Phenomenal Guitarist Jimmy James Shreds His Way To Earshot Ballot

by Gus Marshall

One of Seattle’s most outstandingly authentic, awe-inspiring, premier guitar virtuoso’s, Mr. Jimmy James, has been nominated for an Earshot Jazz Golden Ear Award, for NW Jazz Instrumentalist of the year. 

Mr. Jimmy James will be showcasing his exuberant talent at The Earshot Jazz Golden Ear Award Ceremony Monday Night at The Royal Room, with the internationally in-demand, deep soul syncopators, the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio.  The trio is an all-instrumental, vintage funk-infused power trio, well on its way to the big time. Monday might be the last time to see these amazing musicians for free, at the place where it all started for them, The Royal Room.

Before Mr. Jimmy James headed out on a Westcoast weekend blitzkrieg down to California and Oregon, with his other highly popular original soul sensations, The Trueloves, James spoke with The South Seattle Emerald about his deep understanding of Seattle’s musical history, Jimi Hendrix, and his own South Seattle upbringing. 

Jimmy James: I know people who knew him (Jimi Hendrix). My cousins’ grandfather knew him, they went to school together, they were actually in the same band together.

Gus Marshall: James Marshall Hendrix?

JJ: Yeah, they grew up together went to Garfield, all that, knew each other. I asked him about stories, he told me stuff that you couldn’t find anywhere else. He has early recordings of them when they were teenagers.

GM: What years are we talking about?

JJ:  The fifties. My cousins’ grandfather was like ‘Man, we knew that guy was going to make it. We knew he was going to make it. He was just serious’. Another guy we knew in the mid-nineties, this guy was like almost eighty I believe. We used to go visit him every weekend, and he knew all of what was going on in Seattle. He knew all about what was going on, on South Jackson Street. All that stuff. He would say ‘There were times when you could have a bankroll full of money, you could be drunk or passed out, and nobody would mess with you’. The prostitutes were all around, this is when it was a port town, and all the sailors would come in, and prostitutes, and all that. Jazz musicians were making money and never had to work. The Black and Tan was over off-of Jackson, 12th, and Jackson I believe, right on the corner and he told me all that stuff about back in the day. He said Seattle was like New York back in the day. He said ‘There used to be this crazy kid we used to see, and he used to run around here with this crappy guitar, everyone thought he was crazy, we knew him as buster, but you guys know him as Jimi Hendrix. He was a wild and crazy kid, but he was serious about it, you know’. It’s Amazing. And you hear all these stories, you hear about that Billie Holiday played at the Eagles Auditorium, or Washington Hall, stuff like that, Louie Armstrong or all those people, Ernestine Anderson, Ray Charles. You know Ray Charles played at the Rocking Chair, and the site where that used to be is now Gatzert School, off of Yesler. He said there were so many clubs, so many places to eat, it was just a whole thing, Seattle had a huge jazz movement. I got that book, Jackson Street After Hours, and read all that.

GM: Paul De Barros?

JJ: Yeah, there is a lot of stuff and you hear these elders and they will tell you ‘Well, you guys missed out, you will probably never know what that’s like’, and they can tell you they were in the thick of it. Where now things are being replaced with electronics and stuff like that. But hopefully, the pendulum will swing the other way, hopefully. I believe it will because people are looking for something; they are really searching for something that’s more humanly and less robotically. Man, sorry, I could go on for hours.

GM: How long have you been playing music?

JJ: Wow, I would say, I was messing on and off with it, I was messing with drums when I was like five or six years old. But I was just banging away on them. I didn’t properly get into it till I was like twelve. So, I was twelve and I remember I was kind of playing drums then. And I remember some of the guys from my class, we got together at their house, and one guy played guitar and one guy played bass and I was messing around on the drums, and then we swapped instruments, and you know I was always into the guitar, but, as soon as I put my hands on it, I was like ‘Ok, this is really what I want to do’. Like more so than anything. The first thing that got me into guitar was “My Girl” by the Temptations, or “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, that little guitar line in there that’s what got me into it.

GM: What is your first musical memory?

JJ: First musical memory, whew. That’s a lot. Hearing songs from people like Sly and the Family Stone, “Thank You For Talking To Me Africa” or “My Girl” or “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes, “California Dreaming” by The Mommas and The Poppas, stuff like that. So, I was always into it, always hearing it from the record player or what have you. So, that was my first musical memory right there, which I think might have been in a baby seat. So, I remember being in a baby seat and hearing all that stuff.

GM: Where did you grow up?

JJ: Holly park area. Some people call it Hillman City. Hillman City is a little different, so I call it Holy Park because it’s more-close to Holly Park.

GM: Did you grow up around musicians in your family?

JJ: My mother sang. She would hum around the house. My sister who is still living she is a drummer, she played in the early nineties with a group called Tribal Therapy, and had also gotten offers from Heart, Funkadelic, and The Indigo Girls, so she was the premier drummer at a time when female drummers were very rare, they still are to a degree but not as rare as it was at that time. So, she was the premier female drummer, and she even got a chance to sit in with Janis Joplin’s old guitarist. So, she was the premier female drummer in town.

GM: What is her name?

JJ: Chelsea Williams. And then my oldest sister passed, it will be 19 years in April. She played multiple instruments, she was in marching band in Texas, and also played piano and was also a flutist. So, it was always around, they were always listening to different types of music, country, gospel, rhythm and blues, early rock and roll stuff like that. My sister was into like metal, and arena rock, the one who is still around today. My other sister was big into pop-music, so I grew up hearing so many different things, it’s like ‘oh yeah, I know that song, I’ve heard that’. I was around it all the time, we didn’t have much money but you know, we made it work.

GM: What was your experience like growing up in South Seattle?

JJ: Wow. It depends. I was like the odd kid out. I was considered a book nerd in school, especially in elementary school. I kept to myself and was always a loner. I still am a loner, of course. But then when I got to middle school and high school I was dressed differently than everybody else. Because everybody else is wearing like Reeboks and all the other cool clothes. And I’m going to school in some bellbottoms I got from a thrift shop. I felt comfortable in it, I wasn’t around in the seventies but I dressed a little different. Some people would mess with you, and some people wouldn’t. Even walking down the street with a guitar was kind of odd to most people. Other than that, I just knew what my neighborhood was, and I know what I was used to being around here. So, it was a pretty cool thing. Pretty good, in certain spots.

GM: I know you and Delvon Lamarr have known each other for a long time off and on over the years, but how did you two reconnect and start playing with each other as The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio?

JJ: Well, I would go down there to check him out at The Royal Room, and I was always a fan of his playing anyway. Just from day one, nobody played like him. He was playing down there weekly. So, they were just starting that, and I would come down and sit-in with them. Then what I heard later was like a few shows in, it wasn’t working out with their guitar player, so Delvon calls me up and is like ‘What are you doing?’. And I’m like ‘What’s going on?’, and he’s like ‘Man, you wanna come down here and play on a Tuesday?’. I said ‘Man, I don’t know half them songs you talkin’ about, I know the songs I know, but what do you know?’. And so, we picked each other’s brains. Then after a while of talking and playing, I looked at him and I said ‘Man, why do we get along so well? Man, what is your birthday?’, and he says ‘August 28th’, I say ‘My birthday is the 25th, oh, were Virgos. Ah, it makes sense now’. So, we would pick each other’s brains, he would play this, and I would play that. We would go back and forth and basically, that is how that whole album (Close But No Cigar. Colemine Records) came together at the Royal Room.


What: 2017 Golden Ear Award Party / Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio

Where: The Royal Room. 5000 Rainier Ave

When: Monday, April 2, 2018. Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio 7pm. Award Ceremony 8pm.

Cost: Suggested Donation.

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