Jim McCann mixes business and music

By Joe Stumpe | January 5, 2022

Jim McCann, seen performing at the Artichoke, has been a fixture of Wichita’s music scene since the 1970s. At left is a photo of McCann when he was playing three nights a week at Angelo’s.

Jim McCann learned sales working in his grandfather’s insulation business, even if he did have to take a bit of kidding along the way.

“We’d go out to people’s houses and I was his driver,” McCann said. “He’d tell me how to sell them, how to estimate things. When it was time for me to shut up and I wouldn’t, he’d look across the table and say, ‘He’s got a speech impediment. He can’t shut up.’”

That outgoing personality has served McCann well through the years in his business career and musical endeavors, which have often been related. He’s probably best known for performing one-man-band type shows in bars and restaurants across Wichita, but you’ve likely also heard his radio jingles and seen the digital billboards he helped pioneer here.

McCann was born in Massachusetts, into a family with Irish American backgrounds on both sides. He spent junior high and high school in Liberia and Korea as a result of jobs taken by his investment banker father. He can pull off a convincing accent from either country as naturally as a thick Boston Irish brogue.

McCann had caught the music bug back in elementary school, after seeing a classmate play the famous drum solo on “Wipeout.” When a fire in Korea destroyed his drum set, he took the insurance money and bought his first guitar. McCann and classmates from the high school for foreign students he attended became well known as “the only long-haired hippy band in Korea,” he said.

Korea is also where he met his wife, E’Lona, whose father ran a Lutheran center for U.S. soldiers there. The two married after returning to the United States, living for several years in Massachusetts before moving to Wichita, where E’Lona’s father had started Bethany Lutheran church years before. The McCanns have two grown daughters.

Along with a job selling insulation here, McCann took a gig playing music three nights a week in Angelo’s restaurant. That led to a job managing the restaurant’s bar, then another one working for a liquor distributor during the heyday of that industry’s promotion efforts. “I’d run all the Jack Daniel’s nights and California Cooler bikini nights,” McCann said.

Connections he made there led to sales jobs with several radio stations. McCann also found time to take over a steakhouse, Molly Mae’s on south Oliver, and work as an Allstate Insurance agent during the 1990s. He ran a mobile phone company’s in-house advertising agency as that industry was taking off, then started his own agency, Jiminy Advertising, in 2007. That put him on the ground floor of another industry, digital billboards. McCann recalls the early opposition to the now-ubiquitous feature of our landscape.

“In Maize, people thought we were going to put porn up on TV on a stick,” he said. “Now everybody wants one. Quite frankly, I think Wichita’s saturated with them.”

McCann has continued to perform, write and record music, including a vinyl LP, two cassettes and five CDs plus jingles for everything from trucks and retail stores to a drain cleaner. His original compositions range from blues and smooth jazz to barroom favorites such as “Help, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Reach My Beer.” For two decades, he hosted a weekly open jam at which musicians of all genres and levels of experience are welcome; it’s currently held on Sunday afternoons at the Cowboy Inn on North St. Paul. 

Samples of McCann’s music and dates of upcoming gigs can be found on his Facebook page.

A gig playing for a friend’s anniversary after the easing of pandemic restrictions reminded him just how much he had missed playing for a live audience.

“I loved it so much I gave him his money back,” McCann said. “I said ‘Look, man, I should pay you for how nice this feels to be doing this again.’”