James was born and raised in the Detroit area. At just 15, the band he was in participated in a battle of the bands and beat out Bob Seger’s band. “Bob had just a three-piece band at the time,” says James. “And we played the only four songs we knew.” After attending college at Michigan State, James lived in New Jersey and Atlanta for a number of years, eventually landing in Minneapolis due to a job transfer. As luck would have it, the driver for one of his first cab rides in town was guitarist Jo Jo Williams, sideman to the stars for Muddy Waters, Otis Spann and Mojo Buford. Jojo recommended that James go out to see local blues musician Leonard “Baby Doo” Caston. Meeting Jo Jo led to an association with a string of local blues players, including Walter “Big Guitar Red” Smith and Sonny Rodgers. James played in the Sonny Rodgers Band with John Wickstrom, and was also on the same award-winning single. “It’s funny, we didn’t even know the tape was running when we played it in the studio that day,” says James. “And unfortunately, Sonny passed away before the award was announced.”
James also founded Blue Loon Records in 1989, a blues label that released recordings by a slew of artists for the next 13 years. These included Mojo Buford, R.J. Mischo, Rockin’ Daddy & the Rough Cuts, Joe T. Cook, The Senders, The Joel Johnson Band and more.