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Teresa James, Fresh off the (Blues) Boat

Canyon Country resident nominated for Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year.

Posted: February 23, 2008 3:28 a.m.
Updated: April 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.

A Canyon Country resident, James has been performing country, blues and other music since she was 8.

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When it comes to the blues, Teresa James isn't fresh off the boat. But then, again, she actually is. With nearly her whole life spent in music, including the blues and country, Teresa James and her band, The Rhythm Tramps, have just returned from another successful tour on Delbert McClinton's Sandy Beaches Blues Cruise.

James said the cruises really help provide a fan base. "We have huge status on that ship - but it's a rude awakening when we get off that boat," she quipped.

It's a common enough story - a lifetime of hard work, talent and love poured into music, and the big payday, the huge success, never comes. But things are looking up for James and her band, which includes her husband Terry Wilson, who plays bass and is the main songwriter, CD producer and "creative genius."

She has been nominated by the Blues Foundation for this year's Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year. And, with your online vote, maybe she'll win.

Other good things are happening, as well. Their new CD, "The Bottom Line," is getting major national distribution and radio promotion. James said XM Satellite Radio is now playing two of their songs, "Whet My Appetite" and "In the Pink."

"It's a huge step for us," she said.

As it turns out, the president of the Blues Foundation heard the songs on the radio and wanted to use one of the lines for a promotion. The line is "Since I found the blues, I've been in the pink," and it's now prominently displayed on the backs of pink, long-sleeved lady's T-shirts.

Naturally, James and Wilson are pleased with the acclaim their band is receiving. "It's just nice to finally have some recognition. We've been in the trenches, working hard, for a long time," she said.

She half-seriously explained that getting older is great for blues singers and their popularity. "In the blues world, if you get older or fat, you get celebrity."

She added that, "We just do what we do. We just keep doing it and everyone else will fall by the way-side."

The Trail from Texas
Both James and Wilson hail from Texas. They both grew up in the Houston area, but they didn't meet for a number of years. James said she started out in music at an early age. Her first gig was at 8-years-old at a park, performing folk music. Soon after, when she played at a larger park that had a stage equipped with lights, she was hooked.

"I remember thinking, 'This is it.'"

Wilson said he started playing music when he was 13 and, from the ninth grade on, worked professionally.

"Music just took over. I've done a lot of odd jobs, but there's always been music," he said.

Wilson said his bands always played "bluesy-rock and rhythm and blues," and various incarnations of The Rhythm Tramps have been around for a long time.

"The Rhythm Tramps have been a family of musicians since 1976," he said. James added that so many band members have come and gone that, sometimes when she can't sleep she tries to recall all their faces and names.

"Like counting sheep," Wilson added.

Wilson and James met in 1979 at a party. At the time, she was in a band called the Cheaters, that was sort of Beatles-salsa. She said that when that band broke up, "I was kind of done with everything in Houston."

James joined Wilson in California in a band called T-bird and the Moon Pies. With the changing trends in music, it took awhile for things to gel.

James was invited to join an all-girl country band. When that fell apart, the couple decided to stop chasing trends.

She suggested, "Let's just not care what happens. Let's just do the music we love. We want to be able to do our music."

From that point on, they did.

As the Web site states, together they "have created a sound that is funky and greasy, where New Orleans meets Texas blues and everyone has a good time." Their band is described as "an eclectic mix of Los Angeles-based musicians who have worked with a wide range of artists...."

Along the way James has performed with legendary artists, many of whom have become friends. These include Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm, Delbert McClinton, Lee Roy Parnell and many others. Her voice is featured on albums by Kirk Whalum, Randy Newman, Tommy Castro, Lee Roy Parnell, Walter Trout, Stepehen Bruton and Glen Clark. She has sung for television and movie soundtracks and her band can be heard on the soundtrack of the movie "Holes."

Local Home
James and Wilson have lived in Canyon Country since 1991 and have raised two children in the town that hooked them, even though they weren't sure it would be a good fit at first. Their daughter, Lucy Wilson, 19, attended Canyon High School and is now a college sophomore. Their son, Jesse Wilson, 16, is currently a Canyon High student. The couple noted that, like so many other families in the SCV, soccer took over their lives for a time.

But, of course, there was always the music.

On Success
In addition to the longevity-related reasons already suggested for their band's upswing in popularity, James and Wilson noted that the music business has changed drastically with the influence of the Internet. "Times have changed the whole way music is marketed," she said. "Record companies don't sign as many bands as they used to - and a lot of times you're better off to do your own records. It's not a bad time to be an independent artist."

She added that they are getting better and better gigs all the time. "I'm really happy with the way things are going," she said. But she offered a thought about the long haul toward success in music. "It just never occurs to you that you need to enjoy things (along the way)," she said.

The Awards
The Blues Foundation will present the Blues Music Awards for the first time in their 29-year history in the Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the blues. Performers, industry representatives and fans from around the globe will celebrate the best in blues recording and performance from the previous year on May 8, 2008 at the Grand Casino Event Center in Tunica Resorts, Miss., just down the road from Memphis, the awards' home since their 1980 inception.

For more information on the Blues Foundation nominees, including Teresa James, visit www.blues.org/bluesmusicawards/nominees.php4. If you'd like to vote, you need to register first. Voting ends on Feb. 29.

If you'd like to sample Teresa James' music or find out more about her and her band (and then vote), visit www.teresajames.com. And don't forget the band is looking for a booking agent.

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