You're not alone if Jim Sullivan's name is unfamiliar to you; he was constantly on the verge of achievement. In 1969, Sullivan released his debut album, U.F.O., and in the early 1970s, he performed regularly in Malibu, California, to enthusiastic audiences. He hung around with movie stars, but he never became famous. He thought he would have better luck in Nashville, so he moved there in 1975, leaving behind his wife and son and moving to Los Angeles. However, Sullivan never made it to Tennessee; he vanished into thin air somewhere in the New Mexico desert, never to be found again. Light in the Attic Records, a tiny label, has now reissued U.F.O.
Light in the Attic's founder, Matt Sullivan (no relation), claims to have found the record while browsing the Internet.
"I stumbled across the album on a music blog called Waxidermy, which focuses on obscure records; the album cover caught my attention," says Sullivan. "I downloaded the album and was mesmerized immediately."
Jim Sullivan's voice quality, Matt Sullivan tells All Things Considered guest host Guy Raz, inspired his response.
"His voice has this kind of weathered, worldly Americana sound," he continues. "Kind of a country-mixed-with-rock element to it. From there, the production, the strings -- it's lush, but they're dark and eerie. I kind of look at it as pop songs that aren't happy. They're filled with despair."
It's an odd place to find Jim Sullivan in obscurity. His lack of fame wasn't because of a weak supporting cast -- Phil Spector's studio musicians backed him on the record. Matt Sullivan claims that some entrepreneurs thought the musician was worth investing in after seeing him perform at a bar in Malibu called the Raft.
"On Day 2, Texans walk in, hear Jim's music and love it. They realize, 'We should make a record with this guy,'" says Matt Sullivan. "Somehow, they hired the Wrecking Crew, the band that who backed up everyone from The Beach Boys to Phil Spector back in the day."
Legend has it that Sullivan left his family to catch a break in Nashville, but he never made it to Tennessee.
"He leaves L.A. in March 1975, and he has $120 in his pocket, so he starts driving in his little VW bug, and 15 hours later, he's outside Santa Rosa, N..M," says Matt Sullivan. "He checks into a local motel. Soon after, his car is found is found 26 miles from the motel, and he's never seen or heard from ever again."
Jim Sullivan's cryptic lyrics on U.F.O., where he talks about traveling long distances, leaving his family behind, and being abducted by aliens in the desert, add to the mystery surrounding his disappearance.
"With or without his disappearance, there's something in those lyrics that is incredibly mysterious and eerie," said Matt Sullivan. "One thing that one of Jim's friends pointed out was that the guitar was left in the car. If Jim was going to disappear, that would have been the one thing that he would have taken, because wherever he was in the world, he could always stand on a street corner and make a few bucks playing his guitar."
Even though Jim Sullivan's story is peculiar, Matt Sullivan expresses his hope that the singer will be most remembered for his music.
"I hope that people remember him for making a masterpiece," he adds.