There was never any doubt that guitarist Jim Fendrick was born to rock.
Arms tattooed and hair slicked back, he commanded the stage with electric riffs as leader and sideman in several Bakersfield bands over the years. His talent and rock star charisma seemed to signal a bright future, which makes his death earlier this month at the age of 38 difficult for his family and friends to accept.
"Once he got his mind made up that he was going to player guitar, that was it. He was gonna play guitar," said Jim's father, David Fendrick, recalling the moment his son first picked up an electric guitar at 19.
"He would just sit, and like a kid who's involved with music, would just sit for hours and hours and just keep grinding away on this guitar."
With no personal instruction, the young guitarist developed his skills playing along with his favorite records, his father said.
"He liked rock and roll, all genres. Eventually he started making music, and stuck with it for the next 20 years. My favorite song that he used to play on acoustic guitar was 'Blackbird' by Paul McCartney. I just loved to hear him pick that out."
Though Fendrick lived in Huntington Beach at the time of his death, he never strayed too far from the roots he established in his hometown of Bakersfield, burning up the I-5 in his back-and-forth commutes. At the time of his death, he was in two local bands, the alt-country outfit The Iron Outlaws and alternative rock quintet Karmahitlist, which made a lot of noise about a decade ago before re-forming in recent months. But he also maintained a lot of informal connections with musicians in the local scene and was always willing to sit in with friends in need of his unique musical vision and incredible range.
Danny Garone, Fendrick's Iron Outlaws bandmate, considered the guitarist not just a friend but a mentor.
"His attitude toward being in a band was a gift. His attitude was always very positive. He had goals of getting recordings done, being a team player, things like that. That's the way he always was. He had other jobs that paid better than playing music, but he wasn't really into that. He wanted to play music and be a guitar player. To play with him in a band years later was great. He was the guy who got me started. He was a mentor in music and life."
Fendrick's Karmahistlist bandmate, deejay Alex Garza, said plans are in the works to compile a collection of previously unreleased Karmahitlist material featuring Fendrick, including demos, video footage and other recordings.
Garza and Fendrick were childhood friends who attended Sandrini Elementary together. Fendrick evenually graduated from Bakersfield High School in 1993.
"We used to ride our bikes together and go to school. I never thought we'd end up in a band, years later. Everything was 'so rad' to Jim when we would rehearse or have a show. ... He's definitely going to be missed."
Fendrick leaves behind two young sons, Myles and Cole. Fendrick's father, who lives in the Northern California city of Windsor, said his son was a tremendous role model for his children.
"Even though he was divorced, he never divorced his kids. He was always very attentive, and a father who set limits and boundaries, held his kids to them and they respected him for it. He was a great dad. His whole life was around those kids."
Bakersfield photographer Jessica Moncrief, who captured numerous images of Fendrick onstage, was impressed with the musician's devotion to family.
"On the weekends he couldn't wait to get back to his kids. We used to ask him if he was gonna stay over and have brunch before heading home, and he'd say, 'No, I gotta get home.' People that hung out with Jim had an instant connection because that's the type of person he was. He had an inviting personality and was very open."
Moncrief said the single-minded focus he brought to his sons was evident elsewhere in Fendrick's life.
"I remember a conversation we had about that his New Year's resolution was to play more guitar. That conversation stuck with me because he did. He was the kind of person, who, when he put his mind to something that's what he did."
The results of an autopsy are pending, Fendrick's father said.
"He was fit, lean, always worked out and ate right. He was complaining of chest pains for a couple of weeks before, but that's all we know. For someone as young as he was to die so suddenly will take some time to find out what happened."
The family is planning a memorial service on Sept. 14 in Huntington Beach, said Fendrick's father.