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Thread: Blues, Stomps, & Rags #49

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    Registered User Ranald's Avatar
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    Mar 2017
    Ottawa, Canada

    Default Blues, Stomps, & Rags #49

    I've learned of a number of contemporary blues mandolinists from recordings by Guy Davis (Blues, Stomps, & Rags #21), who seems to have a mandolin player on each album. Kokomo Kidd features Christopher "Singing Hawk"James from Westminster, Maryland. As well as mandolin, James plays guitar, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, and Native American flute. He started playing guitar at five or six, taking up electric guitar at thirteen. James also played alto sax in middle school, and picked up harmonica somewhere along the line. At a young age, he heard B.B. King live, which started James on the path to being a blues musician. While in high school, he started a band, and began teaching at Coffey Music. After graduating in 1994, James spent two years studying classical guitar at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Finding his studies unsatisfying, he headed for Clarksdale, Mississippi, in the heart of blues country, where he ended up joining a local band on his first evening. He said of his experience in Clarksdale, “I was down there for about half a year and it was like years packed into that time” (Ottoni).

    Returning to Westminster, he started the Christopher James Band, which recorded their first album in 1998. They won the Baltimore Blues Society Battle of the Bands in 2000, and, the next year, placed highly in the International Blues Competition in Memphis, Tennessee. After they disbanded, James continued teaching and playing solo. He made five CD's, and received award nominations. During this period, he took up mandolin, an instrument played by his grandfather, an Italian emigrant, and his cousin, Michael Sassano, a well-known mandolin player in New York. “I explored Italian, Irish and Bluegrass music and eventually found my voice in Blues on the mandolin” (CC Times). James won the Individual Artist Award from The Maryland State Arts Council for his CD, When The Moon Gets High Tonight: The Blues Mandolin Experience. He has worked and performed with many musicians and singers, including Tim O'Brien, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Etta James, Guy Davis, Professor Louie and the Crowmatix, Roomful of Blues, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, and Ralph Stanley. Chris James is a dedicated music teacher still working at Coffey Music and at Common Ground in Westminster, while performing at concerts and at festivals throughout the US. Guy Davis said of him, "Christopher James is amongst the best pure musicians that there are. There's nothing he can't do!" (CJ website) and, “He is able to complement me on anything I play and he has a heart and spirit that is as big as a building” (Elbin).

    (Information from Christopher James's website, , and from Elben, Michel, "Blues Musician Christopher James Strives to Bring People Together, Carroll County Times, Jan 12, 18, , and Ottoni, Christine, "Get to know Westminster blues musician Christopher James," Ting Blog, March 13, 2018, )

    Here's Christopher James doing his stuff solo. If the links don't work search YouTube for "Christopher James -- Catch That Train".

    And here he is with Guy Davis. If the links don't work search YouTube for "Guy Davis - Cool Drink of Water".

    Robert Johnson's mother, describing blues musicians:
    "I never did have no trouble with him until he got big enough to be round with bigger boys and off from home. Then he used to follow all these harp blowers, mandoleen (sic) and guitar players."
    Lomax, Alan, The Land where The Blues Began, NY: Pantheon, 1993, p.14.

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