Jim Skiff was born into a musical family. His mother was a choir director and guitar player who sang in minstrel shows and directed the youth choir, the Righteous Rebels, which toured regionally and made numerous television appearances. His father sang and played clarinet and all four of his brothers sang and played instruments. As a young teen, Jim sang with his mother at weddings, often being passed off as her brother.
At the age of fifteen, Jim suffered a severe head injury while playing football and had to miss most of his sophomore year. During his recuperation, Jim taught himself to play the guitar and began writing songs. He was then selected for District, Regional, and All-State Chorus and Band, and later in 1972, he was selected for All Eastern National Chorus and went to Boston with 600 of the best high school singers in the Eastern US. While in Boston, Jim marched in a massive anti-war demonstration, which culminated in a performance by John Prine of “Your Flag Decals Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore.”
Jim Skiff moved to Los Angeles, California after graduating from Fort LeBeouf High School in 1973 to attend Pierce College. While at Pierce, Jim played trombone in the stage band under the direction of Bob Enevoldsen and got to play many of Sammy Nestico’s awesome charts. He was also a founding member of the LA Jazz Choir and recorded a live album with them at Donte’s, a famous jazz club in North Hollywood. After Jim left the group, they recorded a Grammy-nominated album, toured Europe, and opened for Al Jarreau.
While living in Los Angeles, Jim had the opportunity to play some of his songs for Andre Fischer, a drummer and producer for Rufus and Chaka Khan. Andre said Jim had “IT” and advised him to secure copyrights and get professional lead sheets made. However, by the time Jim had secured copyrights, Rufus and Chaka Khan were on a two-year world tour with no way to reach them. Jim’s friend, Dan Ferraro, then talked him into returning to Pennsylvania to form a folk duo, but Dan eventually lost interest and went to school for recording engineering in Red Hook, New York. One of the instructors heard a tape Dan had made of Jim and suggested he come into the studio to make a demo for Dan’s final project. If the demo went well, the instructor said there might be an offer of a record deal with Icarus Records, run by Dave Moulton.
Jim Skiff was offered a contract by Icarus Records and recorded an all-digital album, Flower and Sword, in 1978-79. Unfortunately, Icarus was unable to release the album due to bankruptcy and signed over the rights to Jim. Dave Moulton went on to record with Sonny Rollins and Jonathon Edwards, won a Grammy for a classical recording, and ran the recording engineering program at the Berklee School of Music. Jim then shopped the album to every record label in North America, receiving many compliments, but no offers. Despite this, the recordings opened other opportunities for Jim.
In addition to his album, Jim Skiff wrote and performed a folk ballet with the Erie Bayfront Ballet Company, performed with the Erie Philharmonic Chorus, was the bass soloist in the Mozart Coronation Mass with the Bayfront Orchestra, composed music for stage productions at Gannon University and Studio 21 Theatre, and was commissioned to write a musical for Penn State Behrend Theatre, Silver Apple of the Moon, which won a SADIE award for best Musical and best musical direction in 1983. Jim met his future wife in the cast of that show. He also composed, produced, and performed in two original productions for Magical Eye Productions, Sun and Moon, The Stonecutter’s Veil, and Solomon’s Song, a folk rock opera. In 1985, Jim became the Musical Director of The National Playwright’s Showcase at Mercyhurst College and created music for A Woman Called Truth by Sandra Asher and Voice of The Seventh Angel by Randall Silvis.
In 1988, Jim was hired by Mad River Theatre Works in West Liberty, Ohio as a touring actor and did 350 performances a year during a 9 month touring season throughout the Midwest. The musical director was Grammy Winner Bob Lucas and Jim toured with them for 3 years. In 1991, Jim moved to Pittsburgh and started his own Theatre Company, On The Wing Theatre, where he wrote and produced 5 original plays with music based on historical figures from Western Pennsylvania. During the 11 years of its existence, the theatre performed for over half a million people. In 2011, Jim met Nate Sloss who advised him on how to release his album, Flower and Sword, himself through CDBaby.com. In 2017, Jim started attending the Pittsburgh Songwriter’s Circle and recorded a track for their compilation CD with his daughter Erin in 2018. They then recorded and released The Skiffs debut EP Don’t Ask Questions in 2019 and an album Inner City Jitters in 2020.
In 2021-22, Jim used Michael Hickman to digitize, perform sonic upgrades on, and release 4 additional archived albums, including Sky and Lake, Rooted, The Stonecutter Sonnets, and Silver Apple of the Moon. He is currently working on a new album at Electric Eye Recorders and MOP Studios, tentatively titled 2Good2BTrue, with the first single, the title track, already released.
Jim’s music is influenced by a range of genres and artists, including Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Jacques Brel, Theodore Bikel, Phil Ochs, John Prine, Pierre Bensussan, The Paul Winter Consort, John Rennbourne, The White Buffalo, David Grisman, Sly Stone and Frank Zappa, and he calls his current musical style “Cosmic Americana.”