Author Archives: james
“Don’t Give Up on Me” was the first song that we wrote after we
recorded Youth Is In Our Blood up in Woodstock in December 2009. That
was almost 3 years ago. Wow. Jenkins wrote all of the music to that
song and it hung around for a long time as “Song 1” without any lyrics
or melody… meaning that it was the first song we wrote after the Youth
recording sessions. (For anyone wondering, “Fairlane” was “Song 2”)
The lyrics finally came together after a series of conversations with
two different friends of mine who had been struggling deeply with
being accepted for who they are by a loved one. My two friends told me
eerily similar stories about how they had personal histories that they
felt they just “can’t share with anyone .” They each told me tough
stories about starting to date someone seriously, only for the dating
relationship to end abruptly once they revealed that they were
damaged, broken, and imperfect. This song is a cry for acceptance,
and a cry for a graceful lover.
“All I really want is someone to tell me I’m wanted
Can you hear me?
I’m longing to know tonight
Gimme an answer
I need a fighter
I’m a long way off
Hanging on a little string
Hoping you notice
I’m loaded with questions
Old enough to know
But young enough to still believe
Don’t give up on me.”
Songs come from all different kinds of places. The ones on our new album come from stories about myself, stories about our band, and stories about friends and family members who are connected to our band. I read an article about a year ago in Psychology Today that said this:
“Stories are about collaboration and connection. They transcend generations, they engage us through emotions, and they connect us to others. Through stories we share passions, sadness, hardships and joys. We share meaning and purpose. Stories are the common ground that allows people to communicate, overcoming our defenses and our differences. Stories allow us to understand ourselves better and to find our commonality with others.”
Recently, I’ve had a handful of folks come up to me at shows and say, “Hey man, I’m diggin (Enter Song Name), what is the story behind it?” So, I thought I’d take a few blogs to explain some of the inspiration behind a few of the songs.
“Fairlane” is a song that was inspired by my Mom and Dad’s love story. In 1972, my Dad bought a 1964 Ford Fairlane for $700 and named it Fred. Fred didn’t have any computerized technology inside of him, and he certainly lacked a few things cosmetically. He went with my Dad to community college in Columbia, and then made his way to a university in the big city of Nashville, TN. In April 1975 my Dad met my Momma and it immediately shook up all of his plans. She was studying education and psychology and my Dad was wanting to be an engineer. In August 1976 they got married in their parents backyard. My mom dropped out of college and they moved to Cookeville, TN to finish my Dad’s engineering degree at Tennessee Tech. Crazy 20 year old kids who thought they were invincible. Their parents didn’t think it was a great idea to get married in the first place, but they did it anyway. They lived in married student housing and to pay their bills, my Mom worked at Shoney’s and my Dad preached on Sundays at a rural congregation in Cookeville. Throughout all their adventures, they had Fred. I spoke of Fred’s cosmetic blemishes, the biggest of which were holes in the rusted out floorboard that you could drop softballs through. When they whizzed down the highway at a top speed of 50mph, you could watch the concrete whizz underneath them. In the winter, cold air flooded the the cabin of old Fred through those same holes. The heater in the car was sub-par, so to keep warm my folks kept a few blankets in the backseat. They used to go on mini-vacations to state parks cause that’s all they could really afford. They lived in Chattanooga for a short while before making their way back to Nashville where my Dad finally got a job as an engineer at the local power company and my Mom finished college so that she could be a teacher. My Mom and dad put 150,000 miles on old Fred, bringing him to a grand total of 200 and some odd thousand miles. Sometime before me or my brother were born they sold Fred for $250. I’d say they got a pretty good deal.
Thanks for the continued support yall.
Sometime in early 2005, I bought my first ticket to Bonnaroo. I had always been music crazed and had attended hundreds of concerts, but had spent bulk of my youth listening to punk, ska, and R&B music. I wanted to go to Bonnaroo because something had changed inside me. A month before buying that ticket, I had heard The Rolling Stones for the first time ever, and I was falling in love with rock and roll. Artists like My Morning Jacket, The Faces, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and The Band had found their way into my constant CD rotation. Keep in mind that this was way back before we had ever even thought about forming the Guv’nahs. I was a big fan and a music appreciator, with no intentions of creating music, and certainly no intentions of being a singer in a band. About a month before Bonnaroo, I remember my roommates Justin Hoskins and Richard Baird telling me that if I loved The Band then I needed to watch The Last Waltz, a documentary directed by Martin Scorsese which detailed the final concert of The Band. So, I found a copy of the film and watched it. Shortly after that, I remember watching the film Festival Express and seeing a younger version of the band. Immediately, I became obsessed.
Besides just loving the sound of The Band, I also loved the dynamic of The Band. They didn’t appear to have a true leader. It looked and sounded like everyone in the group was a role player. If I was picking favorite personalities early on, then mine would have been Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Robbie Robertson… in that order. But Levon’s voice was the one that I would eventually become most drawn to, because I felt like it was most like my own.
While at Bonnaroo, I remember asking myself what it was about live music that I loved the most… and I concluded that I loved live concerts because it was one of the few places on earth where a group can congregate and be collectively equal for a period of time. The crowd rolls in, but when the band starts playing, it doesn’t matter if you are rich, poor, black, white, or awkward… the music creates an environment of equality, even if only for 1 hour. When the band stops, normal life resumes… but maybe someone leaves a little bit changed. I was a dreamer then, still am I guess.
Fast forward 4+ years to August 2009 and I’m playing in a band a few weekends a year and working in a cubicle at the University of Tennessee with the rest of my time. I clearly remember sitting in my cubicle one day in early August and getting a phone call from an unknown New York number. Normally, I screen all unknown numbers… but for some reason I answered this one and it ended up changing the course of my life.
On the other end of the line was a voice that said, “Hey James, got your email. This is Justin Guip at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, NY. We listened to some of the demos that you sent us and we are really diggin it. When do you wanna come up here and record?”
We ended up going to Woodstock for 2 weeks in December 2009 to record Youth Is In Our Blood. While we were there we met Levon Helm for the first time. Kind, humble, and witty are the ways that I would describe him. We recorded that album in his home, which is named “The Barn”, and everyday we would watch him wake up, put on a robe and go take Muddy for a walk (his dog). Everywhere he went, he took Muddy with him. In the car, in the house, on a walk around the property. Everywhere. On a Saturday night while we were up there recording, we were asked to open up for the Levon Helm Band at one of his famed Midnight Rambles. Obviously, we accepted and had the night of our lives. After the ramble was over, Levon and his crew personally invited us to his personal Christmas party. Again, we accepted… thinking, there will probably be 200 people at this party. After our final night of recording, we head to Levon’s Christmas party… showing up a little bit late. When we get there, there’s a crowd of maybe 20 to 25 people, most of which are family members. In walk the Guv’nahs and our crew of 6, upping the party’s number of attendees by about 25%. We ended the night at some bar in the middle of Woodstock with Levon’s crew dancing and singing the night away. Levon was obviously asleep by about 10pm. After all, he was battling cancer and was in his late 60′s.
Levon’s management contacted us again about a year later and asked us to come up to The Barn and open for another of the Midnight Rambles, this time in January 2011. At the end of that night, Levon asked the Guv’nahs to get up on stage and encore “The Weight” with him and the band. Taking the stage, Levon leaned over to me and said, “Son, you’re taking the first verse.” Luckily, I knew all the words by heart. Nervous, I grabbed a mic between Levon and his daughter Amy Helm. The 4 count of the sticks, and then the song began. I will never ever forget harmonizing on the “Take a load off Annie’s” and the “Catch a cannonball” ending with his daughter Amy Helm. Every band member was on an instrument. One of the purest moments of true joy that I’ve ever experienced.
Yesterday, Levon Helm passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was surrounded by many friends and family at the hospital as he left this world and went onto the next. The crew that worked for Levon was one of the most tightly knit groups of people that I have ever encountered. We received a phone call today from the studio engineer, and he said that the vibe up in Woodstock is still very positive. We pray for strength for them during this next phase of each of their lives.
Levon Helm was a good man. He brought joy to the world. On stage and in person, he was inspiration and an encouragement to many. I am thankful for the short time that we got to spend with him.
5 years, and 5 months ago we started a band. We loved music, we had an opportunity, and we wanted to inspire others to be fully alive. We wanted to find out for ourselves what it might feel like to chase a dream.
Since then we have played 170 concerts… ranging from Texas to New York to the Cayman Islands. We’ve played sold out shows from Nashville to New York City, we’ve released 2 full length records, and we’ve had the opportunity to open for numerous legends. Personally, in those 5 years I’ve gone through grad school, learned how to not lose my voice everytime I step on stage, learned to not stage dive when folks aren’t ready for it, and worked 3 different desk jobs to make ends meet so that I could be ready to play more shows on the following weekend. Every single member of our band has a story similar to mine… fighting through all kinds of tough decisions, just to get the privilege to jump in a sweaty van and drive to your hometown and play a 90 minute concert in front of yall.
Well, folks…. today is my last day at my day job at the University of Tennessee.
Today, my friends, is the day I take the leap of faith.
Today is a day of rejoicing.
On January 1st of this year, I made a personal public pledge on Facebook and Twitter to do everything within my power to be without a day job by the end of 2011 so that I could focus on writing music. I felt ridiculous saying so and was prepared to be embarrassed on January 1, 2012 when I had to renege on my promise… but it actually happened sooner than I thought possible.
Thanks to you, I am now a full time musician. Money, I may not have much of… but I am rich in happiness and full of purpose. So happy that I even joined the YMCA. This afternoon I plan on buying myself a large chocolate shake from The Original Freezo.
As a band, we are fired up more than ever before… we’ve written lots of new songs that need finished lyrics and our plan right now is to go into the studio in January 2012 and record a bunch of songs for a record to be released in Summer 2012. Please be patient with us as we figure this whole crazy thing out.
I thank you all, and I ask that you continue to tell your friends about them Guv’nahs. Let em know when we’re coming to their town and tell em they’ve just gotta go at least once to check and see for themselves if they enjoy our music or not. That would be real nice of yall if you don’t mind.
I’m sincerely interested in doing this until my voice gives out and my legs break down. Peace yall.
p.s. – To my bosses at UT: Thank you SO much for putting up with my ridiculous and crazy schedule these last 2.5 years. In the last 12 months, I think I took off as many days as I worked. I am grateful to you all forever. Thank you.
It’s 1:40am on the day after Easter Sunday. I should be asleep… but that would make too much sense right now. Why? Because i’m still totally amazed at the fact that 1,300+ Knoxvillians came to see the Guv’nahs play this weekend at the Bijou. 5 years ago we started playing music because we loved it… sure, our first show was a joke and we thought we’d never play a concert again, but we LOVED it from the very beginning. We are well aware that very few folks get to live out a dream of theirs… especially one as ridiculous as playing music on a stage as a profession. We are more grateful for your support than you could ever imagine. Without you, this roller coaster ride stops and it becomes a hobby again. So, thank you from the deepest, most honest part of our hearts.
Personally, I’ve learned a whole lot in these past 5 years. First and foremost, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve spent most of my life a “lone ranger”, not because I didn’t have friends, as I always had close friends. But oftentimes I lived like a “lone ranger” because I never really felt like I needed to depend on anyone else and that life was best lived when I had the reigns on everything around me. I still struggle with it, but the band has changed / is changing that mentality. Living in community with these 5 guys has broken me, and it’s molded me. It’s taught me about personal limits, and it’s taught me about finding my true strengths… and spending my time on those things. Life is far too short to be lived as a lone ranger. That’s something I’ve had to learn from trial, from error, and from forgiveness. I’m finding more and more each day that this life is a complete gift, one that we have been given, and that we are responsible for… not because we are going to have to answer some kind of quiz one day… but because when you live your life from the perspective of knowing it’s a gift, then you feel the responsibility of passing that emotion on to those around you.
I am thankful for you, and for this adventure. Here’s to another 5 years.
ps: more pictures / videos to come from this past weekend.
On April 23, 2006, The Dirty Guv’nahs stepped on stage for the first time…we thought it would be the only time. In fact, we, was just a group of random acquaintances–six guys that didn’t even know each other as friends, but who had been brought together by a series of random events, a benefit concert in downtown Knoxville’s old city, and a multitude of ridiculous late night conversations.
Our first show transpired because a friend of ours happened to be looking for a benefit concert opening band, promoted by Diana Warner and headlined by Sister Hazel. Justin Hoskins had an easy answer. At dinner with Diana, he said, “I’m in a band…we’ll be one of your opening bands,” to which she wisely replied, “You’re not in a band. I’ve known you for ten years! But if you are in a band then you can be the opening act.” Justin assured, “I am definitely in a band. We just started.” And the band literally began in that breath. We decided to name it after a friend of ours whose nickname was, “The Guv’nah.” The Guv’nah loved rock music, as we all did, but none of us had actually been in a band. The Guv’nah had recently broken his ankle and was on crutches, so he was unavailable to be in it, but he helped orchestrate the formation of the band and our members. Like I said, most of us didn’t know each other, so The Guv’nah was our only connection. Let me back up for a minute:
After Justin’s dinner with Diana, he went home to tell his roommates (which included me at the time) that we had to start a band, because we were committed to a show he’d booked for us in ten days. There was a lot of laughter, but he was completely serious. That’s where The Guv’nah came in. We practiced for a few nights but sounded pretty horrible, so The Guv’nah insisted that other people join. Eventually we got to six members, and thinking we sounded decent enough to play in front of people, The Guv’nah was satisfied…honestly though, we still sounded really terrible.
The day of the show came, and we played four cover songs along with three original songs to a near-empty parking lot of people. It was amazing. I was twenty-three years old and had never sung in front of people until that moment. In fact, I was only elected lead singer by default because of my poor guitar playing. “James, you should just be the singer,” Justin told me after a few practices.
The rest of our story is just as ridiculous, but it’s very far from fun and games, jokes and luck. We’ve worked harder on this than anyone I know, many of us working close to eighty hours a week for four years now in order to sustain both the band and a daytime desk job, grad school…it’s been different for each of us. We have all sacrificed, which is what’s really drawn us together as a unit. It’s been difficult passing up other careers, grad school opportunities, and accepting disapproval from certain friends and family, because we want to make rock music for two cents an hour. For clarification, we’ve had an unbelievable support base from friends and family, but there’s always that uncle who calls you an idiot for being in a band, or there’s that high school buddy who says stuff like “when are you gonna give up on this man?” Despite all of the challenges, it’s just worked. We’ve always felt that we had something special that shouldn’t be given up on, and we’ve pushed through because of it. Feels good to be making, like, ten cents an hour for our hard work as opposed to the previous two cents an hour…we’ve almost given up so many times… but fortuitous little things happened along the way that convinced us to stay in the game.
One such occurrence was in April 2009, probably our biggest watershed moment, when we rented out the Bijou for a cd release show. We sold about two hundred tickets ourselves, in advance. The Bijou holds 750 people, so we thought: this is good, at least it won’t look completely empty. Our hope was that 350 would show up for the show. We were shocked when 695 people paid at the door that night. I literally felt as if I was living in a dream–it was insane.
Another monumental moment for The Dirty Guv’nahs came when I got a call from Levon Helm Studios in August 2009, and they asked us to come up to Woodstock and record an album with them. Sure, it wasn’t a call out of the blue… I mean, we’d probably sent them between ten and seventy-five emails the previous year–apparently persistence works. The phone call went like this, “Hey, this is Justin Guip with Levon Helm Studios. I finally listened to some of your demos, and one or two of them actually sound really good. When can you come up to Woodstock to record an album?” Us: “December is the only time that will work cause a lot of us are still in school.” He said, “Ok. Ten days in the studio will be $X (enough to buy a car)… y’all good for it?” Of course I said, “Sure.”
That’s a very abbreviated version of the story. The truth is that we said, “yes” to the amount well before we had the money. In fact, our band account had very little in it when we booked the studio time. Fortunately for us, Levon’s studio didn’t request a deposit. It was September 2009, and we only had until December ten to come up with the money, as well as write twelve more songs to record a new album. Needless to say, none of us slept much at all during that seventy-five day stretch. We stressed about where the money would come from, called everyone we knew in the music industry (which was only about seven people), and began mapping out how much money each of us would need to contribute to make our recording dream happen. We still didn’t have enough, so we prayed for a miracle–the real kind of prayers you pray when you are sick and throwing up all over the bathroom floor because you drank too much or had food poisoning. We were earnest, and we were crazy. We still are.
Believe in what you want, but ten days later the miracle came in the form of a call from a New York City marketing company that worked on contract with a Fortune 500 company. They found us on MySpace and had a promotional opportunity for the exact dollar amount we needed for the studio time. We accepted it and immediately fell out of our chairs!
The cd we recorded is out now, and it has done well for a local/regional band, but we’re already working on some fresh new music. We’ve also got a new booking agent who is kicking ass for us, and we’ve got our first manager who believes in us, and whom we fully believe in. Things are looking up, and we’re dreaming even bigger. Just like any business endeavor, you’ve gotta dig in and be committed to the long difficult hours and challenges specific to your dream. In the music industry, one challenge since the digital revolution, is that everyone thinks music is free–like music is something that’s ok to be stolen. But what can you do… ? Work harder. It’s really the only answer, and with a band, the hardest work is not in making the music, or getting creative with marketing or your business ideas. It’s sticking together as a team while doing all of that and only making two cents an hour.
As you read this, we’re gearing up to go on the road to Austin, Texas and the SXSW Music Festival, which is one of the biggest music festivals in the world. We’ll be there along with the other 250 plus bands that are still chasing the dream…the dream of playing music and inspiring others for a living. Music still matters, and that’s why we’re still doing it.
Hope to see some of y’all at one of our big hometown shows at the Bijou Theater on April 22nd or 23rd. Tickets are $15 for each night, or $25 for both nights. Each show will be different, and we’ll have lots of guest performers with us each night. Tell everyone and your moms: http://www.knoxbijou.com/
This blog was originally written for and posted on Modern Ink Magazine’s blog. Check em out here! http://moderninkmag.wordpress.com/
Greetings to all. Things are going great for us right now. Writing lots of new songs, and starting to work up some home recordings of the songs. We’ve all been pretty inspired lately. I think it has alot to do with taking bigger risks, and getting more and more skin in the game of being a professional musician. We are extremely thankful to report that we have a new booking agency who will be in the trenches for us… booking us gigs all over the place in the new year. The name of the agency is CAA (Creative Artists Agency) and we are proud to be apart of their roster, and for them to be apart of our team. Also, we just got a Shure Microphone sponsorship… meaning, they gave us a bunch of free mics to use as we record our new demos, etc. I honestly can’t explain how ridiculous this journey has been, and we are learning each day that we’re still only at the beginning. We are humbled and quite excited.
In the midst of all of this goodness coming our way, fellow Guv’nah Chris Doody found an excellent opportunity to give back this Christmas season. He started a Clean Water Campaign through the non-profit called Charity Water… and we want to share that opportunity with you
Charity Water recognized that there are over 1 billion people this Christmas who do not have access to clean drinking water… and they decided to do something about it. They created space on their website where different groups can get online and create thei own Charity Water Campaign.
Our goal is to raise $1000 and give 50 people the gift of sustainable, clean drinking water. Every $20 raised gives 1 person clean water for 20 years. That’s a pretty cool Christmas present. 100% of your donation goes directly to building a well in a developing country. We can make a real, tangible difference in the lives of 50 people this Christmas . . . so let’s do it.
Click here to make your donation:
Thanks for your continued support.
Keep on, keepin on. That’s what we’re doing. All is well on the Guv’nah front. Much thanks to the hometown crowd for the Bijou Theatre sellout, and much thanks to all our fans for supporting us and buying our new CD. We sold more copies of Youth Is In Our Blood in the first week of its release than we sold of the self-titled album in it’s first year of release. Thank you so freaking much. For those who are really worried, the new bus is doing just fine… still haven’t given it an official name but i’ve been calling it The Mule… named in honor of it’s previous owner and Knoxville hero, Scott Miller. Alright, gotta run… but wanted to also let yall know that we just got a call from Levon Helm’s people up in Woodstock, and they want us to come back up there and open for Levon on January 22nd…. get your tickets quick if you wanna see us open for the legend in his own hometown. See yall on New Year’s Eve at the Bijou Theater!
Sunday morning. 3:30am. Atlanta, GA. It’s pouring down rain outside and we just loaded all of our gear into our new (and un-named) bus. Some might call this miserable, but I was genuinely happy. It had been a jam packed weekend of meetings with music industry folks, early morning performances, and late night rock shows. I kicked my feet back in my chair and took a short nap as we drove up the road to spend the night in Marietta with a good friend.
Weekend started on Thursday night at the Doubletree in downtown Nashville. You wouldn’t believe the deals you can get on hotels through Priceline.com and the William Shatner Priceline Negotiator. We slept like kings, woke up and went to Fox 17 for a performance on their Tennessee Mornings show. Played “We’ll Be the Light” acoustically and then did an interview with the morning show hosts. Everybody was really kind and it was just hilarious being a guest on a morning show in general. Well, as we’re doing the performance, in walks David Koechner. Personally, I didn’t know his name but I knew that I was looking at Champ from the movie Anchorman… and Todd Packer from the TV show The Office.
So, Koechner walks in and is late for his interview. He sees our band playing and loves it… and then proceeds to start chit chatting with Justin. There was only room for 4 of us on the couch so Justin and Aaron just stayed out of the interview and talked with Koechner. Koechner then has the brilliant idea to bring Justin and Aaron with him to the interview couch after the interview with the band. I’d like to think that this video is the beginning of Justin’s comedic career.
The shows at The Basement in Nashville and Smith’s Olde Bar in ATL both went really well, with about 150 folks coming out to each. The show in ATL was my favorite because there was room in the crowd for people to move around and dance all night.
Things are starting to get really fun. We’re cruising with Zac Brown Band 2 weekends from now. Hopefully it will be the beginning of an even longer relationship with ZBB. We’ll see.
Either way, the journey continues.
We’ve all seen it happen before. In fact it might have happened to you. “It’s Dangerous.”
Guy meets a girl in bar, and serious flirtation ensues. Relationship starts that was based on a couple shots of whiskey and a slight hand graze to the back of the neck or the lower back. Guy uses girl for a while and then becomes addicted to the idea of having her around. Girl is completely over the relationship and wants out but is too scared to get out because she is completely frightened that she might grow old and she’ll never find another man. So the girl and the guy both stop thinking, give up, and decide to settle for each other. I’ve seen it happen hundreds of times, and each time you really wish you could step in and stop it before it starts. This might be my favorite song on the album because of the simple truth that the song ends with,
“It’s dangerous, the first time… you’ll fall for anybody to say you’re in love.”
Side note: My favorite all-time moment from a Guv’nahs’ band practice came from when we put together the final ending structure for “It’s Dangerous”… you know, the part where the horns are blaring, the organ is soaring, the guitars are wailing, the drums are pounding, and i am repeatedly screaming “It’s Dangerous!”…? Well, in the moment of pure jubilee that it all came together…. my good friend and bandmate Chris Doody stood up from his keyboard, screamed aloud, picked up our gum-ball machine and hurled it across the room… the glass shattered with a loud boom, exploding approximately 500 gum-balls into the practice space atmosphere. In unanimous approval we all stood up, rejoiced in our successful creation, and immediately went to Barley’s Taproom for a celebratory $2 pint.
The chorus of “Courage” was originally inspired by that moment that happens right before you kiss someone for the first time.
“Courage moves within me,
makes me shake.
Looking for an ending,
without the way.”
When I was in 4th grade, I encountered my first “kiss on the mouth experience.” Someone dared me to kiss my 4th grade girlfriend right before we got on the buses. It was awesome, and successful. I remember my entire body shaking right before the kiss… like a tidal wave of nerves that made my skinny little 85 pound frame convulse with an uncontrollable fierceness… but then the lips contacted, the trembling ceased, and all was well.
The first verse of the song outlines a simple truth,
“What you want is never enough
what you got will leave you in want
where you stand, you’re waiting in a line
put your hand in mine.”
Thesis: You’re not actually kissing someone until your lips touch someone else’s, and you’re not actually doing anything important until you get up and set out to do something important. To do something great you don’t have to know where you are going, but you do have to find the courage to get started.
Music video is coming REALLY SOON. I promise with my whole heart.