RIP Hobo Jim, Alaska's balladeer - Must Read Alaska
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Sunday, December 5, 2021
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RIP Hobo Jim, Alaska’s balladeer

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Just weeks after announcing he had terminal cancer, Jim Varsos, better known as Hobo Jim, died Oct. 5

He was a beloved singer-songwriter, best known for the “Iditarod Trail Song,” who in 1994 was named Alaska’s official balladeer.

Varsos was born in 1952 in Indiana and raised in Wisconsin. He began playing guitar at the age of 12, according to Wikipedia, and hitchhiked to Nashville after attending college. He traveled and rode freight trains around the country and made his way to Alaska, where he appeared in small venues and state fairs for decades. He split his time between Alaska and Nashville in recent decades.

Varsos worked with publisher Pat Higdon, singer Russell Smith, and writer Rory Bourke, among others. He co-wrote “The Rock” with Russell Smith, and co-wrote with Janis Ian the song “Empty.” In 2018 he received an Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • I have worked with Jim several times. He was as friendly and pleasant to be around as one could possibly be. Also very talented. This is terribly sad news.

    • Did you also know Ed Borden? Ed was a good friend of Jim’s who passed away about 15 years ago (also from cancer).
      When I brought up Ed’s name to Hobo Jim, when he was playing in Juneau, he said he considered Ed one of his best friends.
      RIP to Jim.

      • No sir I did not.

        • Ed wasn’t involved in Jim’s music but he was also a character (like Jim). He spent his last years as a fish cop on the Kenai river. He has a monument to him somewhere on the river that I’ve not seen. He ran dogs for a while and did both the Iditarod and Quest.
          Thanks for the reply.

          • You bet!

  • Rest In Peace hobo Jim. Your story telling songs helped put Alaska on the map. May you fly high and sing with the angels.

  • Oh no! I am very sad to hear that. Rest easy sir. May your final Iditarod trail be guarded by the spirits of all the dogs who have walked it too. We will miss you.

  • May God be with you Jim, ’till we meet again.

  • RIP to him, thanks for the entertainment. A life done well.

  • A legend and just a great man!

  • Wild and free Jim. The way it should be.

  • I was so sad when I read his letter disclosing his cancer diagnosis. Such a beautiful goodbye to all of his fans. His letter depicted the gracious and gentle soul that was Hobo Jim.

    Prayers for his family

  • RIP Sourdough!

  • Will cherish the memories of song, music, drinks, van camping and late nights between Alice’s & BJ’s. Gone too soon. Wonderful person to know. Truly wild and free.

  • My family and I were lucky enough to see Hobo Jim play while vacationing in Alaska. We will never forget him! RIP Jim. Thank you for your music

  • A true Pioneer that Alaskans will miss.

  • Sorry to hear that.

    Memory Eternal.

  • Hobo Jim is an Alaskan Treasure. The State of Alaska Flag should be at half mast to honor him. That is the least of what should be done to commemorate Hobo Jim. Hobo has a never ending love and honor with Alaska, Alaskans, and serves as a global ambassador of Alaska.

    God Bless Hobo Jim. The northern lights will always dance when your voice is singing the anthems of Alaska.

    Rest well, friend.

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