Due to spinal muscular atrophy, James Ian says, “Even putting my guitar on and getting the strap over my head is a challenge”
San Diego fixture James Ian, knows that looks don’t always tell the whole story. He’s been living with a secret challenge his entire life.
“When most people see me just standing,” explains the musician/singer/songwriter, “they are not able tell that I have a physical disability. But once they see me move, they notice. SMA [spinal muscular atrophy] affects all of my major life functions… It makes walking, ascending stairs, and getting up from a seated position difficult. I also fall easily, and I cannot get up on my own when I fall.”
“I have another neurological disorder that cropped up a couple of years ago that made me lose a lot of functionality in my left arm, so this further complicates things.... The instruments I play all require a level of physicality, and having SMA makes it tough to play the instruments; even putting my guitar on and getting the strap over my head is a challenge. I have to take breaks and be strategic when I play, and I’ve developed tricks along the way to get the job done.”
All that hardly stops Ian from living his aspirations, though. He’s gigged all over the city over four years of life here. “I called PB and Bay Ho home,” he recalls. “PB has younger residents and offers more in terms of bars and nightlife, and Bay Ho is quieter and is home to more families. The feel in Bay Ho is much more relaxed, which I appreciate.”
He learned the piano first, followed by drums, bass, and then guitar. He played all the instruments and sang all the parts on his album The Labor of Love.
He recently decamped to Los Angeles, but he’s seen often in San Diego, visiting family, gigging (preferably the Belly Up or the Casbah), and putting the finishing touches on his new song, cut at his favorite place to record, Rancho Bernardo’s Studio West.
“My new song is called ‘Make A Stand,’ and it’s about fighting back against racism and other forms of hate and discrimination. It is inspired by the Charlottesville terror attacks, and it has already been recorded.”
“On this one, it’s just me. I wrote it and play keys on it. But I do get input from the label and my family that I incorporate. This track is one of the most meaningful tracks I’ve ever written, so I’m excited to put it out there.”