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James Lee Stanley

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with James Lee Stanley from 2014

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?

I had my first recording contract at 16, when I also began writing songs at the behest of the label.   After a stint in the air force as a Chinese linguist, I enrolled in college here in Southern California to study orchestration and arranging.   At the end of my junior year I got another recording contract with Wooden Nickel/RCA.    I was writing songs all along and playing wherever and whenever I could.   After more recordings for Asylum, MCA and Takoma, I formed my own label, Beachwood Recordings, and never looked back.   We have just released my 27th CD, The Apocaloptimist.   I have done three duet CDs with Peter Tork of the Monkees, one with Michael Smith, and the All Wood and Doors with Cliff Eberhardt,  plus the All Wood and Stones I & II with John Batdorf.
MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Having done painting, drawing, wood carving, etceterea all my life, I suspect I would be involved in the arts in some fashion.   I know I am enraptured with computer graphics, so I would have probably ended up there.
MSJ: You’ve done some interesting collaborations. How do projects like that differ from your solo work to make them appealing to you?
From my fondness for jazz and their penchant for combining artists to see what comes of it, I have always encouraged and enjoyed collaboration.    As the owner of my own studio, I can go in whenever I want and do whatever I want - call all the shots, as it were.   So collaborating creates a completely different space and I always learn from my collaborators.    And, I have had some wonderful associations...Peter Tork, Michael Smith, Cliff Eberhardt, John Batdorf, all strong musicians with their own take on everything.   And there is the added benefit of cross pollinating our audiences.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
I am presently putting together a musical that I have been working on for the last, oh, 18 years.    We are releasing it in May.   I have one of the roles, and my enormously talented sister has the lead.    It's called “Straight from the Heart.”
MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?
Playing acoustic guitar all my life, the general category would be acoustic music, but because of my nascency in folk music and my love for jazz, I would say it's Faux Jazz.   
MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?
I have been blessed to play with the cream of the crop throughout my 27 CDs.   In addition to the duet CDs, the folks that play on my recordings include Larry Carlton, Robben Ford, Paul Barrere, Timothy B Schmit, Bonnie Raitt, Nicolette Larson, Rita Coolidge, John Jarvis, Stephen Bishop, Sheila E, Jim Gordon, Russ Kunkel, Chad Watson, Colin Cameron, Sneaky Pete, Jim Ehinger ...the list just goes on.   As for new folks, I always liked Tom Prasada Rao, Glenn Burtnick and Marshall Crenshaw.  Love to do something with them.
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
Having invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in my career, I do find it disheartening when the checks go from thousands of dollars a quarter to a hundred bucks in a quarter, thanks to Spotify and their ilk.   But hopefully the format will begin to take actual count of plays and will also make they pay out part of the gross intake.   Right now they say that they are paying some large part of the profit to artists, but they take their cut and their investors cut off the top and we get a portion of what's left.   They refer to us as content providers.    I would like to see what kind of business they would do without us.    Everyone should make a profit, but the content providers should be up there at the top of the fund dispersion.  Right now that is not the case.
MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?
I have always invited my patrons to record the shows in any fashion they see fit, trade them, sell them, keep the money.   They are keeping me alive and that's the least I can do for them.   I do expect them all to buy my work when it comes out, as well.
MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
You know, I'm not good with the grudge holding, revenge stuff.   I guess my arch enemy would be the gate keepers that prevent our music from getting to the decision makers.
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Stuart Copeland,  drums, Sting, bass, Michael Omartian, keyboards, Larry Carlton, guitar, Bonnie Raitt and Rita Coolidge vocals, and Bonnie on slide as well.    This is crazy, I can think of so many wonderful players...
MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
Given that we're not talking about who would draw the most people, I would have Michael Smith, Corky Siegel, Tom Prasada Rao, Bonnie Raitt, Pink, Steely Dan, the Beach Boys, The Beatles, Lindsay Buckingham Dave Grusin and Miles Davis.
MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
Listened to the entire CD, Gaucho by Steely Dan last night.
MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?
I am reading all the time.   Presently reading the biographies of Nikola Tesla and Andrew Jackson.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
Cliff Eberhardt's solo show - amazing vocalist, songwriter, musician and performer.   Before that Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues, a very unique amalgam of cross pollination of classical and blues music.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
That kind of implies that it's some artist that is less than wonderful.   It's all taste and what you love may not resonate for me.   I can tell you that I love Pink.   She delivers the real thing.  Always enjoy her.
MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Playing the Ice House.  I was out in the lobby talking to a waitress that had captured my imagination when I heard them announce me.  I raced down the artist corridor that leads to the stage carrying my D-28 and jumped up on the stage just as the lights came on.   My bass player turned around quickly from adjusting his amp and hit me right between the eyes with his Fender Precision and knocked me out.    It was only for a few moments, but I was down for the count.   When I stood up, blood was running from my forehead.  Ah showbiz!
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Mark Twain, Abraham Lincoln and John Lennon.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Sushi, foie gras, grass fed beef, a mélange of vegetables, wine for days (sake with the sushi, of course)
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?
Music is its own reward.  When I got into it, there were hardly any millionaire musicians.   I thought if I could make music my whole life, then I would consider myself a success.   I also think that it is our responsibility as musicians to get better at what we do, so we must always work towards that goal, knowing that you never get to where you want to be - that's the musician's curse...   One other thing…  As artists, we have a heightened sensitivity to the world around us.   We have to pick up the creative muse when it floats by.   With that in mind we also tend to be like the canaries in coal mines.  We smell the trouble before anyone else.   It's our responsibility to let folks know when we smell trouble.   and yes, I smell trouble for our planet.    I am committed to doing all I can to make it right.
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 1 at
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