I love my couch and TV. The couch is a big sectional that allows you to stretch out and get super comfortable. The TV is 65 inches of full-on HD color magic. They’re both great, and as a pair, they are symbiotic. But they’re also devils. You see, they are so seductive that they can get you to settle in, night after night, and experience some weird electronic version of “life.”
I’ve learned that I have to get off the couch, turn off the TV and go out and experience the real thing. It’s one of the reasons why I love live music so much. The rush and exhilaration of the band, the music, the crowd, the lights and the unspoken but prevalent energy is, combined, a type of drug for me. I crave it and I need it.
Most of the time, I go and see a band that I know. Of course, right? But there are occasions when I simply go and see whatever is playing, and get surprised by how good or bad the band is. When I’m traveling, particularly to a place like Memphis, Austin or Nashville, the opportunity to go from bar to bar and see multiple acts in one night is too good to pass up. I love hitting cities with a large indigenous music population that bursts out everywhere and allows me to indulge. Sometimes, you even hit the jackpot.
Such was the case in Memphis recently. We sauntered into Jerry Lee Lewis’s honky-tonk joint, and sat our butts down. The band was on a break, and so we ordered up some drinks and I went to take a piss. In the men’s room, this dude with a great pompadour is primping it up in the mirror. I almost commented on how much I liked the hairdo, but it’s kind of weird to be exposed and complimentary to another man at the same time. I said nothing.
I go back to the table, and Mr. Pompadour heads to the stage. He gets up there with a couple of other musicians and then starts to pound into some wonderful covers of early rock. He plays with verve, energy, and passion. His name, as I find out later, is Jason James.
The place had a pretty good crowd, but it wasn’t packed and pretty much everyone had a seat. I’m glad that people were comfortable, but sitting down is an antidote to dancing and having a good time. When you’re standing and the music starts to roll, you just go with it. If you’re sitting down, you might tap your toe or move your head, but you might also stuff some fries into your mouth or take a swig off of your beer. It’s why I like to go to standing shows – you can groove. Yeah, my knees hurt, and my legs get tired, but so what? I’m also primed for the show to hit my dance button.
What does this have to do with Jason James? Well, we got up off of our seats, got in front of the crowd, and danced our buns off. He and the boys were ripping one great song after another, and we wanted to have some fun. Some others joined us, but not many. Nonetheless, I think it made a difference to the band: they had had an effect on someone in the crowd, and had made that aural connection that got us wiggling to the sounds they were making.
At one point, we were up there right by Jason, and he gets out a small bottle of something and starts splashing it on to his piano. He then lights it, and the flames come up bright and warm. You know I love that kind of stuff. I have testosterone in my system, so loud music, fire and spectacle get my neurons to “bing, bing, bing” and me to laugh, dance and carry on. Jason then rips into some boogie-woogie piano, and well, the Kid went wild.
So here’s more on Jason James. He’s from Massachusetts, but now lives in Memphis. He can play the piano like a man possessed, but he also can play a venerable lead guitar, and he can sing. The dude must love old time rock ‘n’ roll, and I mean from the fifties, because he plays great old songs that every boomer knows. Jason has a great stage presence, and understands what about 99% of contemporary musicians don’t get: not only are you there to play music, you’re also there to have fun and perform. I’m getting kind of tired and bored with bands that just come out and stand in front of their mics. C’mon, haven’t they ever watched video of Elvis, Jerry Lee, Jagger, JB, Daltry, Mercury or any other rock icons? Jason understands that you need to PERFORM, play for the crowd, and become a different person on stage that is there to blow minds and give people something not just to hear, but to see and experience.
I ended up talking to Jason and he gave me his live CD to review. I’ve listened to it a bunch of times, and here are my thoughts. First, it’s a cover album, so you know the tunes. And he has done a great job in selecting ones that are historically important, but that also rock. Second, his band played live, but they were well-rehearsed and the performances were tight. There aren’t a lot of “oops” moments, and that’s a feat in the live format. Next, Jason can play that damn piano and guitar, and to great effect with the crowd. It was obvious that the people who were present during the taping were having a great time. But alas, all is not perfect. Jason’s voice is competent but not compelling, and on some tunes, the range is too much of a challenge. That’s not to say that the vocals are bad, but they can be pedestrian. Still, my opinion of the album is that it’s one worth having in your collection if for no other reason than a new version of Rocket 88 is needed in everyone’s music collection.
Here’s some great video of Jason tearing it up.
It’s always great to stumble onto a performer who cares and is skilled. We got that on a Friday evening on Beale Street in Memphis at Jerry Lee’s joint. If you’re in town, go there and hope that Jason James is ripping the place up yet again. We had a rip-snorting great time. Oh, and bring your dancing shoes, you’ll need them.
I’ve got one more post on Memphis upcoming. It’s all about Beale Street, which encapsulates everything I saw and experienced in Memphis in one compact corridor. Oh yeah, I’ve also been going to show after show, and have a backlog of reviews to get to on that front. It will be an exciting August at BRP, and you don’t want to miss a minute of it. Come on back soon, y’hear?
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.