Obituary of James Kevin Salestrom
Our Dad battled cancer for over a decade. He tried anything and everything. He fought so hard. On Wednesday, November 22 Heaven welcomed a new angel. Dad was surrounded by us, here in Colorado and we are lucky to have spent the last month together.
Dad’s life was adventurous, unique, and centered around music (and our Mom). He was full of jokes, laughter and had a story for everything. He always told people, “I was born in Central America……Nebraska”. He was raised in the Lutheran church spending most of his childhood into high school in Kearny, NE. Dad and his two brothers Chuck and Tom were involved in the church choirs and their church band, of course. He received his first guitar at the age of seven and a spark ignited. He starred in school musicals and shined in talent shows. He started writing music and began his lifelong career at an early age.
He began writing songs, recording, and developing his craft. His songwriting told the stories of his life. He was inspired by the way the world goes around, his surroundings, the people in his life and the wonders of nature.
His love for the mountains started in childhood. Our grandparents would take the boys (Chuck, Jim and Tom) out west to Colorado and Montana on vacations to camp and visit family. All three boys are Eagle Scouts and had plenty of opportunities to show off their skills. One of Dad’s stories recounts the Boy Scout Jamboree and the Moon Landing. Hundreds of kids celebrated while listening to transiter radios as Buzz Aldren and Neil Armstrong took their first steps for man and leaps for mankind.
Chuck and our Dad started numerous bands in Nebraska. Their band Timberline took them all over the country, playing so many venues. They played bars, colleges, stadiums, and events. Timberline opened for bands like Lynard Skynard and Dolly Parton. Their shows were mainly on the weekends, so the band would drive through the night to get Dad back to high school on Mondays. In the midst of Timberline and school, he also worked for a well-known sound company. A gig at Red Rocks introduced Dad to one of his greatest idols, John Denver. As the story goes:
Dad was setting up mic stands on the stage at Red Rocks, CO for John’s show that evening. Someone came up behind Dad asking if he needed any help. Dad, at the age of 16, firmly responded that “these are John Denver’s mic stands, I don’t need any help”. Huffing at how precious the job was, he turned around and it was John. John took Dad backstage with a small group of people and in front of a wall of red rocks, played “Rocky Mountain High” for one of the first times in front of anyone. He debuted it that night. What an unforgettable experience for one of John’s biggest fans. Their musical relationship and friendship continued, they played live, recorded together, and had a friendship up until John’s last day. Colorado later changed their state song to “Rocky Mountain High” and Dad played it at the State Capitol for the ceremony.
As soon as Dad graduated from high school (early) he hit the road again and Timberline’s success eventually led him to Dolly Parton. Dad started touring in Dolly’s band when he was just 23 years old, playing guitar and singing. Dolly took him all over the world. They performed in so many countries thousands of people. The stages they played on are iconic and their performances, historic.
They were on the Johnny Carson Show, Jay Leno and countless TV specials. They performed under the St. Louis Arch for over 500,000 people and the Hollywood Bowl along the way. Johnny Cash delivered the Gettysburg Address at the Ford Theater while Dolly’s band was backstage. Decades later Dolly brought everyone to Australia where Mom and I were able to see them at the Rod Laver arena. James caught their world tour in Chicago and LA.
The priceless memories and stories from his days with Dolly are now held in his best friends’ minds, Richard Dennison and Tom Ruttledge. Dolly was able to call and say goodbye to Dad which was incredibly special.
While touring with Timberline, Dad visited friends in Breckenridge and eventually made Colorado his home. He lived and recorded in Denver before moving to Breck where he met the love of his life, a West Virginia girl, Pamela Dailer. They were introduced through mutual friends that were going to hear Dad play music, of course. Dad’s persistence with daisies and phone calls from the road won her over. They dated for a short time before marrying in 1984. Mom managed his life behind the scenes and raising the two of us. I (Casey) was born in 1985 and James followed in 1988. Mom was by Dad’s side every step of the way.
We grew up in Breck listening to Dad at the Cattle Company, Mi Casa, the Whale’s Tail and Miner’s Camp, HB Cassidy’s and all kinds of town events. He played 4th of Julys in Frisco, the Dillon amphitheater and would sell out the Riverwalk Center. He was heavily involved with Keystone’s music and entertainment. He was active in the Father Dyer church; Dad knew almost everyone in Summit County back then. Through the ski industry and Breck Dad got involved with Ski USA.
Ski USA brought him all over to help promote skiing in Colorado. He wrote songs about Summit County, Colorado and Ski USA. He brought us along for the ride all over Europe and to Buenos Aires among other places. We were lucky to have the opportunity to live in Scotland for a short time. Dad shared his love for skiing, the mountains and Colorado with thousands around the world through his original music.
His stories and history could go on for days and days. The number of musicians and bands Dad has played with or recorded with seems endless. There are so many more experiences over his years that we will eventually share. James and I are thinking about doing another book about him.
He did so many amazing things. He recorded and created over 30 albums. He sang the national anthem at multiple Major League baseball, NFL football, NBA basketball and NHL Hockey games. We sang at the White House, he performed for 5 Presidents and multiple members of the Supreme Court. His tribute at the Vietnam Veterans memorial had President Clinton in tears. The Broadmoor’s holidays will never be the same after 20 years of singing at their Christmas shows. He had the incredible talent of writing songs for individual people, writing lyrics to reflect their lives and accompanying the song with photos and videos. He researched and studied the life of Buffalo Bill, a project he was very passionate about. He visited Buffalo Bill’s Museum and grave, absorbing everything there is to know. James and I now share the knowledge we learned about Buffalo Bill with others consistently.
As his friendships and relationships evolved, Dad revisited Big Sky, MT. Timberline had played Buck’s T-4 in Big Sky in the 1970s, back in the days of the Mission Mountain Wood Band. Dad and Mom now have a home in Big Sky. James and I eventually moved up there, I am still there after 16 years, and James is now in Nashville, TN. James and Dad established their reputation in Big Sky as the best of the best. James will continue his legacy in Big Sky and beyond. Dad’s legacy will live on in so many ways. His passion to help others led him to create his non-profit, the Grateful Music Foundation.
Dad loved sharing music with kids, to help further the arts for the future generations. The Grateful Music Foundation focuses on spreading the love of stringed instruments. The focus is to gift the uplifting sound of instruments to schools and help enhance their music education programs. We will continue to gift ukuleles and guitars, as well as keep his songs circulating in his ukulele songbook. Dad always wanted to do more. He was recently introduced to another wonderful organization called Mercy Chefs.
Mercy Chefs is an incredible non-profit who provide high-quality meals to victims, volunteers, and first responders during national disasters and emergencies. Their pop-up kitchens feed hundreds after hurricanes, floods, fires, earthquakes etc. during unimaginable times of distress. Dad was a huge advocate, from writing and sharing his music to helping volunteer in Naples during their hurricane disaster relief. Dad had Mercy Chefs on his mind during his final days.
We are grateful to have had our time with Dad and to be here, holding him in his final moments. He loved our Mom more than anything in the world. In second place is Little Thomas James (age 2). Thomas was the light of Dad’s life. Watching him smile at Thomas and Thomas’s love for Dad was irreplaceable.
He treated everyone with love and respect. Jim was known for his humor, infectious smile, positive outlook on life and a gift to make everyone feel special. He sang like an angel, and luckily his music will endure long past his lifetime. In one of his final notes Jim said, “I am eternally grateful for all of you, and it’s not “goodbye”, it’s just “see you later”. Plans for memorial services will be announced on Jim Salestrom’s social media and website.
We are devastated, heartbroken and in shock. Everything happened so quickly. We are grieving as a family and appreciate all the love and support. We are currently gathering memories and stories to share down the road.
“Well friends, it has been an absolute joy, what a ride. I’m so happy I got to stay for a while.
I’m sad to say that my health has taken a turn for the worse. Few may know, I have been battling cancer for over a decade now. I have fought as hard as I could.
I am now home with my family in Denver focusing on our remaining time together, sharing memories and capturing the moments while we can.
I’m so incredibly honored to have known all of you. You have enriched my life far more than I can ever express. I am thankful to everyone who has supported my music and my career over the years. It has been an unbelievable life of travel, music, performance, singing, playing, writing, friendship, and love over decades of happiness. I’ve been so lucky to perform with incredible artists and for incredible people. Guitar has brought me all over the world to share my trade with so many audiences filled with friends and family.
Thank you for adding so much love and laughter to my life. Thank you for sharing your experiences and always helping to enrich mine. Your families and my family have made it an unforgettable life. I am eternally grateful for all of you and it’s not “goodbye”, it’s just “see you later”. I’ll be sure to hold a nice spot on the other side!
As Warren Miller said, “Don’t take life too seriously, because you can’t come out of it alive.”
I am forever Grateful,
JimBob”To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of James Salestrom, please visit Tribute Store