Guitarist, singer and songwriter James Armstrong's star has risen rapidly on the blues scene over the past several years. His song "Pennies and Picks" from his third Hightone Records release, Got It Goin' On, garnered a 2001 WC Handy nomination for Song of the Year. Armstrong himself was nominated for Contemporary Male Blues Guitarist of the Year. It's easy to see why ... Armstrong tours extensively and his shows are considered one of the best on the circuit.
The son of a blues-singing mother and jazz guitar-playing father, James Armstrong got the music bug at an early age. He learned by playing - a lot of it - in the Los Angeles club scene of the early 1980s. He recalls backing "Big" Joe Turner during that time at Santa Monica's Music Machine, and a similar gig with Albert Collins later on as part of a band that included guitarist Coco Montoya. Then there was that wild gig with Smokey Wilson in East L.A. that reinforced the image of the blues as a tough business on a young Armstrong.
Armstrong's first HighTone release, 1995's "Sleeping With a Stranger", drew widespread critical acclaim, as well as tremendous popularity on the European circuit. He followed that up with "Dark Night" in late 1998, an album that reflected personal turmoil and introspection of the time, and featured his debut on the slide guitarist.
The songs on 2001's "Got It Goin' On" cover a wide spectrum of experiences: "Pennies and Picks" is a true story of the road; "2 Sides" was written over eight years ago and included in the movie Speechless, starring Michael Keaton; "Mr. B's" is another true story, about a club in Santa Monica where James was their number one act sold-out every weekend in the early '90s; "Love Will Make You Do Wrong" is a cautionary tale about the downside of the heart and the mesmerizing "Another Dream," a blues ballad for the new millenium.
Armstrong's take on his writing process is: "I let the tone of the lyrics dictate the style of the music". In other collaborations, "I'll just grab a title first and then go with an idea," he says. Whichever way he approaches things, James Armstrong attacks songs with his voice and guitar like few artists in blues.
James Armstrong appears @ the Rockfish Grill 8PM Thursday March 8th. Cover is $8 at the door.