Musician thinks we'd all be happier if more people were singing the blues

February 18, 1994|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,Contributing Writer

Bluesman K. J. James stood on a makeshift stage at Carroll Community College yesterday and made his acoustic blues guitar wail.

As he played and sang, many in the audience couldn't help tapping their feet to the music.

He travels with his wife, Carol, who acts as his road manager and sound technician, from his home in Little River, S.C. He plays 65 to 70 college dates during the season, and said in an interview that he prefers doing that to performing in bars and clubs.

"You're not competing with people like in the bars and clubs," he said. "You're not dealing with people who think you are a jukebox."

Mr. James has jammed with such blues legends as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and John Hammond. He also was, for a time, a member of the Legendary Blues Band.

In the six years that he's been a solo artist, he has recorded two albums, "A Dr. Blue Injection" and "Salt City Blues," on the Blue Way Record label. He is represented by The Klages Agency in Westminster.

Although his shows are popular, Mr. James is very much aware that blues is no longer in the forefront of the black music industry -- a fact that was driven home at his performance yesterday at CCC. He played as part of the college's celebration of Black History Month.

But, he said afterward, "Ninety percent of my audience seems to be young white kids," and it was no different here.

"What I would like to see is people from more ethnic groups get involved in this," he said. Blues "is such a part of black American history. If we get more African-American people involved, we could keep it alive."

Mr. James acknowledged that such performers as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton have done much to continue the blues tradition. Young black performers, however, have sometimes failed to see the influence that the blues has had on their music, he said.

"I think blues was rap before rap was rap," he said. "Rap is not new."

Mr. James said that he enjoys some rap music if it has a good beat and a good message. But, after having been a law enforcement official for 20 years and witnessing the problems with violence in society, he had strong words for the genre known as "gangsta" rap.

"I think with what's happening in this country, we don't need anything to incite violence," he said. "An artist on stage should be very careful, because we influence a lot of people."

Mr. James longs for a return to traditional values.

"We need to respect women," he said. "We need to do something about all this stupid violence."

Mr. James also plays the slide guitar using a technique known as bottlenecking. He is self-taught.

"I went after it," he said. "I learned from listening and experimenting on the guitar. I'm still learning.

"I believe that if there's a satisfied artist, there's a dissatisfied audience."

People lingered around as Mr. James packed up his equipment to go to his next gig.

"You've got some tasty licks," said one young man, who shook Mr. James' hand before leaving.

"You a guitar man?" Mr. James yelled after him. "You must be a guitar man to be talking about 'tasty licks.' "

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