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Talk Music: Get to neighborhood favorite, Jerry James

By Melissa Crowe
Oct. 23, 2013 at 5:23 a.m.

Jerry James

DON'T MISS IT

• WHO: Jerry James

• WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday

• WHERE: The PumpHouse Riverside Restaurant and Bar, 1201 W. Stayton Ave.

• COST: Free

Jerry James, who's known by day as the watchdog of Victoria's natural resources, spends most evenings surrounded by his acoustic guitar, an amplifier and a patio full of people.

Since his youth, music has always been a strong passion. Nowadays, he tours the Crossroads, singing a few originals, a handful of classics and a duet or two in the styles of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.

With a regular Wednesday gig at Greek's 205 in downtown Victoria and several others with the PumpHouse and private parties, the pony-tailed troubadour is making a name for himself and his style across Victoria.

James caught up with Get Out to talk about his musical style, his passion for performing and what he's got planned for the future.

What do you think sets you apart in the Victoria music scene?

What makes me different is several things. I'm no spring chicken; there's a lot of younger guys out there.

What I do is a little different. I do a lot of '70s and '80s old, cosmic cowboy kind of country stuff, which is a little bit different market. Mixed in with that, I play some of the newer stuff like Jack Ingram and Randy Rogers. What people come out to hear when they come to hear me is some of the old Michael Murphy and old Willie.

What I do, too, a little differently, is more voice. I sing the different parts in the different voices.

It almost seems like the voices have become your signature.

I just thought, well, this is really corny; nobody is going to like this; but I tried it out anyway. It's turned into, "That's the guy who does Waylon and Willie!" I'll do the Johnny Cash voice or Merle Haggard. ... For what I'm trying to do, one of the things you try to talk to young people about who want to go to Austin or Nashville - you tell them to find their voice and only do their voice.

I'm just doing a different thing. My goal is to be more of an entertainer and do what I'm doing, especially where I am in my life. When you go back and look at Merle Haggard and what he did 30, 40 years ago as part of his show, that's what he did.

Which songwriters do you admire?

Townes Van Zandt, even Guy Clark. People say he was the greatest songwriter who ever lived, and "Pancho and Lefty" is the best song ever written.

You can't tell it in my writing. I don't write with that much of a literary bent that he does or Guy Clark does, but those are two songwriters. Some of the things they write are very literary. They've studied how to put together metaphor. There's a science as well as an art to songwriting.

You make an effort to use metaphor or analogies rather than saying "I love you." There's a certain amount of craft in learning to do those things. There's a lot of people out there who can write songs. I can write songs.

But why don't I do more songs that I've written? Part of it is there are so many songs that are out there and so many better songwriters than I am. I can write songs. What is my real talent? Probably entertainment.

My opportunities are much greater as an entertainer than somebody who does my own music and nothing else.

What do you think about when you're performing?

I try to really interpret the song where it means something. It's not just singing the lyrics, but telling the story.

I don't do a radio copy; I do an interpretation of the song and try to sing that song as if I wrote it. It's not just a matter of singing the lyrics and getting the notes right, it's a matter of trying to touch somebody's heart.

I do some songs I wrote, but there's a lot of really good songs out there.

I'll be thinking about what I'm going to do with the next song or what I've got to do tomorrow. It's amazing what different kinds of things you can think about - but a lot of it is focusing on the story itself and trying to make that song come across as if you had written it.

What's in store for your entertaining future?

One way or another, I'm going to do a CD over the next few months. It'll be primarily stuff I've written, but a few cover songs on there, too. There are a few I've chosen that people really like - some Kris Kristofferson and Guy Clark.

What's this business all about for you?

The way you get asked back is if people are really enjoying what you're doing. That's what it's all about.

I like playing music at the house - I play banjo and things I don't perform in public - but I love performing.

I laid off for a long time raising my family. When my youngest daughter graduated from high school, I told my wife I still have the itch. At the time, I thought I'd play once or twice a month. Instead, I'm playing four times this week.

I take one weekend a month off.

You seem to have a luxury of being able to play whatever you like. How do you tailor your sets to the crowd?

I watch the crowd; if they're not talking, I'm too loud. I'm not there to put on a concert; I'm there to provide an atmosphere.

There are times where you're just up there playing and you think, "Man, I could be standing on my head singing 'Pop goes the Weasel,' and it wouldn't make a damn bit of difference." But when you get through, the same people you thought weren't listening say they can't believe I did that song. They are listening.

When you're young, you have to learn to get through that.

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