Jim Wurster and the Atomic Cowboys: Americana Out of South Florida

Jim Wurster is a man of many moods and any number of unlikely scenarios. As a teacher and musician, he works hard to attain success for both himself and others nearly every single day, and the fact that he dares to dabble in Americana, a genre that’s mostly out of sync with nearly everything else the South Florida music scene has to offer, makes those twin challenges all the more daunting.

Nevertheless, Wurster is looking toward the future. After 33 years in the classroom, he plans to retire at the end of this school year, allowing him to focus entirely on making music, something he’s done for the better of the past 30 years — first, at the helm of the band Black Janet, later along with his band the Atomic Cowboys, and sometimes, entirely on his own.

“It’s bittersweet,” Wurster says of his pending departure from the classroom. “Teaching was my calling. I knew it the first day I stepped in the classroom. So many great memories, students and colleagues. It’s the altruistic nature of teaching that is most attractive. Playing music, on the other hand, is more egocentric and self-serving. But it allows me to release what wanders around my inners, whether it be a demon chasing me down a staircase or a feather floating on a breeze.”

Indeed, Wurster has always been prone to pursue a muse, whether it’s one that’s driven by those darker demons or simply his desire to create supple melodies by himself or in the company of others. Consequently, his new album, aptly titled No Joke, finds him surrounded by some of South Florida’s finest — Omine Eager, Trish Sheldon, Daphna Rose, Karen Feldner, Alyssa McDoom, and Tim Swag among them. And while the album is as strong as ever — all the more so considering the fact that Wurster wrote all the songs save a somber cover of Neil Young’s “Down by the River” — it too springs from unexpected origins.

“This record was really not planned,” Wurster explains. “(Music veteran) Vinnie Fontana approached me about producing a remake of the Black Janet song ‘Love Thirsty.’ It went so well, he asked for more material.  After recording seven songs, he said we need some rockers.  So, that is how ‘Best Bad Love’ and ‘Psychedelic Hindu Guru’ came about.

“He also offered to fund the entire project,” Wurster adds. “It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
In addition, Fontana brought a unique credibility to the project — specifically, a background rooted in a legendary Miami music label. His ideas and expertise, combined with Wurster’s own sources of musical associates, resulted in an accomplished cast of guest players.

“He’s been in the business since he was 15,” Wurster says of the producer. “At that time he was playing bass with Sister Rose & the Cornelius Brothers. After that, he did a lot of work with TK Productions, recording and playing with Timmy Thomas, Betty Wright, and KC & the Sunshine Band. Vinnie wanted backup vocals, so the ladies — Alyssa, Omine, Daphna, Karen, and Trish — were my idea.  I thought each one of them would be a great compliment to my voice. I asked Jack Stamates to add his violin to the song ‘Dream, Dream, Dream.’ I’m a big fan of his playing and he’s a tremendous talent. We also invited Frank Binger (drums) and Bob Wlos (pedal steel) from the Atomic Cowboys to play on a couple of tunes.  George Zhen (keyboards) and I have worked together going back to the days of Black Janet. Vinnie and I love what George does in the studio. Vinnie put together the core band — Jimi Fiano on guitar, Guido Marciano on drums, and Dean Sire and Phil Bithell, both on keyboards. He’s known these guys for years. They’re working musicians and they know their craft.”

As does Wurster himself. Each of the nine tracks find him taking on a different persona, from the cool crooner of “Psychedelic Hindu Guru” and “Yes They Did” to the role of Americana ambassador on opening track “No Joke.” Indeed, as its title suggests, No Joke may mark a new beginning for Wurster, but it bodes well for what’s still in store.

Jim Wurster & The Atomic Cowboys perform at the Zen Mystery Anniversary Party, 55 N. Federal Highway, Dania Beach, Saturday, June 18.

Other featured acts include the Mariana Trenchcoats, Blue Sky Drive, Matt Calderin, and the Fortune Tellers. Music starts at 7 p.m. No cover. Call 954-241-4655.
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Lee Zimmerman