Then I first remember seeing Brad James play a couple of years ago, he was a face in the crowd that Dustin Pittsley called upon at downtown bar Arnie's. After a little prodding, he agreed to sit in with Pittsley and his band, finding the pocket and settling into a tasteful groove while Pittsley continued to front the band with his soulful croon and blistering guitar licks.
Since that time, I've gone out of my way more than once to catch James and his band at locations like The Colony or Blue Rose Café in order to take in a relaxed night of music and enjoy one of Tulsa's most tasteful and underrated guitar players.
You see, it's not that James can't let loose and wail; it's more a matter of him being the quintessential pocket player. Never one to overplay, he's got a natural presence and one of the warmest guitar tones in town, yet he's never one to crave the spotlight or attention. Hell, just getting him to sit down and discuss his band and upcoming shows has been a year-long process, with the conversation that followed a discussion about other musicians and influences as much as his own playing and work.
After sitting fireside for an impromptu evening of conversation at Stone River two years ago, the opportunity to simply sit and chat with one of the most tasteful guitar players in town isn't one I let pass by. Fortunately, a busy weekend that sees Brad James Band play a full night at The Shrine this Friday night, May 10, followed by a Mother's Day afternoon set at Guthrie Green, allowed me to lure James out for an afternoon to not only get caught up on his history, but also get a little more insight into the Stillwater/Red Dirt scene and discuss music in general.
As a Tulsa transplant, I admittedly missed much of the initial window of the Red Dirt music scene. As James pointed out, however, it hadn't been labeled "Red Dirt" at the time: it was simply what was going on musically in Stillwater.
Although James was younger than the initial Red Dirt pioneers, guys like Tome Skinner, Brad Piccolo and John Cooper accepted him onto their circle early as he met them during his teenage years. Brad Piccolo allowed James to run sound for his rock/blues outfit. "At some point, then, they turned me on to stuff like Jack Kerouac, The Grateful Dead, and my first nudie bar -- all within the same week," James said with a laugh.
It was in the late '80s that Jimmy LaFave started up an annual musicians reunion at The Farm, which is where James met his eventual band mates, Scott Evans and Donnie Wood. At that point, James had moved to Colorado and spent the summer in Breckenridge before moving back to Oklahoma and starting what would become Medicine Show with Evans, Wood, Doug Wehmeyer and Corey Mauser. In James' mind, "we were kind of the second generation of Red Dirt, kind of cousin bands with Red Dirt Rangers, who we played a lot of shows with."
James departed Medicine Show in 1997, but continued playing with the likes of Steve Pryor and Stoney Larue, even settling in and playing with Tom Skinner's Science Project and Susan Herndon on occasion before stepping out of the music scene in 2007. After sitting out for nearly four years, the inspiration to start playing again came from two sources.
"I hadn't played for a while because I was waiting for it to be fun again," James shared openly. "And I was busy with other things.
Then, one night, "two things got me thinking about playing again," he said. "Number one was Tom Dittus saw me and came up and asked 'So, when can I book you to play here?' And number two was Dylan Layton said he'd bought a bass and was learning to play it. The next day, I called Dylan and Paul Moore, the drummer from Whirligig, to see if they wanted to get together."
From there, what has become the Brad James Band evolved rather naturally.
After starting out with Chris Kyle on keys, his wife Andrea Kyle was often at rehearsals, so James encouraged her to sing along and she eventually took over on keyboards as Chris moved on to play with Dustin Pittsley. James also shared that he tried to enlist Michael Back to play percussion for his first appearance at Stone River Music Fest, but Back declined, instead recommending Kristin Ruyle for the position. Eventually, Moore stepped away due to family obligations and Back joined the group as drummer as the group found its chemistry.
Essentially, it's a variation on Andrea Kyle's group, The Big O Show, although the group moves in a slightly different direction musically under James' lead.
"I can't brag enough on these guys for their dedication as musicians and team players," James shared of his band. "Rehearsals are as much fun as the shows."
"I get to play with Big O Show on a regular occasion, and they rehearse every week, so although we (Brad James Band) only play about once a month, they stay busy and well rehearsed. It just makes it a pleasure to play with them."
In turn, that's what keeps James out and about and playing on regular occasions. Although the group has been playing somewhat regularly for nearly two years now and incorporates a number of James' songs from previous projects, when asked if he has considered recording a new CD, he was quick to answer, "That's beginning to sound like work -- and as soon as it becomes work again, I'm out."
When asked about the possibility of new songs popping up, however, James admits it's not entirely out of the question. "I haven't written anything for a long time, but that's not to say I wouldn't necessarily like to again. For me, I have to be in a certain mindset at the time to write, and I'm just not in that mindset right now."
Fortunately for music fans, however, James is back in the mindset of enjoying playing with his friends again, which means that a bi-monthly gig at The Colony and appearances at Blue Rose are starting to turn into more frequent gigs for James and his bandmates.
When discussing the upcoming shows with James, he shared that Friday evening's gig will lead off with a 45 minute set of material written by James and a selection of his favorite writer friends from the Stillwater scene: Bob Childers, Tom Skinner, Mike McClure and the like. After a brief intermission, the band will return for a nearly two-hour set of Grateful Dead tunes to fill out the evening and take advantage of the room and sound system. The night serves as a warm up of sorts for Sunday afternoon, when Brad James Band takes the Guthrie Green Stage at 2pm for a Mother's Day show with Parker Millsap and The Giving Tree Band. The Sunday afternoon show will again highlight James' originals and a handful of favorites from his friends.
When paired with the sunshine and a pleasant afternoon on the Green, it ought to make for the perfect climate for Brad James Band. After all, right now, it's all about enjoying the company of friends and the joy of playing -- and that's something that should remind us all why we come out in the first place.
Send all comments and feedback regarding SoundCheck to firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's hard to believe, but we're already headlong into May and things are only getting busier. If you're looking for the best gigs in town, UTW has all the highlights to get you pointed out the door. Read on of our selections, but don't forget to check our events calendar for complete listings.
Thursday, May 9
Hometown boy Ben Rector returns for a headline show at Cain's Ballroom with Alpha Rev opening at 8pm. Meanwhile, Axis Entertainment holds its Rocklahoma pre-party and meet and greet at Vanguard with performances by Bruce Flea and Sleepwalking Home and Lynn Hernandez of KMOD giving away tickets to the festival.
Friday, May 10
The weekend's BIG show is country's latest superstar, Jason Aldean, at BOK Center with Jake Owens and Thomas Rhett. Of course, you can always get your jam on with Brad James Band at The Shrine or get down and dirty at Mercury Lounge with The Barrelhouse Revelers and Rosie Flores. If you love to dance, however, the weekend's biggest party is at IDL Ballroom with DJ Shadow, beginning at 9pm.
Saturday, May 11
This is easily the biggest day of the week with a handful of great shows. First up, Ben Taylor arrives at Vanguard for a show that blends the classic songwriting of his namesake father with the modern cool of Jack Johnson and G. Love. Red Wood Rising and Gumbo Poets open the night for a young man that will easily earn your respect for his own thoughtful songwriting. If you're thinking local, don't miss Fiawna Forte at 306 Phoenix House, playing a CD release show for her new acoustic disc dubbed The Album to Fund the Album. Ten acoustic tracks of old and new tunes will help Forte and her band head back to the studio for the next chapter.
Also on Saturday, Cancer Sucks! ends its annual biker run with a benefit show at Cain's Ballroom that includes headliners Pop Evil and Texas Hippie Coalition as well as Sweatin' Bullets, Another Alibi and Crossland, with proceeds benefitting the Cancer Sucks! charities. And if you're looking to dance, don't miss Moai Broadcast at The Shrine for a great night of music.
Sunday, May 12
Guthrie Green continues its weekly concert series with Brad James Band, Parker Millsap and The Giving Tree Band from 2-6pm. Afterwards, Cain's Ballroom hosts One More Time: A tribute to Daft Punk with The Phoenix Brothers for a special night that's as close as Tulsa will likely get to the real thing.
After a busy weekend, take a night or two to rest up, because we've got Mayfest and a whole host of additional shows coming up next weekend to keep you running into the wee hours of the night.
Share this article: