Russ James / Blog

For Money or The Love of Music?

Several years ago I sang and played for free. Mostly to small groups of friends or church members (50 or less). They came to my acoustic concerts to hear my music because they wanted to... not for the food, drink or venue. Those were good times. Today, I sing and play for a living to people who, mostly, didn't come to the venue to hear me and many times could care less about my music. I promise myself that one day, good Lord willing, I'll be in better financial shape, sitting somewhere in Nashville with other songwriters, singing, playing, writing for the love of music and not giving a damn whether I make a buck or not!

Unfortunately, most of us who love music and songwriting have to play for money to be able to pursue our passion and dreams. So... the next time you go to a live music venue, let the owner know you're there for the music!

Yes, I Play Country (and like it or not... I Play Folk-Rock)

It has been suggested to me by a few folks that maybe I should promote my live performances as acoustic rock and country… as to not “turn off” anyone by using the term “folk-rock”. Wow… I’ve always loved folk-rock and played it since about 1966. I think many “baby boomers” who lived through that era and understand “folk-rock” music might agree with me. Below is a short tutorial on the definition and origin of folk-rock music. Check it out… you might be surprised to find out what folk-rock really is! Folk rock is a musical genre combining elements of folk music and rock music. In its earliest and narrowest sense, the term referred to a genre that arose in the United States and the UK around the mid-1960s. The genre was pioneered by the Los Angeles band The Byrds, who began playing traditional folk music and Bob Dylan-penned material with rock instrumentation, in a style heavily influenced by The Beatles and other British bands. The term "folk rock" was itself first coined by the U.S. music press to describe The Byrds' music in June 1965, the same month that the band's debut album was issued. The release of The Byrds' cover version of Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" and its subsequent commercial success initiated the folk rock explosion of the mid-1960s. Dylan himself was also influential on the genre, particularly his recordings with an electric rock band on the Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde albums. Dylan's July 25, 1965 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric backing band is also considered a pivotal moment in the development of folk rock. The genre had its antecedents in the American folk music revival, the beat music of The Beatles and other British Invasion bands, The Animals' hit recording of the folk song "The House of the Rising Sun", and the folk-influenced songwriting of The Beau Brummels. In particular, the folk-influence evident in such Beatles' songs as "I'm a Loser" and "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" was very influential on folk rock. The repertoire of most folk rock acts was drawn in part from folk sources but it was also derived from folk-influenced singer-songwriters such as Dylan. Musically, the genre was typified by clear vocal harmonies and a relatively "clean" (effects- and distortion-free) approach to electric instruments, as epitomized by the jangly 12-string guitar sound of The Byrds. This jangly guitar sound was derived from the music of The Searchers and from George Harrison's use of a Rickenbacker 12-string on The Beatles' recordings during 1964 and 1965. NOTE: The country-folk-rock influence of artists like Graham Parsons, James Taylor, Emmylou Harris, The Eagles, The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills & Nash, J.D. Souther, Jackson Brown, Creedence Clearwater Revival, etc. cannot be ignored when defining the boundaries of folk rock music and its impact on today’s contemporary country and alternative rock sounds. Add the bluesy tunes of Jim Croce, and who wouldn’t like a little folk-rock music in their mix? So plainly, if promoting myself as a country and “folk-rock” artist is costing me gigs… then I must be performing for the wrong crowd!

Nothing Stops the Music in Nashville!

My heart dropped when I heard about the loss of life and property in and around Nashville. But I think the fact that the music never stopped, will go a long way toward providing the optimism and spirit to overcome, repair and move on. "God bless the boys (and girls) who make the noise on 16th Avenue (and on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry). Mr. Acuff and Minnie Pearl would be proud!

Credit to a Great Texas Songwriter

You may notice that the lyric sheet of the song "Carolina Backroads", from my CD of the same name, lists Pat Bleakley as the primary writer. I only sang it on the CD, added a verse to the original song from 1982, and arranged the "unplugged" version.

Pat Bleakley was a stage name of a great Texas songwriter and guitar player who I played with in the Stillwater Country Trio in the early '80s. His real name is Patrick James Skadowski. I haven't seen Pat in years, but I wanted him to get due credit for the great melody and lyrics that is the heart and soul of the song "Carolina Backroads". Thanks Pat.

What Makes a Great Song?

They say a good song, when you hear it, should make you laugh, cry, think or dance. If I should ever write such a song that would touch someone's heart in a positive way...then I would be happy. It may never be recorded in Nashville, but it might be recorded in eternity where angels may someday sing it back to me. I believe music and love are eternal.

Fame and Money?

I'm too old to compete with young country artists...but I'd love to play small listening rooms up and down the East Coast to groups of followers who really appreciate my music and always come to the shows. I'd like to have enough work to play regularly and afford the traveling. However, if a young superstar with a lot of fame and a national following wants to record one of my songs, I'm all for that!

Thanks for Coming to the O'Malley Shows

Hey! I want to thank all you guys who came out to see my acoustic shows at O'Malley's Pub and Restaurant in Raleigh over the last 18 months...you know who you are! This darned arthritis has been tough on these hips and knees this past year. Thank God there are folks like you who still enjoy hearing an "old man" sit on a stool and sing the songs of his life. The days of playing stage shows with a band are over (the joints can't handle it anymore). But writing and playing my songs, as well as playing the cover songs that bring back all those great memories, are still my passion. As long as you're willing to listen, I'm willing to sing and play. (It just won't be at O'Malley's after this month. The venue's crowds are getting smaller and much less "Country".) Stay in touch. This fall, I'll be doing more private shows and spending more time in the studio working on my next CD. Thanks again and remember...music has a healing power! - Russ

Venues for Country Ballads

I love a good country ballad, but live venues for such great songs are hard to find.