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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Ken Wallis Chats With Canadian Singer-Songwriter & Guitarist James Anthony



James Anthony has a long and illustrious career in the music business. He’s garnered a boatload of awards for his excellence on guitar as well as his refined songwriting. He likes to quote “Soul Is Born, Blues Is Earned” and when you listen to him, you can tell he’s earned the Blues. His passion is sharing the blues with accepting audiences, both in Canada and around the world.


Ken Wallis interviewed James Anthony for the radio show BluesSource Canada. The following excerpts are edited and amended for brevity and clarity.



James Anthony has a new album out, initially called Hi-Fi Stereo but the real title is Profile and joining us to tell us all about it is James Anthony.


James Anthony

How you doing today?

Ken Wallis

Great. Why is the album called Profile?

I just wanted to do the old 60s, all those records you bought when you were a kid. They all said Hi-Fi stereo on them. I wanted to put that on there, but the album is actually called Profile.


So why Profile?


I wanted to do an interesting cover and I went to a friend of mine Vic Colosimo who I've known since I was a kid and he's a fabulous artist. And I said could you just do a sketch of me? I don't want features. I don't want anything, just a sketch. He did a great job and I stuck it on Facebook, and I said I'm looking for a title of the album, anybody got any suggestions? I got whacked that day by so many people, but the best one was Profile so I used it.


Ken Wallis

For folks that haven't heard the album yet, how would you describe the music on it?

James Anthony

Live off the floor. I got really turned off by a lot of records that are overproduced, especially in the blues genre, blues-americana, whatever you want to call it. If you have a band and you're out there playing every week and you've got three guys in in the band, why would you have a B3, piano, horns, harmonica? When somebody comes out to see the band live, you don't sound anything like that. I got turned off. One time I went to see a really good artist named Guy Davis, he's an acoustic blues guy and I bought his album at the end of the night because he did a fantastic hour and a half acoustic blues show. I took it home and it was fuzz tone guitar and harmonica and everything on it. I want the record to be what I saw. So if you come out to see me play anywhere with my three piece, that's what you're gonna get. I thought it was really honest and really raw.


Ken Wallis

And obviously your guitar playing is front and centre on the album because you're well known as one of the best guitarists around, but I think what really struck me were the lyrics. They're laid back and they frequently made me smile. There's a a real down-homeness to your lyrics.


James Anthony

I try to have a sense of humour, I think you have to. I’m a big fan of John Prine and what I like about all the writers like John Prine, is all his songs have little funny hooks in them. You can't take yourself too seriously.

Too Much Love is my favourite on the album. Do you have a favourite song?


I like In With You. If I have to be stuck inside, I hope I'm with you because that was a covid song. I wrote a lot of the songs during what I call the holiday, the covid holiday. We had two years where we hardly got to play anywhere.


Ken Wallis

So, what got you interested in playing music in the first place? I've heard a story about how you got your first guitar.


James Anthony

Yeah, my dad won it in a poker game at the barbershop. It was just a natural thing, I was about eight years old and I was not good at sports. I didn’t have a lot of interests. I like science, it's really funny when I was a little kid, I had a microscope and I used to like looking at things under the microscope like human hair. Anyway, one morning my dad brought that guitar home and it was sitting in the corner of the living room for a few weeks and I kept looking at it. I grabbed it one day and there was a chord book and it was all written in Italian because of course my dad was from Italy and I couldn't read a word but they showed you where you put the chords with little photographs. So I just learned to see chord D, chord G, and within about three weeks I was playing. It was crazy. I picked it up so fast and by the time I was 12 I was making 20 bucks a weekend playing Legion halls.


Ken Wallis

And you were playing at the famous Lulu's for a long time, and you played with some iconic musicians. Is there one that stands out for you?


James Anthony

Sam Moore of Sam and Dave, and Denny Doherty of The Mamas and The Papas. I ended up playing with Denny for 17 years on and off. That was incredible. I met him in the 80s, and you never know who you’ll run into.

Ken Wallis

You've played just about every genre of music. You've played reggae, country, jazz, blues. Now you're pretty well into the blues area. Why the Blues?


James Anthony

I think I fell into it naturally because of my voice. I did reggae and I went on the road in 1971 with Jay Douglas and that was the first professional full-time band and I actually played every week. My old man walked into my room one day and said me and Mom are moving. What are you gonna do? So I answered an ad in the paper and I ended up going on the road with Jay. I was at the very ground floor of Reggae before Bob Marley, we're talking ‘71 now, way before he came out. I like to think we kind of invented some of the early stuff. We did a lot of session work back then and played with a lot of the Jamaican artists that they flew in from Jamaica to record in Toronto. One guy would be playing guitar and they'd look at me and say well you gotta come up with another part. So I’d play BB King licks with a Wawa pedal. The funny story is that the stuff went back to Jamaica and they heard it over there and next thing all these records are coming up with the BB King licks with the Wawa pedal. I think I had something to do with it but I don't know. I don't want to take credit if it's not due, but I was there way early.


Ken Wallis

There's been an awful lot of chatter about what's going on in the music world and the challenges that artists face. What do you think the future is for music?

James Anthony

Well, I think people will get fed up with canned, computer, samples. I think people deep down will get fed up with that, but the problem is that they force feed it to the kids. Guys our age, we had the best era. We grew up with the best and the kids now don't know any better. It's not that they're dumb and they're not any less smart than we are. It's just that the media is force feeding them this stuff and I think a lot of them are digging deeper and they're hearing their parents’ records and then they're going wow, this is pretty good. I've got eight grandkids and they're all little, and the eight-year-old listens to Motown because in the Disney movies. She really likes that stuff. Maybe we'll be saved down the line but the only thing that bothers me about the new guard, is that they're forgetting about the feel, they're forgetting about the heart and soul. They're kind of like learning the licks. Like here's lick number one, and here's lick number 32, and they can't wait to get to the next lick, rather than trying to move you. My job as an entertainer or player is to try and move you, the listener. I really believe that and they're not doing that. They're just playing here's a lick, and here's another one, and here's a Johnny Winter one, and by the way I got an Eric Clapton one next. They can't wait to get to the next lick and they're not feeling what they're playing.

Ken Wallis

And that's what I've enjoyed about your album. I sat back and listened to the album and enjoyed it from one song to another, old style I know.

James Anthony

The only thing that was kind of weird on the album was this one song that I really didn't want to put on the record, but everybody fought me. I was watching the Rutles, remember that Monty Python documentary? They did a spoof on the Beatles and of course we all came up with the Beatles. I wanted to write his song that was every Beatle cliché, every Beatle hook you can imagine and I put them all in one song. The song is called Whenever I'm With You and I really wanted it to sound like early Beatles. It was just a song I came up with and a lot of people said put it on there, so I did. It's really funny because people picked up on it and they're actually playing it which just blows me away.


Ken Wallis

James where can people get a hold of the album?


James Anthony

On my website jamesanthony.ca, it's on iTunes, it's on Spotify. I paid to get distribution all over the place. It's everywhere but I'd rather you come to my gig and get it right off me. I also tried something different this year. I've never done it before. I got CDs because you have to get CDs. I've got USBs made, these little USB sticks and I put my album on it and I also put other records, other songs that I really like that I thought are kind of bonus tracks.


Ken Wallis

Well it's the way of the future. I was at a couple of concerts and people were coming up to the merch table and said gee I want to buy a CD but I don't have a CD player anymore.


James Anthony

Exactly that's the workaround. USB sticks, they're great, they're expensive to get made but hey, they're not that much more than a CD . I'm looking forward to the summer, we already got the Wasaga Beach Blues Festival that's coming up. I'm working on some Toronto stuff. It's just all coming in now. March it all starts to come in for the summer.


Ken Wallis

I'll probably see you at the Wasaga Blues Festival and I hope to catch you one of these weekends. It's been great chatting with you.


James Anthony

Hopefully we'll get to meet up.









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