Jim Karones never turned down a gig to raise money for an individual or charity. So when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, fellow musicians and friends organized a “Rockin’ for Life” benefit in January to help Jim and his family with his staggering medical bills and everyday expenses.
“I’m used to being the one organizing or helping out,” Jim told Patch, “so it’s really foreign for me to be on the receiving end.”
After a hard-fought, two-year battle agaisnt cancer, Jim, a celebrated Southland rocker, died on Monday at age 52. His father, Tom Karones, said his son successfully fought off Stage IV esophagus and lymph node cancer, emerging in the best shape in his life. Late last year, however, the cancer returned to his liver.
“The only thing I’m thankful for is that he didn’t have a lot of pain,” his father said.
A resident of Oak Lawn since 1967 and a graduate of Richards High School, Jim was an accomplished and renowned musician on the Chicago club scene, songwriter, arranger, sound engineer, teacher, promoter and manager. Acquiring the stage name “Jimisix” after his idol, Jimi Hendrix, "because I was always playing six-string guitar," Jim was best known for his searing guitar and sheer love of music.
“Jim was very precocious as a boy,” Tom Karones said. “He started playing piano on his own when he was six and picked out tunes by ear. He took up folk guitar when he was eight or nine. He was self-taught and could play any type of instrument.”
A self-described “paradox wrapped in an enigma....surrounded by an aura of mystery,” Jim was born in Chicago on Sept. 24, 1959. He was an accomplished musician in a wide range of musical genres including rock, pop, blues, jazz, R&B, southern rock, metal, adult contemporary, AOR, new age and some country, and was even known to sit in with an ethnic band or two.
Turning professional when he was just 13, Jim’s band mates snuck him into rock clubs so he could perform on stage. By the time he turned 21, he had opened for such 1970s super groups as Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Uriah Heep, according to his Facebook bio.
Locally, Jim was a guitarist and vocalist for Three-Way Split, Wykked Wish, BigSix and Wonder years, and is credited as a founding member of Generation Hex, Final Faze, Equinox and Endless Past. He was also the lead guitar and vocalist for Rumorz.
He developed a devoted following of fans where he was a mainstay on the stages of 115 Bourbon Street, Blarney Island, Cubby Bear North, Mickey Finn’s Amber Room, Bobby McGhee’s and Papa T’s.
A respected design and mechanical engineer by profession and training, Jim was vice president of engineering at Electro-Tech in Hammond, Ind., and worked right up to the end of his life. He also worked as a contract engineer for Aragon Laboratories and Kraft, developing prototype electronic microscopes and machines used in food production.
But music was his first love. Friend Fran Alghini, former owner of Bobby McGhee’s Good Times in Chicago Ridge, said that Jim continued to raise money for others after his own benefit at her venue in January.
“People gravitated toward him,” Alghini said. “He had a way about him that made you feel good. Everyone loved him. He had such energy.”
On his Facebook page, Jim said he was “enjoying the HELL out of my ‘second life’ as a musician, and take just about every chance I get to perform, record, and create music. I'm always up for a cool project, and love to collaborate and make some musical magic.”
He played his last gig on Oct. 29 at the Tinley Park American Legion Hall, jamming with his band Wonder Years. A musician friend said Jim turned to him after they had finished performing “Captain’s Chair” knowing they had “nailed it.”
“He just wiped himself out. You could see how tired he was,” Alghini said. “That’s how much he loved music.”
Jim leaves his wife, Sherry, daughters, Christina, Angela and Tina, and five grandchildren; his parents, Tom and Mary, and a sister, Melissa.
His younger brother, Steve, a talented vocalist who’d occasionally join his brother on stage, preceded him death. Throughout the week, hundreds of fans, friends and musicians left tributes to Jim on his Facebook page, requesting that everyone turn up the volume on their amps in his honor.
“It’s a tribute to us for having him,” Tom Karones said. “No father could be prouder. It’s a tremendous loss to us. The way we’re looking at now is that he and his brother are upstairs doing some rock and rolling.”
“Heaven just got cooler,” his father added.
A memorial service for Jimisix is planned from 3 to 9 p.m. this Saturday, Nov. 19, at McCann and Son Funeral Home, at 10727 S. Pulaski Road, in Chicago. A religious service will take place at 7 p.m.
This article has been updated with information provided by a reader regarding Jimisix's last gig on Oct. 29.