Jim Varsos, better known as “ Hobo Jim,” has captured audiences all over the world with his collection of Alaskana-flavored guitar and storytelling performances.
Alaska’s iconic singer-songwriter and official state balladeer is back in Homer, playing two family-friendly shows every Tuesday and Wednesday evening at AJ’s OldTown Steakhouse & Tavern.
His guitar and trademark cowboy hat are visual expressions of his rustic genre. His guitar is made of spruce, mother of pearl, baleen and walrus ivory, and decorated with gold nuggets given as gifts from fans.
During one of his recent performances at AJ’s, he offered a mix of upbeat and sentimental songs. His performance included a song from his upcoming album, “My Wild and Wolfen Ways,” that will be released this fall. The song, “If I Ever Forget You,” is dedicated to his wife, Cindy.
Varos said the song was inspired by the passing of his father in October, who, similar to Varos’ aunt and uncles, had Alzheimer’s disease.
At one point, Varos invited up all the kids in the audience to join him in singing a quirky rendition of “Twinkle twinkle.”
Varos couldn’t end the night without singing “Educated Man,” his most requested song.
Born in Indiana and raised in Wisconsin, Varos headed west from Kentucky as a teenager, picking up the nickname “Hobo Jim” while he was hitchhiking and riding trains.
Varos traveled all the way to the end of the road and settled in Homer, for a while at least.
“I came here when it was a sleepy little town,” he said. “I did odd jobs and commercial fished but played music all the time.”
Varos married his wife May 1, 1980, at Land’s End, and since then Cindy has played an essential supportive role in his music career. Her more recent responsibilities include driving to and from all the show locations and selling the CDs.
In the early 1980s, Hobo Jim’s music career took off, after he was invited to tour in Colorado with friend and singer-songwriter Russell Smith, who later produced Hobo Jim’s first LP album.
Over the years, Hobo Jim has toured around the state, country and world. He has a particularly concentrated fan group of more than 600 people in Germany. His popularity there spread after a fan took his CD from United States to Germany and shared it with a horse-riding group.
“So, my music literally spread by horseback in Germany,” Varos said, chuckling.
Varos has had his songs performed by many artists, including Randy Travis, George Jones and Janis Ian.
He performs all around Alaska during the summer and keeps a busy schedule between the regular shows and benefit performances.
“We play an average of nine to 10 gigs a week, and three or four of those are benefits,” he said. “We work a lot.”
In spite of his intense schedule, Varos keeps his shows spontaneous.
“I never know what I’m going to do, even Cindy doesn’t know what I’m going to do next,” he said. “I never do the same show twice.”
Varos and his wife are proud parents and grandparents of their son and daughter-in-law’s two children.
Varos performs 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. every Tuesday and Wednesday at AJ’s Oldtown Steakhouse & Tavern. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling 235-9949.
“People really enjoy it,” said Adrienne Sweeney, co-owner of AJ’s Steakhouse with her husband, Alex. “We have sold out almost every single night.”
Varos says he has played for five generations of Adrienne’s family.
Besides the performances in Homer, fans can find Varos singing Thursday through Saturday from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. at Hooligans Lodge in Soldotna. That show is a comparatively wilder show, said Varos.
His wildest show, however, is his 9 p.m.-1 a.m. performance at the Yukon Bar in Seward on Sundays, where he’s been playing for 35 years. Varos will be playing for his 35th year at the Alaska State Fair (Aug. 21-Sept.1).
More information on Varos can found at www.hobojim.com.
Shannon Reid is a freelance writer who lives in Homer.