Noted music journalist Jim Bessman died Tuesday, June 22, at age 68 following years of declining health.
His death in New York was due to an aneurysm, according to publicist Bob Merlis, a longtime friend. In recent years, Bessman had battled cancer, heart failure, COVID-19 and other ailments.
Jim Bessman is best known as a reporter for Billboard magazine. He freelanced for that publication for more than 25 years. He was also a former contributor to MusicRow. His monthly MusicRow column was titled “Gotham Gossip” and chronicled Nashville artists’ activities in Manhattan.
He was born in Milwaukee and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. Bessman dropped out of school to write for alternative rock periodicals, then became a stringer for Variety. He moved to New York to work for Cashbox magazine.
By the mid-’80s, he was writing for Billboard, publishing concert reviews, artist profiles, retail stories and a regular column about songwriters and publishers. This is also when he began making regular visits to Music City.
He became particularly fond of Grand Ole Opry artists, including Alison Krauss and Bill Anderson. His Nashville experiences always included a backstage Opry visit, where he was invariably welcomed by all of the acts.
Bessman also loved the annual Fan Fair festival, now known as the CMA Music Fest, and seldom missed one. His country-music friends were numerous and included Kris Kristofferson, Jo-El Sonnier, Steve Popovich and Carlene Carter.
In New York, Bessman was particularly close to Lisa Loeb, Ashford & Simpson, Tony Bennett, Sandra Bernhardt and The Ramones. He was a champion of genres such as polka, zydeco, Cajun, blues, opera and rockabilly. He embraced independent artists.
He made an annual pilgrimage to Los Angeles, and on those occasions Merlis threw large celebrity “Bessman Bash” parties in his honor. As was the case in New York and Nashville, he knew hundreds of stars there.
Bessman was a fixture at the annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremonies. He was heavily involved in New York’s annual Songwriters Hall of Fame inductions, handling the archival backstage honoree interviews, writing the official bios and assisting with press releases.
He was the author of two books, The Ramones—An American Band and John Mellencamp —The Concert at Walter Reed. He was also the writer of more than 80 album liner-note essays. His works appeared in dozens of music publications, including Spin and Country Rhythms. His online blogs were titled CenterlineNews.com and JimBessman.com.
Despite his vast contacts and many accomplishments, Bessman was very self effacing and always humble. Merlis eulogized his late friend by saying, “To say he will be missed is an understatement of the highest magnitude….We celebrate him now and let every day be a reminder that the Bessman Bash continues in our hearts. He knew he was loved, even though he couldn’t admit it.”
Jim Bessman is survived by a brother and a sister. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.