An Interview With The Grammy-Nominated LA-Based Blues Musician, TERESA JAMES!
Posted On 01 Feb 2019
LA based Blues artist, Teresa James, has been nominated for the first time by the Recording Academy in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category for her latest album, “Here in Babylon,” mixed by Grammy Award-Winner, Ed Cherney.
Now everyone will see why the legendary Bonnie Raitt said: “I’ve been a fan of Teresa’s voice and writing for a long time. Her legions of fans, including me, are so glad to finally have both on this CD.”
Originally from Houston, Texas, Teresa is based in Los Angeles where she has assembled a group of some of the top LA based touring and session musicians in her band, The Rhythm Tramps. They have been working in the LA area and at blues festivals and clubs throughout the U.S. and Europe for many years. For the last 12 years, the band has also been a favorite on Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Blues Cruise. She has released 10 CDs including her most recent, HERE IN BABYLON, which garnered her first-ever Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary Blues Album category for 2019.
She has performed live with such legendary artists such as Levon Helm, Delbert McClinton, Eric Burdon, Marcia Ball, Tommy Castro, Big Al Anderson, Kirk Whalum and many others. Her voice is featured on albums by Randy Newman, Eric Burdon, Tommy Castro, Bill Medley and Walter Trout, among others. She has also sung for numerous television and movie soundtracks; She and her band were featured in the Disney movie and soundtrack for “HOLES”. Teresa’s band is an eclectic mix of Los Angeles based musicians who have worked with a wide range of artists including: Jimmy Reed, Eric Burdon, Jackson Browne, Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Jennifer Warnes, Was Not Was, Johnny Nash and many, many others. The band (pictured below) on Here in Babylon includes Jay Bellerose (drums and percussion), Billy Watts (guitars), Teresa James vocals, piano, and Wurlitzer), Terry Wilson (bass). www.teresajames.com
Check our her videos here:
“The Day the Blues Came To Call” – https://youtu.be/dttw1Gft-Ok
“I Know I Ain’t Been So Perfect” – https://youtu.be/6hKj06imAMg
“I Keep Drifting Away” – https://youtu.be/jsx3xsA9YIA
“Give Me A Holler – https://youtu.be/4vodLttmc70
Title Track – “Here in Babylon” – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kk0IbMMGwV8&index=2&list=OLAK5uy_l25pmhQO_9EBIZG0vSazie1n4dW5LElWg
Learn more about Teresa James in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! Where does this interview find you?
You caught me at my house in Santa Clarita, CA taking a rare day off. Actually, my husband (and partner), Terry Wilson and I went shopping for clothes to wear to the Grammy ceremony… pretty fun. I am not usually much for shopping, but I have to admit that this was definitely an adventure…
Now that 2019 has started, what musical goals do you have for yourself and your music this new year? Did you make any new year’s resolutions? Mine was to read more for fun!
I am definitely excited to see what 2019 will bring. We are looking forward to getting out and performing more – exploring some new places that we haven’t gotten to play before. We will also be releasing a ‘live’ CD later in the year, so I am excited about that.
I didn’t make a formal resolution for the new year, but I am planning to make a real effort to let myself take more time to relax and have fun – to not feel like I always have to be doing something constructive. However… another long standing resolution every year is to get my house (and life) more organized, so I am hoping that these two aren’t mutually exclusive…
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Can you recall the moment when you decided that you wanted to be a musician? Was it an easy or difficult choice to make? Was there ever a time when you thought about doing something else? If you weren’t a musician today, what could you see yourself doing?
Music has always been a huge part of my life. My parents were music lovers who always had music playing at our house and would host parties for neighbors and relatives where everyone would bring an instument and sit around and play old time songs… none of them professional, just playing for fun. I started taking piano lessons when I was 5 and my dad taught me guitar when I was a little older, so it’s hard to remember when music wasn’t a big part of my life.
I remember exactly when I realized that I wanted to be a musician: I entered a talent show at the local park with me and my dad on guitars and me singing when I was about 8 or 9. I had already been singing in front of my classes at school, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, but they had the finals in a big auditorium with a big stage and a spotlight, and as soon as I got up there and started singing, I remember thinking that was the funnest thing ever and I knew I wanted to do more of that.. Plus, I just love to sing – used to get in trouble for singing at the dinner table (mostly from my brother)… If I wasn’t a musician, I am sure I could find something else to do; there are lots of things that I could enjoy doing – I am basically a happy person and am pretty easily entertained, but it is probably for sure that I would still be singing while I was doing it.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
The biggest surprise, I guess, has been all the cool places I have been able to go as part of the job and how many friends I have made – both musicians and fans who have become friends. Music is such a universal joy; it is so amazing to be able to go to totally foreign places and be able to relate to people just through the music. And it is really fun to be able to go to so many interesting and exclusive places and get paid for it…
My biggest challenge has been trying to stay on top of all the non-music parts of the job. Without any management or a record label to support us, my husband and I end up doing pretty much everything that goes along with making records and touring, etc… which is a lot to keep track of. I wish that I had a better background in the business world to help with it, but between the two of us, we usually manage to get done what needs to get done. I know it can be a little dicey to work with your spouse, but we have managed to find a good balance between our personal life together and our professional one and have had a lot of fun along the way.
How do you think you and your music have been influenced by your hometown and where you live now?
I was born and raised in Houston, and Texas has such a rich musical heritage – cowboy music, blues, country, Zydeco, even German music – I grew up listening to all those different styles and I know it had a big influence on me. Getting to see people like Townes Van Zant or Lightnin’ Hopkins in small local clubs was totally inspiring.
Congratulations on your Grammy nomination!!! So what does it feel like to be nominated for your first time for your latest album, “Here in Babylon”? Where were you when you first heard the news? Have you given any thought as to what your acceptance speech will be like if you win?
I was completely blown away when I found out that we had been nominated – it still seems pretty unreal. I was sound asleep at 6:30 in the morning when my phone went off with a text saying, ‘congratulations’. I wrote back, ‘for what’ and when our friend (who was also nominated as producer of another Grammy entry) said, ‘your Grammy nomination’. I totally thought he was messing with me. But then the phone started ringing and people started texting with congratulations, so it was an amazing way to wake up, that’s for sure…
I haven’t spent a lot of time on a speech, we are probably a long shot here, but this has been such a long time coming there are way too many people to thank everybody who helped get us here. I would have to thank Betsie Brown, our promotion person, who was instrumental in helping us get our CD into the right hands and get it heard all over. And the guys in our band – Billy Watts and Jay Bellarose (of course), Darrell Leonard for his great horn arrangements… and Ed Cherney for his amazing job in mixing it and for all his support. (Look – I am writing my speech as I type here…thanks!) But there are lots of other people – way too many to mention.
I have always thought, though, that if I ever won a Grammy, I would want to dedicate it to all the musicians working in bars as the awards are being given out with the Grammys on the TV over the bar with the sound off… (not that I have ever been in the situation myself, mind you…). When you are in that situation, it feels like you are living on a totally different planet from that side of the business, so it feels like our nomination is a vindication for all the musicians like us who have just kept doing what we do because we want to and because have to do it because that is what we do – not because we are worried about trying to come up with the next big thing and try to sell something just to sell it. So for us to be recognized after all this time feels really great. Score one for the working musicians…
After “Here in Babylon” was completed in the studio, did you feel differently about it? Did you feel like it was some of your best work? How did you approach the making of it? How would you say that this collection shows your growth as an artist over the years?
I definitely feel like ‘Here in Babylon’ is our best work so far, (although to be truthful, every time we finish a CD I always feel like it is the best one yet). This time, though, we did approach the recording differently; usually, we start recording in our home studio and build the tracks from there. This time, we went into an outside studio as a 4 piece (Terry and I along with our guitar player, Billy Watts and drummer Jay Bellarose) and cut everything live in 3 days, so it felt really good when we were doing it. We recorded it at Mystic Mountain Studio – a double wide trailer that was converted to a studio out in the desert near our house where they also breed golden labs, so we would cut a couple of tracks and then go play with 7 week old puppies… pretty great.
How did your band, The Rhythm Tramps come together?
Terry, my husband, lived in London when he put the earliest version of the Tramps together. The Tramps has a long history with many great players that have worked with us between touring with other artist….players that played with artists like Etta James, Tom Jones, Taj Mahal, Eric Burdon…the list could go on and go. You learn early with having a band that great players are in demand and it’s hard to tie players of this caliber down. So, we learned to have a deep bench and a big phone book.
What do you think comes from a band that has been performing together for 12+ years?
Knowing each other onstage…there’s a comfort and a trust and understanding playing with players after awhile…it becomes a family. It’s inspiring working with players that have a feel for when you’re ad libing on stage and taking the tune to a new place. It’s great to have players who can predict where you’re going and can jump in to bail you out when it’s the right time. It gives me a lot of freedom to let go and just sing…
How did you go about choosing these musicians to be a part of this band?
In the past, because of schedules of players, we would see which of our players were in town and available, so we would do a lot of the recording ourselves in our studio in between. Terry does a lot of this with his writing. But, on this cd…we wanted to cut with the same drummer for the entire CD and we’ve been using Jay Bellerose on drums for gigs around town. Being the player that he is, Jay is in demand all over, but he expressed the desire to be a part of this cd and the planets aligned and we worked out a schedule where we were all open over a 3 day period with out any other distractions. We’ve had Billy Watts on guitar for a long time…and the chemistry for this CD with Terry, Billy, Jay and I could not have been better. Everyone has a lot of respect for each other and what they bring to the studio and stage. It was really fun and comfortable.
You have performed with so many artists so I am curious which experience really stands out the most to you? Who would you say you have learned the most from over the years?
We’ve been playing Delbert’s Sandy Beaches Cruise for a long time. We’ve done a lot of shows with Delbert and his band – in fact, Jack Bruno who plays drums with Delbert nowadays used to be in our band. Delbert is one of the most giving, generous singers I’ve ever sung with. He’s very comfortable on stage and lets you have the room to express yourself. I’ve learned from him about having the confidence onstage and…just going for it.
What has it been like keeping up with your social media accounts and all of the different platforms? Is it hard to stay up to date on it all? What would you say is your favorite way to connect with your fans now?
We could definitely be better at all of that. Actually, we’re terrible at it… definitely a work in progress.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? Who would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
I just did a duet on the cruise with Curtis Salgado that was a lot fun – I love the way he sings. Would love to figure a way to do this with Curtis on one of our CDs… We got to hang with the California Honeydrops on the Delbert cruise as well and it was inspiring to hear and watch them from the side of stage. I love their spontaneity and the range of Lesh’s singing. I would also love to sing with Tony Bennett or Willie Nelson…
Where can fans see you perform next? Do you have any kind of a 2019 tour scheduled yet?
While we’re in town …here in LA, we have a residency Wednesday night thing at The Write Off Room in Woodland Hills, Ca. A very cool, new music venue in LA…best sounding. We’ve got a few festivals coming up in the spring/summer. From Florida to Idaho, Washington…to the Simi Valley Cajun Festival in May.
If you had an unlimited budget and your schedule was free, what would your dream music video look like?
I don’t usually think in video, but I have had an idea in my head for a video for the title cut, ‘Here in Babylon’ – sort of a cross between the Uncle Sam, ‘I Want You’ dance scene in ‘Across the Universe’ and ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’… cutting between color and black & white…
If you were going to be stranded on a deserted island forever, what musical item would you take with you and why?
Would probably need to be an acoustic guitar…with lots of spare guitar strings in case you break one. And a harmonica – you have to have that lonely harmonica playing in the background…
If your music was going to be featured on any TV show that is currently on right now, which would you love it to be on? Or if you prefer, what is a movie that you love that you wish your music was featured in?
Would love to have one of our cuts on “Guardians of the Galaxy” with Chris Pratt dancing in a scene with his headphones to one of our tunes.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
That they understand where we are coming from ..that the listener gets that we put our hearts into what we do. That they hear that in our music and that they can relate to it some way. Maybe it’s different from one person to the next on what they get from the tunes, but that’s ok. I hope listening to our music makes it a better day for having done it.