Sports shop owner pursues musical talents

Fri, 05/08/2020 - 9:45am

“Some might be surprised to know that I pursue music on the side.”

The current lockdown has inspired some island residents to use their downtime to focus on creative endeavors and hobbies, including Jim Ortel.

Ortel, co-owner of the Block Island Sport Shop, has been taking advantage of this time to focus on his music. Ortel recently posted on YouTube his new song, “Fighting Chaos,” which can be found here:

The Block Island Times spoke with Ortel to gain a little insight into his music.

Q: Please introduce yourself, and the role music plays in your life?

A: Most of your readership will know me as the co-owner, with my wife Marion, of Block Island Sport Shop. Most recently, in fact, it was a few years ago, I played drums for an island-based band called Other Than Here with Max Balmforth and Ned Phillips, Jr. I have also worked with Glenda Luck and Peter Jacob, and have had the opportunity to jam with several other island musicians over the years.

Q: Who is in the music project, and when did the project come together?

A: The band is a solo music project at the moment. I started it a few years ago, but the name [George Bowling Band] is new and is a reference to George Orwell’s book “Coming up for Air.” I picked up guitar about six years ago. I have been writing keyboard-based music for many years prior to learning guitar. For a couple of years, I have played my original material on the stereo at Block Island Sport Shop, but for the most part none of my music has seen the light of day until this video. On the other hand, several island musicians have offered invaluable support and input. Chief Vin Carlone has been a mentor since I first started guitar, Silas Monje has always offered support and guidance. Karen LeRoy, John Warfel III, Alison Warfel, Ned Phillips Jr., Max Balmforth, and Peter Jacob have all been wonderful advocates and have had great input, as well.

Q: Where do you record your music?

A: All the tracks were recorded at my makeshift studio at home. I play drums, keyboards, bass, guitars and sing. I enjoy the holistic approach to songwriting and recording. My family has been, and continues to be, amazingly supportive and tolerant of the project, which sort of dominates the living room. Wade has been my tech support and lately has taken a larger role in the musical side as well.

Q: Who wrote “Fighting Chaos,” and what is the message behind the song?

A: For the song “Fighting Chaos,” which is featured in the video, the lyrics were written by my son Wade Ortel. The message is up for interpretation, and any speculation on their meaning would be purely conjecture. Wade is not exactly forthcoming on the subject. The music came together after I saw the lyrics, and we both agreed it needed to have a somewhat dark mood, if not entirely without lighthearted moments. There is a calmness initially that seems to descend into chaos towards the end, but that is one point of view. One of the best parts of this project has been hearing various interpretations and feedback. I’d love to hear more of people’s reactions!

Q: Where did you shoot the music video for the song?

A: The video was filmed on April 11 at the beach south of Cow Cove, a stretch called Grove Point. Wade shot all the video and did the editing. We had a blast doing it. During this trying time, it seemed like a good way to keep focused on creativity and positive action. In some ways it feels frivolous, and borderline inappropriate, but also perhaps important and meaningful. In any case, it has been a welcome distraction for us and I hope it provides the same for those watching and listening.

Q: Is there previous music you have shared or published with the public?

A: I have a lot of original music in various states of completion that has not been made public. It’s a bit of a leap to stick it out there, but now the ice is broken so I expect to be posting more in the near future. I hope to create more videos to help support the music.

Q: What are the next plans with your music venture?

A: As far as the future of the George Bowling Band, I’d say it’s a passion of mine to improve my performance and songwriting, and to share as much of it as possible. My guitar instructor, Victor Main, has been an incredible guiding hand, and his mentorship has been invaluable. One of my takeaways from Victor, on a level beyond technique and music theory, is that being true to yourself and presenting music honestly and from the heart is the key. Of course, I want to improve my craft and there is so much that can and should be better, but by sharing music in the present, such as it is, I feel like I have taken a big step.

Ortel added “the band has a new website online” full of videos and audio. The website can be found at