James “Jimmy” Tierney, left, and Alan Smith, guitarist and vocalist of The Porchistas, pose at the first ever Tierney’s Music Festival in 2014, celebrating the 80th anniversary of Tierney’s Tavern (COURTESY ALAN SMITH)

By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
bartesaghi@montclairlocal.news

Christopher Green had known James Patrick Tierney — “Jimmy,” to his close friends — since high school.

He likes to tell people about the time De La Soul’s album “3 Feet High and Rising” came out in 1989, the year after Tierney graduated Montclair High School. Tierney was one of the first people in their group of friends to buy the cassette. 

“It was six of us sitting in his room listening to the album like 1,000 times in a row,” Green said, laughing. “Jimmy liked all types of music.” 

Tierney loved rock. He loved hip-hop. He loved everything in between. And he loved helping bring music to the Montclair community, as part of the family that has owned Tierney’s Tavern on Montclair on Valley Road since 1934. It’s known for its must-have burgers and for the countless musical performers who’ve appeared in its performance space upstairs, traditions Tierney helped keep alive.

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Tierney died in his sleep July 30, due to congestive heart failure. He was 52.

Green said he doesn’t know where Tierney’s passion for music came from, but he remembers Tierney was the first one of their friends to learn guitar in high school. Once he learned, he wanted everyone to learn. 

“He didn’t want to keep the knowledge to himself,” Green said. “Jimmy would say, ‘Come to my room, and I’ll teach you.’ He helped a lot of my other friends learn how to play guitar when he learned a little bit. That was the type of guy he was.” 

Bill Tierney, James’s oldest brother and a fellow owner of the tavern, said James Tierney had taken some guitar classes, but he was mostly self-taught. 

Bill Tierney said his brother’s teacher told him he didn’t need to take classes — he was good enough on his own.

“That was his fun in life,” Bill Tierney said. “After being a father, being a musician was his passion.” 

James “Jimmy” Tierney plays guitar at a Tierney’s Tavern open mic. (COURTESY CATHY TIERNEY)

James Tierney was a fan of basketball. As a child, he was always found playing with other kids playing in Mountainside Park in Upper Montclair, Bill Tierney said. 

James Tierney was laid back, always reserved, his brother said. But he had a witty personality, and could be sarcastic. “That’s how the Irish communicate,” Bill Tierney said.

Green also remembers James Tierney as a peaceful, kind person.

“I don’t know if I ever saw him get upset. He was friends with everybody. Friendly guy,” he said. 

James Tierney hosted an open mic every Tuesday on the second floor of the tavern. He’d invite local bands, singers and poets. His own band, The Jamesons, also played in those open mics, getting better after each performance. 

In 2014, James and Alan Smith, guitarist and vocalist for The Porchistas, were two of the primary organizers of the first-ever Tierney’s Tavern Music Festival, on three stages inside and outside of the establishment. It celebrated the 80th anniversary of the family-owned Tavern. 

Smith said 4,000 people attended the festival, and James Tierney was proud of bringing the event to life. 

“We became good friends during that time,” Smith said. “Jimmy really valued local music and for decades he was in charge of booking bands and keeping things running smoothly upstairs at Tierney’s, and during those years he was an essential part of the Montclair music scene.”
In addition to music, James Tierney loved the New York Yankees, the New York Giants, and the Brooklyn Nets “but was most proud of his three children,” according to an obituary provided by Hugh M. Moriarty Funeral Home

“He spent his days either cooking the best burger in Montclair or serving drinks,” it said. 

Green said James Tierney’s death came too soon. Green saw his friend a month before he died, and was looking forward to their next meeting. But he said he would always remember James Tierney as a fun-loving person who loved his job “and as someone who brought joy through music — someone who was a friendly face.” 

Bill Tierney is thankful to the community for the outpouring of love, sympathy and care he and his family have received since his brother died. And he hopes that Jazz House Kids, the organization that James’s family selected to receive any donations made in James Tierney’s memory, will keep his legacy alive.

“We were saddened to hear the news of the passing of James Tierney, an important member of our community and fan of live music and musicians,” Melissa Walker, founder and president of Jazz House Kids, told Montclair Local via email. “We were touched that his family chose to honor his legacy through the music education of young people studying at the Jazz House.”

Donations can be made via jazzhousekids.org

James Tierney was predeceased by his father, Edward Joseph Tierney, and his mother, Gertrude Brennan Tierney. He is survived by his children, Dylan, Sandy and Ryan; brothers and sisters and their spouses, Bill Tierney (Jacqueline), Mary Ellen Onofrio (David), Cathy Tierney, Edward Robert Tierney, John Tierney and Michael Tierney; and many nieces, nephews and cousins. There will be a private family burial.

Green knows Tierney’s Tavern won’t be the same without James Tierney, but he will continue to go to the tavern, and hopes it continues in operation for many years.

“Tierney’s is a town treasure. His name, his family and that bar are a treasure for all of us that grew up in Montclair,” Green said. “Because a lot of things have changed. Streets have changed. Bloomfield Avenue has changed. A lot of different businesses have changed. But Tierney’s would always be there.”