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Jim Welker

02/20/2014 at 10:04am

Jim WelkerTribute Planned for Local Music
Legend Jim Welker

The family of Jim Welker is not known to miss any opportunity to throw a party. As operators of the Cracker Box Seafood Restaurant at 16910 McGregor Blvd in South Fort Myers since 1975, they know a thing or two about food, drink, music and fun. Jim’s daughter Jody Jones and son-in-law John operate the place now, with Jim sitting in with the Cracker Box Band several nights per week, until recently.

Jim has suffered from multiple health issues that have kept him in and out of hospitals and rehab facilities since last July. It’s been a long road for everyone in the family, but the good news is Jim is now home in the care of his wife of the last 57 years, Judy, and getting stronger every day. And he’s ready to get back behind the keyboard. The family knew if he was healthy enough to come home, then he was going to be fighting to get back on stage as soon as possible. This is because Jim is no ordinary 70-something SW Florida musician.

Few know the musical story behind Jim Welker, one that family members have been documenting in every possible way for years. They knew Jim’s dad played with Louie Armstrong in 20’s, beginning the family tradition of music. In his teens, Jim played with his father and brother, Gene, in his father’s band, Pappy Welker and the Swinging Twins. Jim went on to build his career as a honky-tonk and country singer and piano player. His band opened for Jerry Lee Lewis in Ft Wayne, Indiana. He also opened for Buck Owens every Sunday for a period in northern Indiana. In SW Florida, Welker opened for Jimmy Buffet at the Sheraton on Hwy 41 in Fort Myers in the late 70’s.

The best story heard by this writer, among many great ones, was how Jim and his band were approached by the grandson of Colonel Parker, famous for managing Elvis Presley. This grandson persisted in trying to sign Jim’s band to tour with his latest artist, a young African-American country artist named Charlie Pride. Well family lore has it that Jim turned down the opportunity because touring no longer was a good fit for a young man, married with small children. He confessed in recent years that while that reason was true, they also could not believe this Charlie Pride singer was going to make it. They predicted they could be left in the middle of nowhere someday, unpaid, and a long way from home. The fickle nature of the entertainment business has always made predictions difficult, as Charlie Pride overcame tradition and racial barriers to become a Country Music Hall of Fame member.

Saturday February 22nd marks a birthday party, recovery celebration and tribute to Jim Welker all rolled into one. His family knows better than most that the only reasonable way to celebrate a birthday and the recovery of your health is with a party!So they’re throwing a big one and inviting the whole community!

Non-stop music is planned from noon to 11pm at the Cracker Box. Music will be provided by The Cracker Box Band, Pain N Grass and Jesse Allen Band. Many area musicians have also been invited to sit in and jam with Jim.This indoor/outdoor affair will include BBQ prepared special for the event on the outdoor BBQ grill of son-in-law, John Jones. Raffles with awesome prizes and 50/50 drawings and all the usual Cracker Box fun will be on tap! All friends and customers are invited to stop in, have fun, enjoy some great food and drink, and wish Jim a continued recovery!

Bob Layfield

Photo courtesy of Russ Otto Photography