May 25, 2017
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On the Beat: Staying power

Terry James continues to bring the blues and more to area venues



Terry James, 61, has been playing the blues on stage for more than 40 years. He’s worked with many big names such as Luther Allison, Buddy Guy and Buddy Miles throughout his career. James is known in the area for playing with the Rhythm Dogs, Terry James and the Blue Flames and currently The Terry James Band.

James will host Open Mic Night at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, May 25, at Pete’s Place, 4520 Eighth Avenue. You can also catch James performing at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 26, at Fusion, 5014 Seventh Ave. (with the Rhythm Dogs).

Talent/instruments: vocals, guitar, bass

When did you begin performing?

“I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I was born in 1955, so by 1963 when the Beatles came out I was 8 years old. The next day a guy came knocking on the door named Jerry Brown and was signing people up for music lessons. I bolted to the door and said I wanted to take guitar lessons. That’s how it started for me — seeing the Beatles and starting guitar lessons the next day.”

How would you classify the music you play?

“I’m a blues man, but I play a lot of variety also. I do everything from ‘Midnight Hour’ to Beatles stuff and everything in between. I’m a combination of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

Do you write your own music/lyrics? What inspires your music?

I’ve written probably 100 songs in my life and recorded a dozen of them or so. The Rhythm Dogs thing I did featured all the original songs on our album back in ’96 or so. I’m not a prolific songwriter by any stretch of the imagination. I write a song when I get a feeling about something. It might be in the middle of the night. I may wake up and have to write something down.”

How did you get into blues?

“When I was 15 or so somebody turned me on to B.B. King’s album ‘Live in Cook County Jail.’ I remember when I listened to that album it did something to me. I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ Something grabbed ahold of me. That switch got flipped and now have an affinity with the blues.”

Did you have a musical role model/hero? Who influenced you the most?

“I’d say Buddy Guy if anybody. I hung around with him a lot. I’ve been on stage with him many times. I learned a lot from him.”

When did you realize that music would be a lifetime endeavor?

“I thought that from the beginning, when I first signed up for lessons. Just like all kids do when you first start out, you have these big dreams of being a rock star. It doesn’t always pan out that way. Not everyone gets rich and famous.”

What is your favorite piece to perform?

“I play the song ‘Red House’ by Jimi Hendrix. I’ve been playing that since I was 14. I always do it for my friend Jeff Jacob, who has passed away. He had a band in Kenosha called The White Brothers. That was his favorite song also. I always think of him when I play it nowadays.”

What do you hope the audience takes from your performances?

“I feel like musicians are like doctors, even though we don’t get paid like doctors. If someone had a bad day and they come and watch you play — if you’re doing your job, they will leave with a different attitude. They’ll leave in a better mood. They’ll go home and everything will be better. Music is a healing thing and crosses a lot of barriers. I just try to touch people with the music and when they leave they’re in a better space than when they got there.”

Why do you keep playing?

“I don’t know what to tell you about that. Some people are born with a gift. I’m one of them. I have to play. Even if I didn’t get paid and didn’t have anywhere else to play, I’d sit in my living room and play because I just have to. It is who I am. I’m always going to play until I am not able to.”

Get Out’s “On the Beat” is looking for musicians or vocalists for our profile series. If you know a local artist who would make a good feature, you can pass along information via email to or call Sean Krajacic at 262-656-6385.


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