James Carothers talks new single and growing up with three sisters.
*****Update: Benefit show has been rescheduled to March 18th due to severe weather in the Nashville area*****
James Carothers rolled into Nashville last month after finding success on secondary market Country radio stations with “New Country Singers” that profiles his ability to write like Ray Stevens or more like the one two punch of strong guitar and funny lyrics a la Jerry Reed [“She Got The Goldmine (I Got The Shaft)] which is rare and needed in today’s Country format.
James’s follow up “I Must Be Alive” has more of an introspective feel with lyrics starting about winter and really go well with conditions in the Northeast with snow piling up and not much to do but play board games, get on Facebook or call relatives and friends. It already is in rotation on several stations.
James Carothers current record Honky Tonk Land is real Country with fiddle and steel prominent throughout from strong Nashville session players. James can write, sing in that Josh Turner range with his definite Southwest Tennessee drawl that shows a lot of Mississippi clay in his tone and Tupelo in his subject matter.
His strongest point live is that James is funny. Check out his videos of live performances and how he interacts with the audience and he will remind you of Jim Lauderdale hosting the Americana Awards or Jerry Reed as the Tupelo Mississippi Flash. A James Carothers show is great music and lots of entertainment.
James recently survived some Illinois snow that piled up outside while he was playing in Carthage, driving the crowd to a frenzy with a real steel player and a tight band from Missouri only to face the drive back to Nashville. Coming up, He is playing at the All-Star Whitey Shafer benefit put on by Moe Bandy and featuring top tier entertainers like Rhonda Vincent now rescheduled on March 18th at The Nashville Palace.
The Nashville Bridge met up with James at Crema in downtown Nashville on a Sunday morning to wake up and smell the coffee and rewind time a little bit to find out what James Carothers brings to the table.
Brad Hardisty / The Nashville Bridge: You started making trips to Nashville before moving here, right?
James Carothers: I was working on the record last year, I came here to record , I’ve come here for any kind of a music business thing that my wife would set up for me.
TNB: What was the turning point to move to the Nashville area?
JC: Secondary radio started doing better, especially in Europe.
TNB: What cut broke first?
JC: The “New Country Singers” song.
TNB: You have a new song out now.
JC: Yeah, that one is called “I Must Be Alive”. That one is kind of like the serious song on the record. It’s about death.
TNB: I was thinking it was a perfect winter release song, Stuck at home up north with all this snow they have had, reflecting on life.
JC: It seems like a good time to break it. It seemed like right after Christmas when radio was saturated with Christmas music. It seemed more like the bad side of winter. A week ago today, I was up playing in Carthage, Illinois and we got out about twelve-o-clock and there was like three inches of snow on the ground and it was coming down in sheets. You know how it is.
TNB: Did you get stuck up there?
JC: We drove it through. My band was going back to Missouri and I was coming back here. It was like, alright we can wait till there is like a foot of snow or we can brave it and see how far south we can get before it turns back into rain. We decided to do that.
TNB: Was that a hired gig or a band you work with regularly now?
JC: That was a group I work with when I’m out there, like four or five times so far. They are a pretty good band to work with. They are good guys. They play a lot of classic country and they are in and out of Branson and the Kansas City area and so any time I go back there I have been able to get them. Usually I run myself on guitar and vocals then they add bass, drums and a steel guitar. [After the interview, James added that it was really cool to bring a steel player to that gig because you could tell they probably don’t see too many and really got into the sound.]
TNB: Some have compared you to Vince Gill. Is that fair or who’s style of playing are you thinking about? Are you a Tele picker?
JC: I’m a Tele player. I’m not in the same ball park as Vince Gill.
TNB: Do you use the traditional Telecaster and a Fender Amp or a boutique amp like a Dr. Z?
JC: Fender amp. I still haven’t made enough money to carry around a boutique amp unless somebody wants to make me one. That’s fine.
TNB: You can find anything here in Nashville.
JC: I try to emulate someone like Vince Gill when I am playing guitar. What I like about Vince Gill is that he does throw real firecracker licks but mostly he does stuff that is pretty tasteful too. Melodic, people say Vince is more of a musical guitar player than Keith Urban is, from what I’ve heard.
TNB: Thinking more for the song and the melody?
JC: Yeah, I like Paisley but, these guys are all from another planet and they are like way better.
TNB: Almost like Van Halen.
JC: Yeah, it’s almost like when you hear something that Paisley plays and he is like shredding , its like he shreds and puts in a bunch of notes and he is awesome but when Vince Gill plays something, he also shreds but it is not quite as jumbled together, to me, it sounds better.
TNB: It’s interesting to me that you bring up Vince because to me, with your background in Rock and Country of course Vince was playing in Southern Rock band Pure Prairie League before…
JC: Oh yeah, that’s right.
TNB: So the way that Vince processes ideas may be close to where you come from.
JC: Yeah, he is a heck of a bluegrass picker, player and singer too. He’s an all-around musician.
TNB: So what is your writing process? Do you start on electric or picking on an acoustic sitting on a couch?
JC: Yeah, acoustic to come up with a hook. I’ll be sitting around playing and out of nowhere I’ll get a good hook going if it’s a musical song and build it from there. The other way is when I hear somebody say something that’s funny and then I go from there so there is a musical start and also a verbal start.
TNB: How do you read an audience playing different size venues and crowds?
JC: I think maybe a real good example of that is when I was playing the other night up in Kansas City. You know, you play to whomever you have in the room. I played a room of 50 people and I know about half of them so it is going to be more of an informal type of thing. We are going to be talking to the people. So, we are not going to be trying to, I guess, try to patronize a crowd like that and say “How is everybody, let me hear you scream, holler and swaller!” I’m not going to do that to these good people I know. I think you’re right, it is definitely playing to the audience. You gotta know your audience is the way I have to say it.
TNB: You’re really comfortable on stage or as they say “controlling a room”. How do you figure out what to do or say each night?
JC: Stuff like that, it’s kind of like, getting inside of peoples’ heads, looking at a group of people but you are looking at somebody to pick out of the crowd.
TNB: You are great at being n the moment, not just from a musical stand point but being an entertainer from what I have seen in clips.
JC: That makes sense. I really like to figure it out and kind of zero in on certain people. I have to zero in on the people that are paying attention. Any time you play now, about half the people might be looking at their phones and a third of the people might be looking to get a drink or chase some girl or something. Then there are a few people who are listening. So, I really try to zero in on the people who are listening and watching what is going on. Kind of just start establishing a relationship in another way.
TNB: I was going to say you have a comedy pacing going on some times which is really cool. I don’t see to many people that can do that, I mean Little Jimmie Dickens obviously was a great comedian. Jim Lauderdale is actually fun. A lot of people don’t know that about him. He’s always the host of the Americana Awards. Do you enjoy getting people to laugh and have a good time?
JC: Oh yeah, definitely, I guess I grew up with three sisters and they were always really good at pointing out things and laughing at me, laughing with me but, laughing at me too, I think that gave me a good sense of humor. If you are up there in front of people who laugh at you and stuff it’s pretty hard to be super cool the whole time. If you are going to be goofy or a dork (a dork is what my sister’s would call me), They would say you are such a dork. You might as well kind of embrace it and hopefully people are going to be entertained. I think they are a lot more entertained if you are comfortable with yourself being a dork part of the time because otherwise you come across too cool for school.
TNB: It is easier just to play it off. You’ve come out with a well-received album. Now you are in Nashville, what does the future look like?
JC: In the next year, I expect I will have a lot of co-writes and then I also expect to have an album.. I know there will be a lot more songs that I will be able to cut.
TNB: Do you have a distribution deal right now?
JC: No. I am doing it all myself driving around playing shows and pulling out CD’s that I already have out..
TNB: It sounds like you have support from radio.
JC: Yeah, some stations are picking up so, the Country music programming directors from the small to medium markets around the country have been really supportive. I’m looking forward to seeing a bunch of them ag CRS.
TNB: So, maybe a radio tour in the future?
JC: We’ll talk about that when all the programming Directors are here. I’ve got a breakfast with them. I’m not necessarily going to sing my head off for them. I think you need to know who your audience is. I don’t want to come in “la la la”. I’m just going to see what they’re like, what their people want and see if there is something I’m doing naturally that aligns with it that I do well.
- Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN thenashvillebridgeathotmaildotcom