James (“Jim”) Anthony Sullivan was born in San Diego, California on August 13, 1940. Sully, as he was affectionately known by friends and family, could always be found in a crowd: at 6 feet 3 inches, he was the quarterback on his high school team. He was the seventh son of a Nebraska farmer who, like many others, moved to California after the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
Love of his Life
Sullivan first remembered meeting his life’s love, music, while listening to local blues bands. He bought a Sears Silverstone guitar and amp when he was 16 years old. Sully had started playing in a local band called The Survivors after graduating from high school. During this time, he met the other love of his life, a woman named Barbara Sullivan, in junior high. Kathie Doran, her sister, was the band’s lead vocalist.
By 1968, Jim and his wife had decided they needed a change of pace. They had a seven-year-old son named Chris, and their careers were taking off. Barbara got a job in the Capitol Records building, while Jim worked his way up in show business, constantly writing songs and playing his guitar. Jim began performing at the Lindy Opera House, the Lighthouse, and the Raft in Malibu after the family relocated to L.A. for better opportunities.
Sully’s L.A. scene friends pooled their money and invested in Jim in 1969. They wanted to push him to finally express the album that they knew existed in his head. Jim’s album, “U.F.O.,” features folk, country, and rock with a spiritual undercurrent throughout the lyrics. Jim was known to have a strong belief in mysticism, which drew the attention of other musicians. The album was released on their own label, Monnie Records, which was named after one of the investors’ daughter. Many people in the entertainment industry worked hard to promote Jim Sullivan’s new album and label at the time, with some even travelling as far as Nashville to see Johnny Cash’s manager and play him Jim’s music.
The album was remixed and reissued with new artwork by the Century City label in 1970. They attempted to release “Rosey” as a single, but it received little attention at the time. Jim continued to perform in clubs and re-recorded “Highway” from the U.F.O. album for RCA Records as a promotional single, but no contract was offered.
In 1972, Sullivan released his second self-titled album, “Jim Sullivan,” with Jim Hughart on Playboy Records. Despite long hours of work and the confidence of many in Jim’s career’s success, he still hadn’t gotten his big break in the music business.
Things at home were not much better. He and his wife were both reported to be heavy drinkers, and their marriage was on the rocks. His son, Chris Sullivan, later recalls, “The Playboy record signalled the end of our family. It was made with love and care, but no one would buy it.”
Frustrated and determined to achieve the success he had always imagined for himself, Jim Sullivan packed his belongings and headed east in March 1975. He intended to travel to Nashville, where his former bandmate and sister-in-law Kathie Doran worked as a singer and songwriter. He hoped to find session or songwriting work and then relocate his wife and child to Tennessee.
On March 5, 1975, Sullivan received a highway patrol officer’s warning and checked into the La Mesa Motel in Santa Rosa. An investigation later revealed that Sullivan may not have stayed here overnight because the bed had not been slept in. It is unknown where else he could have stayed. He had left his key inside the room, and staff had noticed that he had purchased vodka from the local convenience store. On the same day, Barbara Sullivan received a phone call from Jim, informing her that he was fine. She remembered the phone message being cryptic, and when she pressed Jim for more information, he said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” She asked him again if there was anything wrong, and he replied, “Forget about it. Just forget what I said. I’ll give you a call from Nashville.” A copy of Barbara Sullivan’s notes on her husband’s disappearance is available here.
Jim Sullivan was never seen again
On March 6, 1975, Sullivan was seen about 26 miles (42 kilometres) away, at a remote ranch owned by the Gennitti family. His car was later discovered abandoned at the ranch, and he was last seen walking away from it. Sullivan’s money, papers, guitar, clothes, and a box of unsold records were all in the car.
Jim Sullivan was never seen again after this last sighting. Many theories surround his disappearance, including murder, disorientation, being lost, or alien abduction (thanks to his first album). A decomposing body was discovered eight miles outside of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and was initially thought to be Sullivan—but the man was later revealed to be not Sullivan.
Where do you think Jim Sullivan went? Did he really wander off into the desert, still lying undiscovered nearly fifty years after his disappearance? Did he experience something beyond human knowledge, as foreshadowed by his album?