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Art imitates life for Brandon 1960s folk singer

BRANDON — Jim Glover sits back in his threadbare easy chair, flanked by two old friends: his acoustic guitar and banjo. A hardcover copy of “American Ballads and Folk Songs” is tossed atop a cluttered coffee table, where a recent copy of The Nation partially conceals a John Prine DVD.

He shakes his head when asked about “Inside Llewyn Davis,” the recently released movie by Joel and Ethan Coen.

“I loved the cat,” the 71-year-old folk singer says from the well-lived-in living room of his home on a dead-end dirt road off bustling Bloomingdale Avenue. “The cat was the best part. And the music. The music is what brought it all together.”

Glover should know. He’s certain he’s the Jim of Jim & Jean, the folk singing duo portrayed in the movie by Justin Timberlake and Carey Mulligan. Glover and his ex-wife, Jean, performed as Jim & Jean in the early 1960s, recording three folk albums and playing often in Greenwich Village, where much of “Inside Llewyn Davis” is set.

Others are equally convinced the pair are the origin of Timberlake’s and Mulligan’s characters.

“Jim and Jean were actually a real American folk-music duo — Jim Glover and Jean Ray — who performed and recorded in 1960s Greenwich Village,” said Internet Movie Database, an entertainment industry information website. “Jean Ray was noted for being the inspiration for Neil Young’s song, ‘Cinnamon Girl.’” On Wikipedia, the couple are listed as the “likely inspiration” for the couple in the movie.

The Coen brothers have said that “Inside Llewyn Davis” is not a factual account. All of the characters have fictional names, though they are based on real personalities or compilations of real people. Except for Jim and Jean. Glover wonders about that.

“It’s a puzzle, why they would change everybody’s names except ours,” Glover says with a grin and a shrug.

As for Timberlake playing him?

“I couldn’t really identify at all with the character. He seemed sort of confused. Carey Mulligan, though, really looked a lot like Jean.”

Glover saw the movie a week or so ago in Sarasota with friends. They kept asking him who the characters were based on.

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Inside Llewyn Davis,” which opened this month, is the Coen brothers’ take on the folk music scene in Greenwich Village over a few days in 1961, shortly before the genre exploded in popularity. There was little money to be made, save for tips in a handful of clubs and cafes that provided a stage for musicians with acoustic guitars and harmonizing voices.

Depictions of Jean being a bit promiscuous were off the mark, Glover says, though he was warned about her being a little too fast for him when he first met her.

“They said, ‘Watch out for Jean,’” recalls Glover, who had been in New York a short time when he met Jean Ray, “but I said to hell with the warnings. When we started singing together, it was really neat.”

Glover quit Ohio State University in the early 1960s and lit out for New York after hearing that the type of music he was playing in clubs near the university was catching on in Greenwich Village. A college buddy, Phil Ochs, would join him later.

Ochs would become an outspoken anti-war musician who took his own life years later. He often crashed on the couch at Jim and Jean’s tiny apartment. Ochs and Glover frequently played together and briefly formed The Sundowners.

Jim & Jean recorded three of Ochs’ songs on their second album.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is loosely based on “The Mayor of MacDougal Street,” the memoir of Dave Van Ronk, a musician who lived and played folk music in Greenwich Village clubs in the early 1960s alongside Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Tom Paxton and other lesser-known but influential folk singers of the time.

Van Ronk released a folk album, “Inside Dave Van Ronk,” in 1963. The cover photo was of Van Ronk and a cat standing in a doorway. Van Ronk died of colon cancer in 2002.

Key characters in the film are Jim and Jean Berkey, a folk-singing duo who occasionally offer up their couch to the homeless Llewyn Davis. In real life, it was Ochs who crashed on their sofa all the time, not Van Ronk, Glover says.

During the conversation, Glover breaks out in a song, strumming his 30-year-old Japanese Washburn guitar with a sticker that says, “War = Terror.” He still plays some paying gigs, like the Sarasota Folk Festival in March, and jams every Wednesday night with musicians from all over the area and beyond.

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He easily recalls the early 1960s.

It was an easy-going life then, he says. Rent for a small apartment in the Village was about $35 a month, and he could make that in one night if the club he played in was crowded.

Glover met Jean Ray in Greenwich Village in 1962, and the two joined voices. They were on a tour of the South in November 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was shot, and Glover says everyone on the tour heard rumors before it happened that the popular president would be assassinated. The killing of Kennedy has remained a focal point in Glover’s life, a day that is vivid in his memory. He is convinced of a widespread conspiracy and has written presidents and politicians over the years to voice his opinion.

Jim and Jean were married after they left Greenwich Village and moved to Los Angeles. The couple recorded three albums, some of which continue to be sold on eBay for asking prices ranging from $5 to $30. Their music focused on harmonies and careful arrangements. They eventually landed on “The Andy Williams Show” as part of The Good Time Singers.

They divorced in 1969 but did a reunion concert a quarter-century later. Jean died in 2007.

After the folk music scene took off without Jim & Jean, Glover took up welding to make a living. He never gave up playing music, though, and never turned down a chance to play and sing for money or just jam with friends.

Overall, Glover says, “Inside Llewyn Davis” was good, though not particularly accurate depiction of how it was at that time in Greenwich Village. He says he understands the movie never was meant to be a documentary.

“There was no mention of the politics, the anti-war movement that was just starting up, or the civil rights struggle,” he says. “We all were kind of revolutionaries, not promoting a revolutionary war, but change. Meaningful change.

“There was none of that in the movie,” he says. “They only worried about getting their next gig.

“The whole spirit of the folk music scene was left out.”

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