Americana band the Nathan James Trio features the 2007 International Blues Challenge winner alongside with Troy Sandow (upright and electric bass, harmonica, vocals) and Santa Cruz resident Marty Dodson (drums, vocals).
Nathan James started out as guitarist for the Blues Pharohs, then joined Billy Watson’s band at age 18. He played in bands with Johnny Dyer and Jamie Wood before leaving his native Fallbrook to join the James Harman band, with whom he started touring at age 19.
“I started playing solo at 22 when I was home from the road with Harman. I started working with Ben Hernandez in about 2001 or 2002. This has been my main gig since then, along with still working with James Harman and Billy Watson. In between and recently, I have worked with Johnny Rover, Big Mo’ Band, Nena Anderson, Blue Largo, Robin Henkel, Janiva Magness, Gary Primich, Hollywood Blue Flames, and Rick Holmstrom, among others.”
James is a master of the the Piedmont fingerstyle, which involves thumbing of the bass string while picking out a syncopated melody with one’s fingers. James learned by listening to old records by Blind Boy Fuller and Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Blake, and Blind Willie McTell. “For some reason,” he says, “all the blind guys were phenomenal pickers.”
He also plays harmonica, and is a foot percussion player. He uses these tools to transform his music into a truly original and expressive sound that transcends well beyond the traditions of his chosen genre.
For an electric-blues guitarist, he tends to lean toward old school playing. “I think the guitar-based blues-rock styles are dead and not original anymore. The over-the-top, never-ending, loud, electric-guitar-driven blues are boring for young people. I think new blues fans are more likely to be drawn to the raw and stripped-down, even acoustic styles, maybe because it’s the antithesis of the over-saturated electronic music of this era.”
The Nathan James Trio find him handling vocals, kazoo, and homemade LED lit washboard guitars. The band specializes in a cumulative sound that combines elements of 1920s acoustic blues, amplified juke joint hill country, and 1950s uptown blues mixed with 1960s soulful R&B.
This is not your average blues power trio that leans towards the much abused blues rock formula. Instead, each member knows all the nuances of the different feels and tones. James will often go out solo from the bandstand and burst into a frenzied ragtime breakdown that can lead to a washboard solo on his custom LED-lit Washtar Gitboard.
Another unique aspect of a live show is bandmate Troy Sandow. He may start off the set on upright bass while Nathan will play an uptown lead guitar style in the vein of B.B. or T-bone Walker. Then he will switch over to amplified harmonica, while James fingerpicks a driving groove on his baritone guitar in the style of R.L. Burnside or Lightnin’ Hopkins.