim Kimsey’s family office manager, 8/25/08
Read earlier: Ronan Farrow, son of Mia and Woody, lands Rhodes Scholarship, 11/21/11