Music is the medicine
Local musician Jimmy Borsdorf is battling cancer, and his musical friends have organized an all-star benefit to help out
Local string wizard Jimmy Borsdorf bought his first guitar, a Kmart special, at age 14 after running away from his Carmichael, Calif., home to become a migrant farm worker in Marysville.
Living in a Mexican farm camp seemed normal to this kid who had grown up around people of many cultures in the Oak Park area of Sacramento. He remembers the Russian guy with the fruit cart who came down the street daily and sang. There was also Mrs. Mendoza, who made tortillas while she babysat little Jimmy. Borsdorf says that at age 2 he “broke out of the crib” to play outside with “the Mendoza boys” in the mud, “so actually I left home at 2. … I was always like that.”
Adventurous, independent-minded and more than a bit of a rebel, Borsdorf has a spirit of curiosity about the world and the world’s music that has led him to the many towns he has performed in, most often with his wife of almost 30 years, Nancy, as Hawks and Eagles, and also to his learning the many styles of music he plays—from “old-timey jazz” to Irish to Hungarian folk music—and to his acquisition of the many and varied stringed instruments he owns. Hopefully his infamous feistiness and zest for life will pull Jimmy through the current episode in his life.
Borsdorf was recently diagnosed with terminal colon cancer that had metastasized to his liver. Immediate surgery was necessary, and Borsdorf is now undergoing biweekly chemotherapy in Marysville, a grueling three-day process involving two 22-hour stints of being hooked up to a machine delivering massive doses of cancer-fighting drugs, pain-killers and anti-nausea medication. Borsdorf also has a list of 13 other medications to take.
It’s a strong program against a disease that doctors say could take his life in 20 months if the chemo does not work. It also requires Borsdorf and his wife to pay for a motel to stay in while they are in Marysville, an expenditure that, along with the many debts that Borsdorf has piled up since his February diagnosis, the couple can scarcely afford.
Jimmy has had to quit teaching fiddle/mandolin/banjo/etc. lessons at Houser’s Music in Oroville because in his current “no-immune-system” state he can’t risk catching even a cold from a child, and he cannot play gigs because he can play an instrument only for a short time before his fingers start to go numb, a side effect of the chemotherapy.
Enter local musician and carpenter John Glick. A longtime friend of Borsdorf’s, Glick and local folk musician Jim Williams agreed that something needed to be done to help the Borsdorfs through their crisis, both financially and spiritually. The two began the group Friends of Jimmy Borsdorf and along with the Butte Folk Music Society began bringing together all those who have known and loved Jimmy over the years, and were calling to see how he was doing, to stage a big benefit concert.
When friend and musician Utah Phillips called Glick to inquire about Borsdorf’s health, Glick initially asked if Phillips would headline the benefit, but he had to decline due to his own health issues. Well-known multi-instrumentalist Joe Craven, who has known Jimmy for roughly 30 years since their days in the Reno area together, was next to talk to Glick, and he offered “anything I can do” to help. He will be helping as headliner for the benefit.
Craven spoke fondly of Jimmy and said that he "feel[s] a mutual interest in folk music and feel[s] a kinship with [the Borsdorfs] and what they do for the community." He also shares with Jimmy "a mutual love of instrument exotica" and hopes that Jimmy will be feeling well enough to perform with him, to partake in some "spontaneous combustion musically."