The Curious Case of Jim Sullivan, The Musician Who "Went To Space"... and Never Returned

The Curious Case of Jim Sullivan, The Musician Who “Went To Space”… and Never Returned


In 1975, Jim Sullivan, a promising musician, mysteriously disappeared without a trace just outside the town of Santa Rosa, New Mexico. To this day, no one knows where he went or what happened to him and his body has never been found. It’s almost as if he was sucked into space..

Jim’s debut album, which was released in 1969, was entitled U.F.O.. Jennifer Maas writes an intriguing article about Jim and defines U.F.O as, “a slice of American pop music filtered from the murky depths of Los Angeles, by way of the deep- south.” Now I’m no music buff or anything, nor do I delve deep into the hidden meanings of songs or anything like that. I simply call it like I see it. Or in this case, like I hear it. Listening to this song I could only hear a hippy. However, the tune is actually quite catchy. You can hear the entire album at Light In the Attic, a great site that re-leases hard to find music and gets them the attention today that they deserved yesterday.

Here’s some lyrics from the title track:


Shakin like a leaf on the desert heat,
his daddy’s got a bog that’s hard to beat
Bought me a ticket got a front row seat.
I’m checkin out the show with a glassy eye.
Looking at the sun dancing through the sky.
Did he come by UFO?

Clearly, Jim Sullivan was a very talented musician, and before long he had caught the Hollywood bug. He hung out with famous celebrities, played music with them, even getting a brief cameo in Easy Rider. He had everything going for him except a credible label. Too many of them already had their own “Jim Sullivans”, musicians with a sound close to Jim’s… probably because Jim was playing on half their albums. Even after he and friend created their own label, releasing their own albums as a last ditch resort, they still didn’t get the attention they wanted. However, throughout the course of his attempts at stardom, Jim had made contacts in Nashville that provided the opportunity to make or break his career. Leaving his wife and family back in California, Jim set out on an adventure from which he would never return.


They found his car abandoned. Everything Jim had was still in his vehicle, parked 26 miles outside the town of Santa Rosa, New Mexico, but he was nowhere to be found. Some reports said that Jim was pulled over by the police because he was swerving back and forth between lanes. Later, the officer stated that Jim was just tired from his travels, and rather than ticket him, the officer gave him directions to the nearby La Mesa Motel, where it’s been verified that he checked in.

Still, there were also reports that he was questioned by a local family as to why his car was parked either on or near their property. The family in question were the Genetti’s, who were often said to have local mafia ties. Whether or not there was a confrontation between the two that led to sour mouths is unclear.

But there it was: a car filled with belongings that had no driver. Even his 12 string guitar was left behind. As someone who dabbles in playing music, I can understand how important a musician’s instrument is. I could never think about ditching my guitar like that, and for a musician such as Jim, who most likely treasured that possession more than family, leaving it behind doesn’t seem to make sense.

“With or without his disappearance, there’s something in those lyrics that is incredibly mysterious and eerie,” Matt Sullivan, Jim’s son, told NPR. “One thing that one of Jim’s friends pointed out was that the guitar was left in the car. If Jim was going to disappear, that would have been the one thing that he would have taken, because wherever he was in the world, he could always stand on a street corner and make a few bucks playing his guitar.”

Search parties were conducted by the local authorities and Jim’s family. They couldn’t find any trace of him, and to this day, it’s almost as if Jim dissipated into thin air. For a time, investigators believed that a badly decomposed body found in the desert might have belonged to Jim, but after extensive forensics, it was ruled out.

Some musicians can work their entire lives and never reach the level of fame they seek in their own country, but can go on to be wildly successful in others, thus the saying “big in Japan”. Well, maybe Jim just happened to be “big in space”. On “U.F.O”, Sullivan sings about driving his car into the desert, his family left behind, and getting abducted by aliens. Maybe, just maybe, the Greys liked his tunes so much they were happy to oblige.

I’m sure they had a better guitar for him to use.


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