Casey James lives the blues. He performs blues music as an extraordinary lead guitarist for a blues/country/rock band. He got a serious lesson in the blues when he almost died in a motorcycle crash. After the doctors determined that he would survive, they told him he would never play guitar again. He proved them wrong.
James has been compared to blues guitarists who revolutionized music like his heroes, Doyle Bramhall II, Jonny Lang and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
James is the youngest son in a musically gifted family. He contributed lead guitar, mandolin and vocals on the 2006 country and folk CD Cross that Line featuring his mother, Bybee D. James. His brother, Billy, or BC as he is known to friends, is the bass player in his band. Despite their musical versatility and single-minded dedication, it was a challenging career choice. The Casey James Band often played to small audiences at gigs that paid as little as $35 each. After ten years as a professional musician, his mother urged him to audition for American Idol. He reluctantly agreed and became an “overnight sensation.”
On the American Idol television show, James did not fit the pop music model of most contestants. “If you listen to the lyrics of the song I did during the second week on the show “I Don’t Wanna Be” by Gavin DeGraw, it was a statement as much as it was a song. I don’t want to be anyone other than who I am,” James states. “They told me the judges would crucify me for playing lead guitar. [But} if people were going to vote for me, I wanted them to know who they were voting for. The judges did get on me but the viewers accepted it. I played lead on the Rolling Stones song [“All Over Now”] with slide guitar. I played a lot of guitar on subsequent weeks and people understood it. “
An experienced musician, he demonstrated his ability to connect with an audience when singing tender ballads, and rocked the stage with his amazing guitar skills. James is one of the most unique musicians to appear on the show. His popularity with viewers has influenced the future format of American Idol.
He was thrilled to play Lindsay Buckingham’s custom-designed guitar when he performed the Fleetwood Mac song, “Don’t Stop.” He earned the first standing ovation of the season after his rocking version of “Hold On, I’m Comin’.” He is the first and only contestant to play guitar leads on the show. His vast knowledge of music led him to be the only contestant in the history of the show to perform four songs in the top ten that had never been sung before on the Idol stage. Millions of viewers became loyal fans.
James advanced to the Top Three finalists and earned a Hometown Visit. He returned to Fort Worth and his hometown of tiny Cool, Texas (population 238) to perform for thousands of loyal supporters.
Videos of his set at a popular local venue, Keys Lounge, appeared on YouTube. In contrast to the conservative theme-nights on the TV show, these clips showed a joyous, passionate rocker. Viewers were entranced and posted the following comments on blogs: “OMG! Where has that guy been during the TV show?” RockOn. “Casey and his guitar should get a room! Damn, that was hawt!” Hippychic101.
“Playing live for audiences who come to hear me play has been one of my life-long dreams,” James says. His days of playing background music are over. At almost 6’4” with long blond hair, he is recognized everywhere he goes. His Twitter account receives several thousand tweets from fans every day. His supporters are successfully demanding radio play for songs he has recorded.
During the American Idol Summer Concert Tour, he performed for almost half a million people at arenas across the nation and received wide-spread praise for his guitar skills and musical versatility. His set included absolutely smoking guitar leads and was often described as the “most non-Idol moment of the concert.” At each venue, the crowd was on their feet from the moment he appeared onstage. A blues fan from Pennsylvania, Tina Marie Deraco, commented,” I feel confident stating that Casey James could have easily taken the stage at Woodstock and fit right in. He’s the epitome of a heart and soul centered musician, whose vocals are earthy, gritty and raw.”
The acclaim has not changed him – or the message he wants to share through music. Fans selected James to appear at a radio-sponsored event in Malibu. The highlights of the event were James’ performance and a giveaway of expensive designer purses. The original tune that James elected to sing during his set was “Shine Your Shoes,” a song he wrote about a homeless man. The irony was not lost on his supporters.
The televised pop music talent contest was sometimes a strange fit, but it allowed Casey James to showcase his musical talent on a national level. He now has a recording contract with Sony Nashville, as well as songwriting and upcoming performance collaborations with established artists. Next up, he will record a CD and embark on a concert tour. Casey James is starting a new life chapter living the blues.
Story by Sheryl Clark