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Jimmy Stiff

By: David Lyda (From: Volume 2 - Issue 2)
(All photos provided by Jimmy Stiff.)

We like to be comfortable. It’s just a matter of fact. Often God may command us to step out of that comfort zone, but we can be reluctant for a number of reasons. Comfort is often not the best place for us to be. We lose concern for the people that are not inside our bubble, we may have no ambition to make our lives better, and we lose our focus on God. Becoming dependent on the things that make us comfortable can be a dangerous road to travel as well. We’re not promised tomorrow, nor are we promised the things of today. Take a look at a professional athlete. They may have “everything” that the world has to offer, but they can lose it all with one quick injury.

Jimmy Stiff is not an athlete, but he knows the feeling of comfort. He is the former guitarist of the secular rock band Jackyl, infamously known for a few songs featuring a chainsaw. With this group, Jimmy had a multi-platinum debut album, toured the world, opened for such established bands like Aerosmith and ZZ Top, recorded a duet with Brian Johnson of AC/DC, played Woodstock ’94, and even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for playing 100 shows in 50 days. Jimmy knew fame and fortune, and he lived it to the max. Even though he watched his father die from alcohol, Jimmy would drink like a fish. He enjoyed it all and would be quick to tell you that he snorted half of Peru. The drugs and alcohol eventually caught up with Jimmy and he decided to leave Jackyl by 2000.

Many musicians with these addictions do not survive the battle. Even after leaving a band, people like Layne Staley of Alice In Chains would eventually die of a drug overdose. It is not the music that makes the addict, but it is a choice to drink and do drugs. Jimmy owns up to his choice and does not regret it. Not that he brags on what he did, but he likes to brag on the Lord and what he saved him from. Jimmy’s journey to recovery found him face to face with Jesus Christ.

Roanoke, Virginia is where the story of Jimmy Stiff begins. His father and grandfather were pickers, and there was already a guitar in Jimmy’s closet when he was born. As soon as he was big enough to reach around a guitar, he was playing. Jimmy learned to play by ear and loved to soak in the music all around him. His father was into Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, and other early country artists. Jimmy’s sister listened to a wide range of music from The Osmonds to Bob Seger. The first album that Jimmy ever bought was Ted Nugent’s self titled album. He soon found himself immersed in KISS, Chicago, and other rock bands of the era. Still today, Jimmy’s favorite album is the classic self titled album from Montrose, and his favorite group is Iron Maiden.

The Stiff family was initially involved in the Mormon faith where Jimmy learned his first Bible verse, Luke 2:11. After Jimmy’s father was excommunicated from the Mormon Church, the family was not involved in any religion for a while. Once they relocated to South Carolina, Jimmy’s family began attending a Baptist Church. The seed of faith was planted there, but Jimmy was more interested in self.

Jackyl gave great opportunity to fulfill that self interest by partaking in all the sex, drugs, and rock & roll he wanted. Jimmy started making steps in the right direction when he first quit drinking while on tour with Jackyl in 1999, but his salvation did not truly come until December 4th, 1999. He had made a trip to Tennessee to see Jackyl bassist Tom Bettini and his wife, Lisa. When he arrived, Lisa was sitting in the living room reading her Bible and told Jimmy that Tom was at church. Jimmy thought it was all very strange. Tom had traveled a similar road of addiction, and here he was gone to church. Sometime after he returned, they all went to bed. Jimmy woke in the middle of the night miserable, whining, and whimpering. The Bettinis comforted him and told him it was ok. Jimmy shared, “No. I came here to visit you all, and I’m bringing all my problems. You have problems of your own, and it is not ok. I’m going to go back to bed for a few hours, and it will be better in the morning.”

Once he returned to his room, Jimmy fell to his knees and placed his face in his open Bible. That was the moment he broke and gave his life to Jesus. His salvation led to freedom from sin, including the drugs and alcohol that he had known for so long. The next night Jimmy and Tom, the former “Toxic Twins” of Jackyl, went together to a revival. After the service, Jimmy told the pastor that he had gotten saved the night before. The preacher asked “How do you know?” This question took Jimmy aback, and he didn’t know what to say. Finally, he replied “Well, I didn’t go down to the courthouse and fill out no form or anything.” The pastor busted out laughing and said “Welcome to the Kingdom!”

After coming to the Lord, Jimmy and Tom both went on another tour with Jackyl in 2000. It was a strange experience to play clean and sober for the first time, but Jimmy admits he played guitar better than he had in his whole life on that tour. When the tour ended, Tom Bettini quit the band. Jimmy was shocked. What Jimmy didn’t know was that his life was about to be turned upside down. When he arrived home, his son’s mother packed her things and left for good. Jimmy was not about to let his son go with her, as she was heavily involved in the same demons that once haunted Jimmy Stiff. This led Jimmy to also leave the band in 2000.

With his departure from the group, Jimmy didn’t know what to do next. He was a broken man. Here he was as a single dad, and Jimmy couldn’t even figure out how to pay his bills. He had made a living as a “professional guitar slinger” and didn’t want to work at McDonalds. As he cried out “God, what am I going to do?”, the phone suddenly rang. Jimmy thought “Well, ok.”, but he ignored the call. It kept ringing and ringing, and the answering machine wouldn’t pick it up. He felt God’s leading him to answer the phone, and it was an old friend from the past with a job offer. Jimmy soon found himself as the “phone guy” and managed 400 pay phones from Georgia to North Carolina.

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