1961-1974

Skafish (Jim Skafish), is immediately regarded as “weird” in kindergarten.  He attends grade school at St. Mary’s in East Chicago, Indiana, and high school at Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Indiana. He is persecuted and brutalized daily by neighborhood kids and in Catholic school for 12 years by students, priests, nuns, and teachers—once a teacher locks Skafish in a tiny broom closet and leaves him there after school is dismissed, while another teacher chokes him on a school related trip.   These and other abuses he experiences in school would be considered prosecutable by future standards.     

The young Jim Skafish
Young Skafish

Skafish begins classical piano studies with a blind teacher at age 6, and is immediately considered a child prodigy/genius.  His next instructor, a perfectionist old woman named Mrs. Keller, hits him across the face when he makes mistakes.  He soon begins using his talents accompanying the choir at St. Mary’s Catholic Church where his family attends.  His father, Peter, a former big band musician and musical arranger, conducts, while his mother, an Italian opera soprano and voice coach, fills the room with her gorgeous bell-like tone. 

 

Moving from classical, formal, and sacred music styles to the secular sound of the streets, Skafish begins playing keyboards in rock bands by the age of 9, including the local psychedelic group Stoned Fox.  He begins composing at age 12 and his 8th grade class performs his 1st song for a school concert.  He then records the song in a Gary, Indiana recording studio.  His first compositions are a combination of vocal/pop and instrumental jazz.  As an under aged teenager, he plays keyboards with various rock and blues groups in violent dives in places such as Gary, Indiana, and on the sleazy “strip” of Calumet City, Illinois.

Throughout his high school years, Skafish still continues his formal music studies, studying classical organ with Dwight Davis, M.M. of Indiana University Northwest, piano with Ruth Walker, M.M., a brilliant classical instructor, jazz piano at The American Conservatory of Music with international legend Willie Pickens, and voice with his mother Violanda.  Skafish accompanies all the high school choirs, becoming an exceptional sight-reader.  He also studies formal harmony/theory with the school choir director.  Skafish further advances his reading and technical skills playing in several pit orchestras for local productions of musicals.  But at age 15, his father has a heart attack one morning at home.  Unable to recover, his dad dies 2 weeks later. His father’s death becomes thematically interwoven into future compositions.

The Jim Skafish Group
Jim Skafish Group
Throughout high school, Skafish’s dress and appearance becomes increasingly more bizarre.  Shortly after his father’s death, he begins forming his own rock and jazz groups (although he doesn’t yet sing lead vocals).  His first original band, formed in late 1972 and simply called the Jim Skafish Group, is a jazz trio featuring Skafish’s own compositions and includes future Skafish band member Larry Mazalan on bass guitar.  The group does a benefit concert at Skafish’s high school, Bishop Noll Institute and works at local coffee houses.  The musical precision of the teenage trio rivals the skills of seasoned jazz professionals.  Skafish also begins composing highly avant-garde piano pieces in the vein of John Cage.  Instructor Ruth Walker, highly impressed, allows Skafish to debut one such original piece for a student recital.

Skafish’s next project, Sway, includes classmate/vocalist Andy Prieboy, who later sings for Wall Of Voodoo.  The group leans more toward rebellious rock and pop, giving a concert at Skafish’s high school and upsetting the faculty of the Catholic institution.

In 1974, Skafish forms Toast and The Understandables, a glitter/punk group which includes 14 year old bassist Greg Sarchet (who later plays for the 1st incarnation of Skafish’s band) and Skafish himself as a guitarist for the 1st time. When Toast and The Understandables plays for a local high school dance, the police department sends the group a letter citing the group’s appearance and disrespectful behavior, and bans them forever from future performances.

After high school, Skafish begins attending The American Conservatory Of Music in Chicago full time, but quits after only one week because he’s unable to sideline his raging desire to be a revolutionary performer/artist. 

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