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INTERVIEW: Jemima James

How would you classify your music?

My father had great records. I grew up listening to folk, rag, country, blues, Mexican, Bluegrass, Cajun, that Bulgarian woman’s choir, Gershwin, French Canadian folk songs, an Italian folk group. My stuff is often called Americana. That works for me, like this country, it’s an amalgam.

Who are some of your top 5 musical influences? 

Leadbelly, Bob Dylan, Elizabeth Cotton, Hank Williams, John Prine. Lately I like hearing Iris Dement. Love her song Before The Colors Fade. I like Randy Newman.

What do you want fans to take from your music?

I hope they take a liking to it. And there so many good younger musicians and writers now,  who inspire me like my son Willy Mason.

Can you tell us a bit about your latest album(s)? How does your album At Longview Farm and When You Get Old differ from each other?

At Longview Farm was produced in ‘79 by the studio owner Gil Markle. He loved mixing records and would stay up all night in the studio manipulating sound with echo and compression, layering voices and instruments. He was like a musical make-up artist. He re-mastered the record again in 2013 just before he died. The new one, When You Get Old was recorded after I’d played the songs for a year with Good Night Louise (a great band on Martha’s Vineyard led by songwriter Shawn Barber). The studio effects and over-dubs are minimal.

What do you love and hate about the Music Business?

I used to be a staff songwriter at Famous Music, the music publishing arm of Paramount. My partner and I had an office with a tape recorder in the Gulf & Western Building on the 64th floor overlooking Columbus Circle. My partner got in a fistfight with the boss. A songwriter from next office came to help me break them up. As we headed down the hall with our guitars past the rainbow wallpaper to the elevator the boss pressed a handkerchief to his chin, waved his finger at us and yelled “You’ll never work in this business again!” It was about control between the two of them. I should turn it into a musical. If you want to play music and get paid for it you gotta find a way to sort this stuff out.

What is the best concert you have been to? 

Since I’m 66 let me mention four. First James Brown and the Famous Flames in 1967 at the old Madison Square Garden. I got to see him in his prime. Around the same time I saw Bob Dylan and The Band (before they were called The Band) in White Plains. Changed my life. A month ago I saw my sons Willy and Sam Mason play at the Ritz in Oak Bluffs with Josh Campbell, Geordie Gude, Anthony Gude, Rose Guerrin and Nina Violet. It doesn’t get any better than that and I’m not saying that because I’m the mother. And I saw Ray Charles with his band around ‘68 near Dartmouth College. I was a rebellious, alienated kid who got in trouble a lot. Listening to all these people and seeing them live was and is powerful medicine I sorely need.

What do you like most about playing live?

I just love playing with great musicians, and singing harmonies. When it’s going well there’s no separation between listeners and players. Live music is the best thing we’ve got imho.

Is there a song on this latest CD that stands out as your personal favorite, and why?

On a another day I’ll have other favorites but today on the old record I like Billy Baloo, sung with my friend Billy Stoner, a great writer and musician who’s got his own record coming out on Team Love soon. I like the energy on that one, and I like Bats In The Belfry on the new one. Also Nothing New which due to a manufacturing glitch didn’t make it onto the disc itself, but is on the digital version of the record.

How have you evolved as an artist over the last few years? 

I’m practicing more now. There’s nothing like it.

What made you decide to come back into the music business?

My son Willy sent the Longview recording and the new one to his friend Nate Krenkle at Team Love (Willy’s first album was on Team Love). Nate liked it so I’m back in business. I never stopped playing and writing.

If you could meet, play a gig, co-write a song, have dinner, get drunk with any band or artist (dead or alive) who would it be? 

In the mid 70’s I recorded my songs with Michael Bloomfield at his favorite studio in San Francisco called Blossom. Michael play drums, bass, piano, some bottle neck, and he brought in a young man, Gary Vogensen to play electric guitar. So that actually happened. Michael was an amazing wonderful man, a master. A few years later at Longview Farm the live-in staff would record our stuff between clients who sometimes come for weeks. For three years I cooked for, cleaned after and spent time with with Arlo Guthrie and his band, Tim Curry, Bill Graham, John Belushi, The Rolling Stones. Paul Winter and his band, Pat Metheny and his band, The Jay Geils Band were there a lot. Stephen Bladd (Geil’s drummer) and I sang Everly Brothers songs, we made a recording, I don’t know where it is. Tim Curry changed the lyrics and put me in one of his songs. Lovely guy, we had a lot of fun. I was sorry to learn he had a stroke. In my dreams I’d like to sit down and play with the people from my list of favorites list above including Iris Dement and Randy Newman. (you guys at Vents make it hard on an old girl giving such few choices)

So tell us what’s next?

Today I’m doing a radio interview on WMVY Martha’s Vineyard radio, on Friday I have a CD release concert. Thanksgiving’s I’ll be happily stuffing turkey and seeing my people. Who knows what’s coming next? Trump’s the president.

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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