Funeral services will be held today in Santa Ana for Orange County blues musician Jimmy Caravan, who died Saturday of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the county coroner’s office. He was 49.
Caravan, whose given name was James Howard Schmitt, had been despondent over his failing health, his longtime friend and fellow musician Steve Hooks said Tuesday.
An organist who was known in Southern California blues circles as a tireless promoter of blues and R&B; music, Caravan had battled diabetes in recent years. He had formed the Anaheim-based Diabetic Educational Foundation in 1989 to act as a clearinghouse for information to other diabetes victims.
Caravan told The Times last year that he had avoided having his leg amputated and had gotten the disease under control through medication. But Hooks said Caravan had been hospitalized again recently, and had complained of finding a new ulcer on his foot the morning of his death.
“He got out of the hospital, but he never got strong again,” Hooks said. “When he noticed the new ulcer, I think he viewed it as the beginning of the end.”
Hooks said Caravan was staying at his ex-wife’s house in Santa Ana while convalescing.
Caravan had been scheduled to perform at the Compton Lazben Hotel on July 27 and 28, where his group, the Blues Caravan, had played occasionally in the last year. Hooks said he will take over those dates, using them to present benefit performances to raise money for Caravan’s family.
In addition to his own performances, Caravan regularly booked shows for other blues musicians in the area whom he felt were going unrecognized.
Ironically, Caravan himself had never been able to establish a solid following for the shows he promoted at a number of Orange County clubs with such blues and R&B; greats as Lowell Fulson, Big Joe Turner, Big Mama Thornton, Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson, Big Jay McNeely, Harmonica Fats and Guitar Shorty, among others.
“If these people lived in just about any other city, they would be heroes,” Caravan said in a 1984 interview. “But because there are so many concentrated here in Southern California, people take them for granted.
“One of my aims is to get these artists in front of as many people as possible,” he said. “Quite honestly, a lot of these people might not be with us much longer. If I told you names of musicians who are working in factories, you’d be stunned. It’s a crime.”
He said he often found it easier to land bookings in Los Angeles than on his home turf in Orange County.
“In Los Angeles it’s difficult to get into the clubs,” Caravan said in 1985. “In Orange County it’s impossible.”
A Pittsburgh native, Caravan had moved to California in 1964 and played as a studio musician for much of the next 20 years. He recorded an album with the Blues Caravan in 1985 for the GNP-Crescendo label and received some airplay on local jazz and a few R&B; stations.
Recently he had been working with a land auctioneer, Hooks said, because his health problems had prevented him from playing music as often as he wanted. “I thought he had found a little bit of purpose other than music,” Hooks said. “But when he went back into the hospital, he lost that glow.”
Services will be at 1 p.m. at Fairhaven Memorial Park, 1702 Fairhaven Ave.