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John Edmonds Kozma's Unimpressed Podcast

Singer-Songwriter James Talley | Making it in Country Music

Season 3, Ep. 108

James Talley is an Oklahoma born folk-country-blues singer/songwriter, whose career now spans over forty years. His name has been mentioned alongside Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard and Bob Dylan, and praised for the quality of his songwriting and his wise, expressive voice. Noted author and music critic, Peter Guralnick has said of James’ work, “There are few singer-songwriters who could produce a collection of such magnitude coupled at the same time with such lightness, beauty, and all-out social conscience. Woody Guthrie never wrote a more direct or affecting song than “Richland, Washington”; Bruce Springsteen never wrote a more powerful one than “Tryin’ Like the Devil.”


Upon moving to Nashville, James discovered that the commercial music business was not attuned to the kind of honesty he wrote about in his songs, so he went to New York to meet the late John Hammond, who became his first mentor. Hammond championed the unique vision in his writing in the early 1970s as he had the careers of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Bruce Springsteen.


Hammond, however, could not convince Columbia in New York to sign James’ more country-flavored sound, so he sent him to his friend Jerry Wexler, whose Atlantic Records was starting a new Country division in Nashville at the time. Wexler signed James to his first recording contract at Atlantic Records in 1972 along with Doug Sahm and Willie Nelson. Atlantic’s Nashville operation, however, did not do well at the time and Atlantic closed its Nashville office. James then moved to Capitol Records where he released four now legendary albums during the mid-1970s: Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love (1975); Tryin’ Like The Devil (1976); Blackjack Choir (1977) and Ain’t It Somthin’ (1977). ROLLING STONE, and other music publications, have declared these albums American classics.


James performed twice at The White House for President Jimmy Carter, and at the Smithsonian Institution, and in other concert venues around the United States and in Europe. B.B. King played guitar on James third album, Blackjack Choir, in 1976, marking the first time the legendary bluesman had ever recorded in Nashville. Johnny Cash, Johnny Paycheck, Alan Jackson, Hazel Dickens, the late Gene Clark, and most recently Moby, among others, have recorded his songs.


Music author David McGee has called James Talley’s work startlingly original. Legendary music producer, Jerry Wexler, who remained friends with James until his death, said, “You remain for me one of America’s greatest songwriters.” CMT columnist, Chet Flippo, called him “one of the best singer-songwriters to ever come out of Nashville.”


James is a life member of Nashville Local 257, American Federation of Musicians, and is a board member of the Nashville American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. He and Janice spend their time now between their home near Santa Fe, NM and Nashville.

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