The idea of becoming a musician dawned on James at the age of eight when two high school students came to her classroom and performed songs like “Love Potion #9” and “They Call The Wind Mariah.” This experience, says James, “was like a veil lifted from my eyes, and at that very moment I knew what I wanted to do.” She later majored in Ethnomusicology at UCLA. Her studies helped to expose her to different styles of music, which she has incorporated into her own music from time to time. James, however, feels that it is important to write from her own perspective, and the melting pot of cultures that she lives around today in Southern California.
After college, James embarked on a music career. While enjoying some success around California, her big break came in an unusual way. Following one of her regular gigs at the Palo Alto club St. Michael’s Alley, James was asked how much money she would need to record an album. She guessed $10,000. “I had no idea at the time because I’d never been in the studio before,” James admits. A week later, a fan shyly handed her a brown paper bag filled with $9,999. The man, who introduced himself as Burrell Smith (the early Apple computer whiz), explained that his accountant said that $10,000 would adversely affect his taxes. She used that money to finance her first album, “Life Between Two Worlds”.
She has since released four indie full-length albums, “Shocking Pink Banana Seat”, “Fantastic Voyage” (a double CD set of songs and instrumentals), “Highways, Ghosts, Hearts & Home”, and 2103’s “Driving Toward The Sun”.
While always remaining accessible, Susan James’ uniqueness reminds us of a past review of her in the Los Angeles Times, … “In her 45-minute opening set, James shows that she is already a master at exploring the emotional and sonic possibilities of the minimalist format of voice and acoustic guitar … James long blond hair and folk-based songs have caused her to be compared to Joni Mitchell. The inventiveness of her eight song set, however, showed that James is perhaps most like Mitchell because she is like no one else.” – Noel Davis, Los Angeles Times.
It is James, however, who stands as the guiding force behind her music and albums, creating what she calls “California Hybrid” music – melodic psychedelic country folk rock. The Southern California native was greatly influenced by all the great L.A. bands like the Beach Boys and the Byrds, but she also had family in Central California and the Bay Area so she was exposed to those regions’ music too.
Through the years, James has performed across America, Canada and Europe. She has toured as the opening act for Lindsey Buckingham, Bob Weir & Rob Wasserman, Ratdog and Richard Buckner as well as sharing the bill with folks like Son Volt, Richard Thompson, David Lindley, Daniel Lanois and Rufus Wainwright. Her music has been licensed for TV and Independent films, and she has guested on other friends’ albums such as The High Llamas (albums “Buzzle Bee” and “Beets, Maize & Corn”), and the late Mary Hansen’s (of Stereolab) “The Horizontalist”.
For her new 2013 album “Driving Toward The Sun”, James has teamed up with producer Ryan Ulyate, who has worked in the past with Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and George Harrison. Ulyate is just one of the many talented people who James attracts to her projects. The new recordings include legendary L.A. drummer Don Heffington (Lone Justice) and guitarist Neal Casal (Chris Robinson Band, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals).
Here’s what Midwest Record has to say about Susan James new album “Driving Toward The Sun” … “Psst, over here! Wanna hear the country/folk/rock record you’ve been wanting Lucinda Williams to make since she made that white album that really turned you on to her? James beat her to it. Running hard to make up for lost time after taking an extended lap around the mommy track, James has another set of wonderful, deeply emotional songs on her hands. Aided by her smart guitar playing, we have here a gal that’s not only the whole package, she is one of the few that decided to go for it all and scored. Once again, great songs/killer band. This is the kind of music we were enjoying before everything went sideways. Well done.”
“She writes like a consummate pro, has an engaging voice and uses it to virtual perfection. A few of these tracks could be hits and they aren’t even my favorites. Pick up on this. And if you don’t, remember the name. That’s Susan James. She’ll be back. I’m sure.” – Rock and Reprise.
So how does James sum herself up? … “I’m still someone who loves a well-written song, but also loves experimenting and pushing the boundaries. I’m still searching as an artist and musician and will probably continue to do so until the day I die.”