A classically trained musician, James Lee Baker fuses influences from acoustic singer-songwriters like David Mead, Ellis Paul, John Gorka, Gregory Alan Isakov, Bob Dylan, and Slaid Cleaves. He embraces open tunings to create an unconventional but welcoming sound and timbre to his playing. Trained briefly by Richard Gilewitz, a renowned fingerstyle guitar player, James Lee’s fingerstyle guitar playing is rich and melodic, pulling listeners into memorable motifs and atmospheres.
In 2017, Baker released a Texas-inspired full-length project called “Home Again.” Harnessing his experience in technology, Baker recruited talented studio session musicians, accessing performers from Los Angeles, Canada, The United Kingdom, and Denver. “Home Again” is a Country-flavored Americana album, rich with instrumentation like dobro, lap steel, fiddle, and harmonica.
In March, he released an EP of Folk/Americana songs called The Canadian River. The single of the same title placed #23 on the FolkDJ radio charts in April of 2018, and the song “Two Cageless Birds” went on to be selected for the John O’Hara Songwriting Performance Grant.
James has played at several prominent venues including the Whiskey A Go Go in Los Angeles, The Fox Theater in Boulder, and Swallow Hill and The Walnut Room in Denver.
Baker took time to answer a few questions for this exclusive interview:
ME: So tell us your story. Where did you grow up? What made you decide to become an artist?
James Lee Baker: I was raised in Amarillo, Texas to a musical family. Though everyone had day jobs, my father was a drummer, my mother played guitar, and my grandfather was a piano player. We were involved in church a lot so music was a part of my life since birth. In the summer, I would attend music camps where I would learn things like sight-reading and conducting.
The music sort of chose me. I’ve always found that music adds an emotional dimension to life and creates depths to memories and stories. It is also something that brings people together and helps us express our desires, frustrations, successes, and failures in a way that others can relate to. As a songwriter, this is where an ever-flowing source of inspiration comes from.
ME: Since everyone was a start-up once, can you give any smaller or local bands or artists looking to get gigs and airplay some tips?
James Lee Baker: Focus on building a good product. By product, I don’t mean a CD. In the world today, there is a giant wall of white noise that, when broken down, reveals the plethora of musicians trying to “make it”. In the end, what will separate you from everyone else is knowing what your product is, knowing how it is unique from other people, and knowing what value you have to add to your listeners’ lives.
When you think of yourself as a business delivering a product, it changes the way you look at yourself as an artist. Do you dress nicely (and uniquely) when performing in public? Do you think outside of the box in your songwriting? Are you taking risks? What are you doing differently from other musicians?
ME: Do you ever make mistakes during performances? How do you handle that?
ME: Do you tour? Anything interesting happen on tour that you think our readers would enjoy hearing about?
James Lee Baker: Sort of. Chemistry and attentiveness are important for me in a performance and I tend to gravitate to house concerts and listening rooms for performances. I like to think of myself as “boutique artist”. I hand-select the places and communities I want to invest into so that I can deliver an exceptional and personal performance for them. I typically play 10-20 shows per year and mix conferences, festivals, and retreats into that.
ME: Any planned studio upgrades? What are you working with now?
ME: How do you find ways to promote your music? What works best for you?
ME: If you could perform anywhere and with any artists (Dead or Alive) where and who would it be with? Why?
ME: So, what’s next? Any new upcoming projects that you want to talk about?
ME: If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?
ME: What should fans look forward to in the next year or so?
ME: Any Shout-outs?