Nashville-Experienced James to Perform in Tyler

(From the Marshall Independent Weekender Nov 19-20th, 2005)
By Cindy Votruba

Minnesota musician Jeff James has jammed with the members of the country group Rascal Flatts in Nashville, played more than 2500 performances and always looks for a reaction from his audience, big or small.

    James will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov 26, at the Bakery building in downtown Tyler as a part of the Tyler Arts Council music series.

    James music interest started at age 6 when he sang in a church choir in his hometown of New London. His parents bought him a record player when he was 7.  “Kenny Rogers Greatest Hits” was the first record he bought.

    “I was fascinated with the idea of being able to play a song I liked over and over” James said. “I wore it out”

     When he was 16, James pastor loaned him a classical guitar and he learned songs by James Taylor, Waylon Jennings, John Denver, and Pink Floyd.  By his senior year, that’s all he wanted to do – play guitar and sing.

    “Some friends and I played in front of 1,500 people that summer and that was it” James said, “In 1991 at St. Cloud State University, people could tell you I wouldn’t  go anywhere without my guitar except for class.”

   James got involved with a band called “Black Waters and was asked to join a full time band, Genuine Leather and Lace, in Spring of 1993.  That was the beginning of his professional Singer/Songwriter career.

   James moved to Nashville in 1998 to try the business end of music.  He spent 7 years performing at clubs around downtown Nashville  and released 4 CD’s independently.  Nashville was the best 7 years of his career musically, James said.

   “There are two aspects to Nashville in my opinion: the industry and the artist/player/songwriter.” James said. “The latter was amazing to be a part of.  I got a chance to play with some fantastic artists, artist players, and songwriters.  I played a place called the “Fiddle and Steel Guitar Bar for 5 years and jammed with Jay and Joe Don of Rascal Flatts who were playing that club before they were signed.  Also with Sony’s Colt Prather and Lyric Street’s new Artist Trent Tomlinson.”

   James said it was fun watching careers grow and having guys who play for Alan Jackson and Toby Keith come and do a show with him for $30 a night and keep coming back.

“I’ve also watched several players move into town, start working with you and move onto major artist gigs – It’s thrilling to see that happen to friends.” James said.

   James did a live radio show in Nashville called “Ernest Tubbs Midnite Jamboree”  which he enjoyed because the audience was great.

   “Juxtapose that with a night I played outside the Red Carpet in St. Cloud before I was old enough to get in.” James said.  “I had my guitar case open and about 150 people crowded in a circle around me.  They were both at different levels in my career but the rush was the same.  I like taking people for a ride where they are right “There” with me.”

   James has 350 songs in his repertoire, originals, and covers, from James Taylor, Neil Diamond, to Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton.

   He moved back to Minnesota last August with his wife Debbie, and his daughter Danielle and he plays around the Twin Cities area.  His most recent CD “Two Hands” was released that fall.

   One of the songs on “Two Hands” contains a song honoring civil rights icon Rosa Parks, who died this past month.

   “Rosa Parks was one of the most influential Americans I know.  James said. “Not African-American but American.  She had courage and endurance and stood up for, or sat down, for what she knew in her heart was right.

   James had contacted the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development before the release of the CD, which was around the time Parks had a lawsuit against Outkast.  So James decided to contact her for permission.

   “I gave them the lyrics and the song itself along with two separate letters and received no response.” James said. “So I released it, all the while sure that Rosa never heard the song.”

   On October 23, James was filming a television concert and did “Rosa” and kept singing lines from that song over and over that night.  He found out the next day that Parks had died.

   Every show is different, James said and the Tyler audience can expect anything.

   “For listeners unfamiliar with the material, expect a mix of fingerstyle guitar and toe-tapping rhythm guitar guiding intelligent lyrics, laced with a few metaphors and covering subjects like, love, war, faith, history, relationships, and of course, maniacal trains that can talk” James said.