Two minutes into a 2012 YouTube video of “Little Wing,” a deep cut Hendrix tune, local blues musician, Arthur James, starts leaning into a Jimi cut solo with his chin up and eyes closed while his fingers are doing the unthinkable.
Free flying on his custom-made pink guitar, James & Northbound have the club in the palm of their hands, mesmerized, transfixed, just as they should be when you’re mind is being blown by a great blues tune.
And James, 51, from Warner, can bring the blues from a few directions: country blues, Chicago blues, cotton blues, Dixie – whatever style – James fiercely plays and sings it all.
He will bring that same groove down to Memphis at the end of the month when he competes in the “International Blues Challenge” in the solo category.
This is a big deal in the blues world. From all corners of the country, musicians will gather on Beale Street for a week to bask in a mass of talent (then, hope to crush it), while fans from around the globe stroll from club to club, taking it all in, getting good and bluesy.
After a series of battles put on by the Granite State Blues Society where James went head-to-head against other blues musicians from around New England, he won the chance to take on some of very best blues musician the country has to offer in Memphis.
In the past, local artists like Erik “Fingers” Ray and Delanie Pickering have competed at the IBC in Memphis. This is James’ fourth trip down south to battle.
Soundcheck wanted to catch up with James before he left and wish him luck.
1. You are heading to Memphis to compete in the International Blues Competition. How many times have you done this and how did you do in the past?
I’ve done the IBC competition three times. Last time in Jan. 2015 I made it all the way to the Finals in the Solo Duo category. Last year I went down for a paying gig. Plus I got to pay it forward by being a judge.
2. Does a blues player from Memphis have much of a leg up on a blues man from the Granite State, simply by being from a very bluesy region?
No. Nobody has an edge like that based on locale. But some players get in showcases down there. Which helps their visibility and cause. You wanna be seen and heard and meet as many people as you can. Basically it’s a full week of rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi of the blues world.
3. What is your greatest strength as a blues man?
My greatest strength is in setting up a song and then drawing the listener into it. Goes a lot further than just jumping from song to song ignoring the audience.
4. Who would be on your dream list of blues musicians to play with?
My dream list? Too many to mention. Certainly Muddy and The Wolf. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix. Living wise Buddy Guy and Jimmie Vaughan, or Peter Green.
5. Any new music in the works?
Not a lot of new tunes song written recently. Some older ones I either wrote and left or forgot about. Plus a wishlist of cover tunes I’m starting in on.
6. Does one need to suffer somewhat to excel at the blues? Or is that nonsense?
And sufferin’ I’ve done too much of that. It’s not necessary but it certainly helps you to struggle for a goal in the music biz.
Rob Azevedo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rob Azevedo from Manchester is the host of Granite State of Mind on 95.3 FM WMNH Fridays at 6 p.m. and Thursday at 7 p.m. on WKXL 103.9 FM. He also hosts a monthly series at New England College in Concord which features live performances by artists from around New Hampshire.