The eagle has landed
Local musician Jimmy Borsdorf dead at 55
After a nearly year-long battle with terminal colon cancer, talented local fiddler/multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Borsdorf died Tuesday evening, Jan. 11, at Oroville Hospital, after the cancer metastasized to his liver. Borsdorf was surrounded by close musician friends and his wife and musical partner of 30 years, Nancy, playing music at his bedside when he died. Borsdorf was 55.
Born in October, 1949, just outside of Sacramento, the intrepid Borsdorf bought his first guitar at age 14 after running away from his Carmichael home to become a migrant farm worker, living in a Mexican farm camp in Marysville.
Borsdorf’s curiosity about and love for music from all over the world led him to learn to play many instruments and many styles of music, from old-time jazz to bluegrass to Irish to Hungarian folk, with many different people. Besides his talent for the more usual stringed instruments—banjo, mandolin, guitar and violin (he was the 1989 Nevada State Fiddle Champion)—Borsdorf was also known to play some very unusual instruments, such as a Chinese one-stringed violin called an er hu, a fiddle made from a turpentine can, a Turkmenistani dutar and a “commodium,” Borsdorf’s humorous term for a mandolin made from a bedpan.
Borsdorf and Nancy, who plays the fiddle—together known as the long-running “cowboy gypsy” duo of Hawks and Eagles—played many, many gigs both locally and all over the world. Considered experts on the music of early California, Borsdorf and his wife performed numerous times for programs at Sutter’s Fort and the Vacaville Museum. They have played with such music-world notables as R. Crumb, Pat Boone, Steve Allen ("One of the highest moments of my life,” Borsdorf was quoted explaining the experience), Rosalie Sorrels, Joe Craven, Kate Wolf and “Louie Bluie” Armstrong. They were also extras in the film, Bound for Glory, about the life of folk legend Woody Guthrie.
Local musician John Glick, a longtime friend of Borsdorf’s, was with him when he died and praised his friend as “a multi-instrumentalist beyond belief. … I think, really, the amazing thing about him was that he was an amazing sideman. He could play with anybody!” Glick proudly added, “He played music for a living all that time. … Jimmy was a man of worth. He will be missed. …”
Borsdorf’s longtime friend and prolific local musician John LaPado added, “Jimmy was also a humorous front man, with many stories to tell in between all manner of different styles of tunes. He would play ‘Turkey in the Straw’ in a minor key and call it ‘Turkish in the Straw'! Jimmy was a funny, smart guy. …”
Borsdorf’s remains will be cremated, and a private memorial service will be held at a later date, yet to be determined.