He swam among great white sharks, drove race cars, taught kindergarten and college, and worked as a radio DJ, newscaster, and TV producer. He was the CEO of a sheet music company, directed a public relations agency, owned a scuba company, and served as a project coordinator for the National Trust of the Cayman Islands. He wrote and edited several books and bylined over a thousand freelance articles.
To the world at large, though, Jim Crockett will be best remembered as the visionary founder of the modern guitar magazine. Becoming publisher of GPI Publications in 1971, Jim orchestrated the rise of Guitar Player; founded Frets, Keyboard, and Drums and Drumming magazines; and oversaw the creation of the company’s books, records, and newsletters divisions.
He was the force behind the annual Guitar Player Readers Poll and the flexi-disc Soundpages that introduced readers to dozens of brilliant guitarists deserving of wider recognition. As Tom Wheeler sagely noted, “Jim’s philosophies were seminal influences on the structure, personality, and success of GPI.”
While Rolling Stone, Cream, Circus, and other rock-oriented magazine of the 1970s tended to veer into the gossipy parts of celebrities’ lives, Jim encouraged Guitar Player’s editors, columnists, and other contributors to focus almost exclusively on the music and tools of the trade – how famous songs were written, how unforgettable solos were recorded, how gear influences tone, and so on.
Before every interview, he’d tell us, put yourself in the place of the interviewee’s most dedicated fans and try to ask the questions they’d ask. He allowed us a lot of space in the magazine, so the interviews and features could go much further in-depth than today’s paper-printed music journalism.
An accomplished jazzer, Jim loved to play drums. Sometimes after we sent an issue to press, we’d have a jam session in our warehouse or parking garage. Jim would often invite some of the musicians he’d befriended to sit in with us. Participants in these informal sessions included B.B. King, Chick Corea, Jerry Garcia, Barney Kessel, Tommy Tedesco, Country Joe McDonald, David Bromberg, and Pete Seeger.
Through the pages of Guitar Player, which until the introduction of Guitar World in 1980 was the only magazine of its kind, Jim provided a launching pad for countless musicians, writers, photographers, and builders of guitars, amps, effects, and other gear. As Denny Tedesco, producer of the acclaimed documentary film The Wrecking Crew!, observed, “Jim started so many careers, including my father’s.”
For decades Jim’s “From the Publisher” ran in the front of every issue of Guitar Player. Through this friendly, insightful, and seemingly off-the-cuff column, musicians, readers, and advertisers alike felt a kinship with Jim. It was my pleasure to edit this column for eleven years.
In fact, I always found Jim Crockett wonderful to work with – I have nothing but love and praise for “JC,” as we called him. He treated our staff with dignity and respect. He knew how to get out of the way and allow creative people to flourish.
As Tom Wheeler wrote in his first “From the Editor” column, August 1989, “Jim provided us with a working environment that is the envy of any journalist who sets foot in the building, one that to my knowledge is unsurpassed among publishers. He guided us and trusted us with his prize possessions, the magazines he helped build. In setting his priorities, he never put making a corporate profit above making a contribution. A musician himself, he never let us forget our primary goal: to serve musicians.” Jim was also extremely generous, as evidenced by our salaries and annual Christmas bonuses.
On his final day as publisher, Jim Crockett sent our staff this message: “Be proud of where you worked and what you did. We made specialty publishing history, had a good time, and learned a lot.”
A quarter-century later, Jim and his daughter Dara celebrated the magazine’s “Glory Years” in the book Guitar Player: The Inside Story of the First Two Decades of the Most Successful Guitar Magazine Ever. Jim Crockett, a grand and gracious guy until the end, passed away on December 16, 2023.
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