James Robert Web
Photo: courtesy of 117entertainment
 

CMM: James, back in time and space in our time machine : tell us how it all began, when and where are you born and raised and what led a radiologist to became a Country Music singer songwriter?

JRW: It’s interesting to me how you phrase that—time machine. Because I think time is relative and history repeats itself, as we are seeing now. I am a lover of many things that are dead and also being reborn. The only way to experience them is to imagine going back in time and listening to, say, Ella Fitzgerald in Harlem or Bob Wills at the Cains Ballroom in the 1920s. I have found that if you can do that, you can bring the spirit of that music back with you into the present. So sometimes I have tried on the mantle of the “Master of Space and Time” that my fellow Tulsan and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member, the late Leon Russell was known for.

Myself, I was raised on a 10 acre farm 20 miles outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. I came from humble beginnings. We weren't Great Depression poor, but solidly stuck in the working class. My young parents were teenagers when I was born and both had to work hard to provide for us. Led Zeppelin released Houses of the Holy, which would later become one of my favorite albums.

My mom became an elementary school teacher and my father a sheet metal construction worker. We lived in a trailer on my grandparents place until my father bought some land when I was about 5. My father’s blue Chevrolet Silverado played Fire On The Mountain and Ghost Riders In The Sky. My mother’s gold Chevelle had an 8 track of Fleetwood Mac and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

My mother and her brother were the first to get a college degree on either side of my family. My grandparents were big on education because they didn't have those opportunities. I think I saw from an early age the poverty in our community, our town and the wretchedness that that bred. There are many wonderful—and a few truly great—people where I came from, but there was a lot of crime in our little hamlet, too. Makes me think of Little Pink Houses and Song of the South.

I worked on the farm since I was a small child. Before school, I was out feeding animals and carrying hot water in five gallon buckets in the snow and ice. While my friends watched Saturday morning cartoons, I was usually clearing land and burning brush with my father. By nine I was listening to Alabama, Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, Willie Nelson, the Cars and a lot of other new wave bands . The first album I fell in love with was Synchronicity by The Police.

In school I thrived on academics. I was lucky to be straight A student—somewhat a male version of Hermione Granger (and Gryffindor all the way). I took piano lessons from the church lady, particularly loving Beethoven’s Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata. I was in band from second grade age. I played clarinet, saxophone, guitar, piano, drums, everything percussion. I played most sports but loved wrestling. Before jazz band practice we would play Bon Jovi and Yes but I started falling in love with the music of a bygone era and greats like Count Basie, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.

My first job that I got paid for was working at a stockyards. I bought my own truck and kept all of its expenses when I was sixteen. I would listen to George Strait on the radio. I had a tape not of Chris LeDoux, but of Garry Lee and the Showdown (The Rodeo Song, etc) that had been copied and passed around by my FFA friends.

Eventually by 17 I started working as an orderly in a nursing home, found people that appreciated me and discovered that I liked helping others. By now I was sick of all the hair bands that sounded the same (bro country anyone?). Frustrated with the lack of decent music on the radio, I started listening to alternative music then like early Red Hot Chili Peppers, other skater music and 2LiveCrew. I also took my time machine back to the 60s and 70s discovering Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, America, The Eagles, and Black Sabbath. I smoked Marlboro Reds with my first girlfriend listening to Appetite for Destruction in my dirt poor brown Chevy Silverado.

I continued playing in band. I was an All State Jazz pianist in Oklahoma. I was late to my first professional cover band gig (and got fired) thanks to my father yelling at me about an asinine allegation he made up because he didn’t want me playing in bars. I started identifying with artists whose lyrics were telling my story like Tom Petty, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails and Jimi Hendricks.

I knew I wanted to get a degree so that I could take care of myself and be independent. When I started college I planned to become a physical therapist. I was near the top of my class in chemistry and tutoring a bunch of the early pre-med students. That’s what really made me think, “Hey, maybe I could be a doctor.” I just really didn’t have any models for high achievement where I came from. I listened to Steely Dan, Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Fast forward a few years and I was a doctor and radiologist when I became a father. Music had continued to kept me sane all of those years. I played here and there as a side man, played covers like most developing artists and dabbled in writing instrumentals. But it was really when I got interested in songwriting that I found my calling in music. And through writing I found my voice that had been silent all those years, as Tori Amos sang. Once the gates of paradise were unhinged, nothing would ever keep me out again.

I red (in your TheBoot.com interview) that your influences are not only Country Music artists (Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn) but also Pop or Rock artists (Freddie Mercury, Don Henley-The Eagles-, ABBA and AC/DC). So let’s talk about your main musical influences.

Who are the artists you admire the most (Country or not) and why ?

I most admire artists who are gifted writers, are stylistic and have broad appeal. In country that would be Willie Nelson, Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, Ronnie Dunn, Alan Jackson. If I’m listening to something newer on the radio it’s Jon Pardi, Maren Morriss, Luke Combs. Those are some of the few new artists I cover.

I love these artists because they are each unique and incomparable. Their music, grooves and melodies are distinctive and have wide appeal so naturally I love them as well. They just don’t sound like anyone else out there and their songs have deeper meanings. My perennial favorites are Queen, ZZ Top, Prince, The Eagles, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Brooks & Dunn, Adele, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin--and really many more. But I really do love listening to things that are interesting and different. My favorite artists of the last year have probably been Billie Eilish and Lizzo because their melodies are magnificent and their musical styles are unique.

It’s ironic that since I’m more of a neo-traditionalist that I get lumped into genres that I don’t think really fit me. Like red dirt and outlaw. There are also a lot of lyrically great writers that I want to love, but just I can’t stand the music. It just doesn’t make me feel anything. They have huge followings, but I have tried and just can’t get into them. It bores me for whatever reason. I don’t want to name names, but they tend to be alt-country or Americana. Which is ironic, because I love most indie and alternative music, but the music—the melody, the groove—has to be there.

Also, I’m pretty picky about what I like on current country radio. I really don’t want to listen to another “hey girl, shake it on the tailgate” cold-can cliche song. It’s like bubble-gum pop for binge drinkers. Life is too damn short, so I’m not going to record that. The closest thing I have would be “Good Time Waiting’ To Happen” because it has an infectious groove and is a great hook. Give me something meaningful like All The Pretty Girls or Humble and Kind and I won’t change the station.

Could you explain us how it happened that Buddy Canon, the legendary Country Music record producer, take contact with you and what was your feelings about that? How was it, to work with him?

We were introduced through a mutual friend who used to work with Buddy back when he was at Capitol Records. He passed my music on to Buddy and went and played a few songs of mine for him and Buddy liked what he heard. I’m so grateful that he did because it’s still hard to believe this is happening. When you come to Nashville, you dream of the day you’re working with A-list people and now I’m living the dream.

Did this third album conception take you long? what was the main ideas you wanted to develop in this album?

The album didn’t take too long, although there are songs I had written two or three years before that are on it—and songs I had recently written like April May.

Every album is selfie of where an artist is at that time in their career. The concept of this album for me is straight Nashville new traditional country. Some may say it’s a little too Nashville or ‘too perfect’ whatever that means. But working with Buddy, that’s his bailiwick and I love that kind of music. That’s not my only style as an artist, but for me this album is a watermark for an updated new traditional sound.

On one hand, I’m a professional songwriter always honing my craft on Music Row. I take songwriting very seriously—that’s my primary goal: to write songs that stand the test of time. The themes that weigh heavily in my writing on this album are relationships, spirituality, mindfulness and the modern dilemmas we face. Like being slaves to our devices and our tech company surveillance overlords. That’s where a song like “Think About It” comes from.

On the other hand, musically I’m always trying to push the envelope and craft a new sound—take the genre forward but tip the hat to tradition. Since my musical roots are so eclectic, I try to make sure I honor that in my art. That means I focus on blending different musical styles and elements so it’s not just ‘country.’

I think you can hear that by comparing the Tulsa Time throwback to unadulterated Western Swing to say, Okfuskee Whiskey, a semi-autobiographical outlaw country-fusion rocker. On the other side, a song like Undertow has drawn comparisons to being a next generation Garth or Strait song. Melodically it has a lot of 70s Southern California songwriter sound and lyrically it paints a picture for me that’s not unlike Don Henley’s “Boys Of Summer.”

How do you occupied your time during this quarantine time?

I write a lot. As a doctor I am still essential. The main procedure I perform as a physician, kyphoplasty, on average saves a life for every 11 patients treated. It’s truly life-saving. It fixes people in severe pain and keeps them from overloading the emergency room. We’ve seen a huge downturn because people are afraid to get routine care, but I’m still seeing those severe patients.

But I write. I watch movies with my kids. We swim. My son’s playlist contains a bunch of Queen and David Bowie—I’m a proud father.

I’ve cried a lot. Not because of COVID-19 per say, but from dealing with my parents. My mother went into the hospital the night they closed it to visitors and she was in the ICU for two weeks. So none of us could see her for a month.

Then she came home on hospice almost in a coma and we thought she was going to die. She told us she was ready to die and “go on home to heaven.” She would have one good day and two or three bad days. It was an emotional roller coaster for us. She was asking why it was taking so long to die. She wasn’t physically suffering, but I truly felt like she was in actual Limbo. I was driving out to her house one day, listening to Here Comes The Rain Again by the Eurythmics as all the trees were bursting in spring green. Total cosmic irony.

And then one day she started getting better. And then she kept stringing those good days together. Now she’s calling me on the phone and eating food again. She’s getting on Facebook and sitting in a chair. It’s a miracle. I’m calling her Mama Lazarus.

I also journal. Being around my father has reopened childhood wounds that I have to sort of deal with again. I’ve recovered from that, but it’s like PTSD—trauma never goes away, it just gets better with time. It sucks, but you just have to deal with it again and talk your little 8 year old self through it and know that it’s going to be ok. I say that not for pity but so that other people going through that know that it’s ok.

And I write more songs. My family is asleep as I’m doing this interview and I will probably work on a song after this. I’ve also gotten more into producing tracks at home and I’m starting to get pretty good—I don’t have record companies knocking on my door, but I’m we’ll see.

It must be kinda weird (and may be frustrated ?) to launch an album during covid-19 quarantine and knowing you can defend it on stage during a tour ? So when the virus will be behind us, what are your next projects?

We initially had planned the release on my mother’s birthday. We postponed it because that was the week she fell ill and also when the 24 hour COVID coverage began on social media. It has been frustrating because I completed this project over a year ago. I’ve waited until I had the right team in place to release it. But, I believe there are no accidents and everything happens for a reason. There really is no bad time to release a project produced by Buddy Cannon.

I’ve also been writing with artists in different genres—pop, R&B, rock, hip-hop. I wrote my first top-line for a Greek rapper—a chorus in Spanish, lol. And I’m working on some songs for the studio. Buddy and I are picking songs for my next project. I’m also planning on doing an EP of just me and a piano because that’s something I do in live shows, but I’ve haven’t put that kind of a project out yet.

Did you ever go to a foreign country (if ''yes'' where?) and what are the biggest images France make you think about?

When Americans think of France we often imagine seeing the iconic tourist landmarks in Paris—coffee and croissants by the Seine in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, plotting our pilgrimage to the Louvre. But I’d love to see it in that time machine. My grandfather in the Allied forces during World War II. Maybe listen at the feet of the great philosophers such as Voltaire and Descartes. Watch Monet catalog the play of light off of the Notre Dame. Journey out into the country, looking over van Gogh’s left shoulder as he paints fields and haystacks. Or maybe watch the heads roll on the original Bastille Day—from a safe distance of course.

I lived much of the first year of my life in Germany while my father was in the army. I was lucky enough to come to Ireland and the UK a couple of years ago on a media tour. I’ve seen my fanbase grow all over the world and it’s my dream to one day play a proper world tour—we’re working up to that.

I would definitely love to come to France and play—show people that country music is more than about beer and redneck things. For me, country music is a good groove with lyrics that tell relatable stories about regular people that we can all relate to. Yes, I am a physician, but I’ve never forgotten my roots. Au contraire, il faut du travail pour les transcender.

 

James Robert Web

Photo: courtesy of 117entertainment

To end this interview a few words for french Country music fans ?

Mon français n'est pas très bon, mais j'aime rencontrer des gens du monde entier. Merci d'avoir lu cet article. J'espère que tu as apprécié. Peut-être qu'un jour bientôt nous nous rencontrerons en personne lors d'un concert.

Thank you so much James to take time to answer these questions, hope your career as artist will grow and you will have the opportunity to play and sing in France at one of our Country music summer festival… I will do my best to be in contact with festival presidents to push that idea.!

Jacques, I am truly honored that you asked me. I hope I didn’t ramble on too long. This is probably the most open and personal interview I’ve done.

Webpage: www.jamesrobertwebb.com
Get the album here: https://smarturl.it/JRW

 

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