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Published: 2004/12/31
by Andy Tennille

Used with Jim James

A walk through the used record bins of some of the country’s finest music stores with musicians, both famous and infamous.

"You shouldn't have brought me here, Andy," Jim James says as we look down over the excited hordes of shoppers plowing through Amoeba Music's vast inventory. "I'm really dangerous in these types of places."

I've heard this desperate plea before it is the call of the slightly deranged music junkie, destined to empty his/her wallet on nearly every trip to the record store despite repeated determined attempts to resist their obsessive itch. Yet James is a bit different. While most leave the mourning until after the clerk hands over their receipt, James concedes defeat before even entering the store, the telltale sign of a true musiholic. I knew he was one of Us.

I guess I shouldn't expect anything less from James, given that he and his cohorts in My Morning Jacket are amongst a small group of bands that are successfully leading a revival of old school, garage rock music. The Louisville, Kentucky-based quintet, which formed in the late 90s, has recorded three excellent studio albums to date showcasing James' simple yet evocative songwriting. His haunting, lonesome vocals and image-laden lyrics reek of Neil Young's influence; fittingly, most of MMJ's more rocking, uptempo tunes feature the heavy reverb and frenetic guitar playing found on some of the very best work Young did with Crazy Horse, his garage-band alter ego to the acoustic perfection of 1972's Harvest.

Ironically, James didn't find Young's music until later in life; his initial musical influence came from that little-known music Mecca of the Midwest Peoria, Illinois.

"Dan Fogelberg," James admits with a sly smile. "I remember buying the 45 of "Leader of the Band." I think I was like three or four years old. There was something about that song, you know? I don't think I even remember any of his other songs. I just remember hearing "Leader of the Band" and just balling my eyes out. My mom took me to the mall to get the 45, and I listened to it over and over again."

One huge influence on James growing up was the hair-band, metal craze of the 80s and early 90s, which is clearly evident after seeing My Morning Jacket play live. The band's crunchy guitar, power bass lines and pounding drums could just as easily be the opening act for Slayer.

"I got into metal in the seventh or eighth grade," James says. "There was something about Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood record that really hit me. I had it on cassette tape as a kid and just wore it out. That record really kicks ass. I liked metal, but as I got older I didn't feel like I was the kind of dude that would look good in leather pants and have my chest hair hanging out and shit."

As he grew older, James eventually graduated from metal and took to listening to the classics – Zeppelin, Floyd and the Stones.

"It's weird, because for me that stuff's pretty much engrained," James says. "For musicians who are older than me, that was the music that influenced them early on because they were hearing it as it came out. For me, the Stones, the Beatles, Floyd, Zeppelin, Neil Young…that stuff was the Bible, you know. I'm gonna buy this copy of Zeppelin IV for my little brother. I remember it was one of the first tapes I borrowed from a friend of mine's older brother, and it just changed my life."

One band that was more contemporary for James was Nirvana. Kurt Cobain's dark, poignant songwriting and the band's hardedge sound spoke to the young burgeoning musician in James. With Nevermind, James saw opportunity in "these goofy looking dudes."

"When I first heard Nirvana, it was a real relief to me. Finally, some dudes in t-shirts who were just playing music," he says. "They were so different than everything else. The songwriting was great and the songs themselves were really powerful and emotional. It really gave me a lot of confidence to play music. With hair metal, you either had to be a really great guitarist or some really sexy frontman, but with Nirvana, it didn't matter what they were. They were just themselves, and that's what was great about them."

The perspective that James offers on the bands and musicians that were influential on his own development as an artist at times stand in stark contrast to some of my previous guests for this column. As we sift through Used Rock, James stops at Toad the Wet Sprocket and grabs Fear, the band's critically acclaimed 1991 album.

"This was a huge record for me. It's probably one of the top five records of all time for me. Toad had some good records, but this record in particular…it's just amazing," James says. "Some really great stuff on here. I haven't heard it in a long time…man, I'm gonna get this. Shit, it's only five bucks. I should buy a few more and hand them out to people I meet."

I have yet to meet a single person who doesn't think that Outkast is at the top of the game in music right now, and I can't argue. The dynamic duo from the ATL is more creative in their lyrics and more innovative in their beats and composition than anyone else out there. If the Drive By Truckers can cover "Hey Ya!" during an acoustic set, then someone's doing something right.

"I feel like Outkast is the most important band in music right now," James says. "They're really uniting everyone. It doesn't matter how old you are, what color you are, what kind of music you like, everyone digs those guys. They're so important, and they make great music. It's so rare that a band sells six million records and the music is actually good."

While James has been delving a little bit into classical music (he's into Beethoven's Ninth Symphony), an appreciation for jazz has taken a little longer to develop.

"I've been really trying hard to get into jazz. I've never really been into it, but I feel like there's something to be learned there that I haven't quite gotten yet," he admits. "I guess my brain hasn't developed that far yet. I've got a lot of jazz records that people have given to me, and I've gone out and bought some Miles Davis and Coltrane. I like some of the Miles Davis stuff from the 70s. Like Live Evil, I really like. But some of the other stuff just reminds me of like Frazier' or a coffee shop or something, man. I like the really dark jazz, you know. The fucked-up shit. I respect it all, but it just makes me feel like I'm on Frazier.'"

Jim’s Picks of the Day – Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin IV – Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes – Motley Crue, Dr. Feelgood – Iron & Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days – Nirvana, Nevermind

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