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Eudora has its share of stars. Hugh Beaumont, “Ward Cleaver” of Leave it To Beaver fame, was born just outside Eudora on one of the local farms back in the 1920’s. Chase Austin is a driver on the NASCAR Circuit and runs in the Nationwide Series on a regular basis is from this area, not to mention various political dignitaries that have run for various offices over the years. Another star walks around here on a daily basis.
Jimmy “Sweet Lips” Wilson is a resident of Eudora. Wilson is a tenor sax player who has lived in and around Eudora since the 1940’s. Saturday night at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Jimmy was inducted into the Kansas Music Hall of Fame. Jimmy will join several other legends with his induction into the Hall of Fame including Count Basie, country music singer Chely Wright, jazz legend Charlie Parker, 80’s alternative band The Rainmakers, and several other legends and historians of the music world.
Wilson grew up in a humble background in Eudora. He started off his musical career at the age of 8 when he mother bought him a saxophone and Wilson taught himself how to play. At 11 years old, he started playing with his Aunt at Happy Hal’s in Lawrence. Wilson was an immediate success. Wilson would make $20 a night in tips for playing. This was 1951 when $20 almost a week’s salary for many people.
At the age of 15, Dewey Richardson, another great musician from Eudora gave Wilson a break in his country band.
“People told Dewey this kid has got to be the greatest sax player in the world. What other sax player is good enough to play in a country band. I was probably the first sax player to play in a country band back in 1956.” Wilson said.
Wilson rose to rock and roll fame when he joined Larry Emmett and the Sliders. They won WDAF-TV’s Battle of the Bands in 1958 just as rock and roll was really starting to blossom.
Wilson, as most musicians usually do, bounced in and out of the music business over the years. In the early 60’s a turning point in Wilson’s life came along when Marilyn, the woman who’s stuck by him for over 50 years now, was pregnant with the couple’s oldest daughter.
“I came home one day and told Marilyn, I have the chance to go to New York. She said Jim, we got a child coming in a couple weeks and you need to make a decision if you want to be a musician or a family man because I don’t think you can be both. Well, I thought about for while and it got closer to my daughter’s birth and I said to myself I’m just a small town home town boy and I don’t think I’d like New York. I was playing at the Rainbow Club and I decided during a break between sets that I was done. I put up my horn up and told the band that someone else can take over the band.”
Wilson’s worked for various places over the years doing a variety of jobs. Finally, Wilson ended up working for his father at Howard’s Super Saver which was located in downtown Eudora. He owned the business after his father’s retirement. Wilson ended up closing Howard’s after about six years because “I couldn’t compete against the box stores that were starting to open up in Lawrence.”
Wilson never lost the want to play though. He bounced around with a few bands on and off playing rock and roll, country and R&B. He has backed up many great artists including Bonnie Raitt, and Muddy Waters.
Wilson health has cut down some of his playing time these days, but you can still find him every Tuesday night at Slow Ride, a bar in North Lawrence, or at The Hideout in Gladstone and Sharkey’s in Topeka on a regular basis. Occasionally, he even sits in with some bands over at Cutter’s Smokehouse when he needs to flex the pipes and blow a mean sax.
For his achievements spanning now into his sixth decade, Jimmy “Sweet Lips” Wilson is one of the newest members of The Kansas Music Hall of Fame.