Backstage at the Resurrection with James Lee Stanley

posted by therra cat

If you don’t know James Lee Stanley, I’m not going to raise a “Where have you been?” eyebrow, but I am sending out a clarion call that if you are a fan of the thinking traveling troubadour type you might want to pay him some attention. If you like James Taylor or JD Souther you will enjoy James Lee Stanley. If you like your singers to have a grand voice and a spot-on wicked sense of humour, you will enjoy James Lee Stanley. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to be kicked off a tour while opening for a major act because you opened too well, you may want to ask James Lee Stanley.

 I first met James when I was writing for a paper in Georgia and he was performing with an old buddy of his, Peter Tork (yeah, of Monkees fame) at the Birchmere in Alexandria, Va. The occasion was a tribute to the wonderful John Stewart, who not only penned the #1 hit “Daydream Believer” for the aforementioned Monkees but was a member of the Kingston Trio.  He had a hit of his own in 1979 with “Gold”, from what is surely a record with one of the all-time great album titles, “Bombs Away Dream Babies”.  The tribute to him was a great night in so many ways and one I’ve revisited fondly in my memory banks since Stewart passed on.  He was still alive in 2001 (note: kudos to the Birchmere for holding these things while the tributee is still with us).  A lovely human, John Stewart could not have been any nicer to me, which I appreciated because meeting a legend can be nerve wracking for anyone who has watched and listened to them for years. Meeting famous people can be one of those things you revel in or regret, depending on the celebrity and that’s just a fact. Stewart was genial and kind. He put his arm around me and introduced me to his family, acting as if he’d known me for years and as if he was genuinely happy that I was there. This fan’s grateful heart did a jig.

 Fabulous femmes  Nanci Griffith, Eliza Gilkyson, and Rosanne Cash were there to pay homage to Stewart. I was walking around talent central it seemed, and about to get a bonus.  James Lee  introduced himself to me in the press room that afternoon as I was talking to a member of  Nanci Griffith’s band about his friend/my longtime crush, Nick Lowe. Not many people could have pulled my interest away from that conversation but I liked James immediately and rather wanted to follow him around. It’s kind of hard not to like him. He’s tall, with an open face and expressive eyes. He could pass as your favourite college professor or, in the right light, like a clean cowboy you would take home to mom (who would soon tell you he was “keeper”).  James was solicitous and amusing this particular evening ( indeed, Peter Tork has oft referred to James as one of the quickest and funniest people he knows). Later that night James kindly introduced me to Noel Paul Stookey (Paul of Peter, Paul and Mary). I remember thinking, who is this guy? He knows everyone.

Photo by Andrea Cross

One specific memory I have of that event is of James and me backstage in the late afternoon, not talking, kind of involved in individual thought when the door flies open and Nanci Griffith strides in. She’s moving fast, toting her guitar, beautiful in profile, a lit cigarette in her mouth, smoke floating in a wake behind her like a wispy entourage.  I was stunned but quiet as she disappeared into the dressing room. “Wow!” James said out loud, “Nanci Griffith smokes!” I loved him from that moment on.  James says things out loud.

 He hasn’t stopped touring, writing or recording in decades, lucky for his fans, and he’s on a creative tear putting together a new CD, “Backstage at the Resurrection”.  I had a chance to ask him some questions recently and he was kind enough to assuage my curiosity.

 Therra: Your new CD “Backstage at the Resurrection”, to be released later this year, is somewhat different from your previous releases, isn’t it?  Tell us a little about it.

 James Lee Stanley: Well, it was recorded over the past year and last year I began taking guitar lessons, (after forty years of self-taught stuff, I thought it was time to learn something) so the guitar work is different. 

Secondly, during the reign of terror on the constitution that was the Bush era, I was evidently depressed all the time.   I know that the whole world is turning to caca right now, but when Obama got elected, I got happy.   The cd’s I released during the appointed president’s reign were all informed by my sadness and helplessness in the face of what he was doing to the economy, the environment, our world standing, the surplus, the constitution, etc.  Once we got that bastard out, I just got happy.   This is a happy cd, you will be dancing your buns off to this one.

Thirdly, I have some great rock guitar playing on this cd in the form of Lenny Ruckle from Santa Cruz.   He did a great job and took the recording someplace else.  I can’t wait for you to hear this puppy.

 T: Your live performances are a treat, because you not only have a wonderful singing voice, you are exceedingly funny. You appeared to have the “Storytellers” format down pat long before it became a  fixture on VH1. Is there any story you have just not been able to retire because people want to hear it every time they see you?

 JLS: There are actually a bunch.   People still want to hear the digitalis song and story;  the cookie monster story (with the blue shag bathroom) will never go away evidently, and my Star Trek adventures from when I was on Star Trek Deep Space Nine also seem to be perennial favorites.

I did some dates with a remarkable raconteur named Gamble Rogers and he is the one who told me that my stories were like my songs in that people would want to hear them again and again and that they would bring their friends to hear them.   He was the inspiration to work on them just like I do my songs or my recordings.

I try to tell all the stories during the course of a year to keep them fresh in my mind.   And I’ve started documenting what I did where so that when I come back I can do something else…unless they specifically request a story they’ve heard.

  T:  James, You’ve been in this crazy creative business for a while. I almost fell over when you told me you knew Jennifer Warnes, such a fan of her am I. You have been featured in a famous syndicated cartoon (“Cathy”) because the creator was a big fan of yours, you’ve appeared on “Star Trek- Deep Space Nine”, and you’ve toured with some famous folks, recorded with some well known musicians and hung around with some household names. Tell a little about the best and/or even the worst experience you’ve ever had with these people who we all seem to know. Obviously you don’t have to name names if you’re gonna diss someone, but you have some great tales, James, of the good, the better, the bad and the ugly in show business, it’s a fact. Give us some dish, darling.

 JLS: Well I must be discreet here and I don’t want to be telling tales out of school.  I quit one tour with a major star because he was simply too much of an a—hole.    Wouldn’t allow me a spotlight or an announcement and frequently demanded I start my portion of the show within minutes of the doors being opened, so I was mainly playing while everyone was looking for their seats.  I finally quit.  Bonnie Raitt, who didn’t have the big hits yet, replaced me.  She quit after two gigs.   I did five.  (I needed the money, but finally decided I’d rather have the self-respect of blowing this bozo off).

 On another tour, the other main act left his guitar in another state on a brief break and we had to drive across the state to retrieve it.   He couldn’t quite remember where the place was and then no one was home, so I had to second story it and break in.   Came out the front door while he was standing there wondering what to do.  I told him he owed those folks a window.

 Did another show with a major star as the opening act, of course, and on the first show got four encores and a standing ovation…and got fired off the tour.  But enough about me…what do YOU think…about me.

  T:  Here’s what I think. You did a wonderful recording with John Batdorf called “All Wood and Stones”. I want to know how that came about.

 JLS: At a friend’s wedding the band took a break and someone suggested that I go up there and do a tune or two.  Two other songwriters were there as well.   So the three of us went up there…and discovered that we each only knew our own songs.   Then Rod MacDonald asked me if I knew” Ruby Tuesday”.  I said I knew the chorus.  I took the low harmony, George Merrill took the high harmony and we took off.   The wedding party literally came up to the stage while we were doing it.   Ran up actually, like a Disney movie or something. On the way home I said to my wife, you know, no one has really presented the songs of the rolling stones in their most favorable light.   They wrote some great songs.   So I decided to do the project.  I invited my pal, John Batdorf, to do it with me and the rest, as they say…

 T: You also write a very informative and popular blog for performing artists. You’ve had over half a million hits on the site already. Congrats, by the way, as that’s no small feat. Tell the readers where they can lay eyes on your wit and wisdom for artists on the web and what prompted you to start writing it.

 JLS: The blog, is a free artist resource site called Datamusicata.   You can find it at:   and I write a column for it two to three times a week, about everything from how to string a guitar to mic technique to practicing to touring to house guesting.   Everything I can think of that might help folks do this music thing.   Or… any artistic  venture.   It came about because my wife told me that I probably knew more about touring than anyone, having been at it for decades.  She said I knew things I didn’t know I knew and I should start giving back to the community.   So I tried it and we’ve just crested 700,000 hits.   Seems to be helping someone.

 I also invite any other people who have something to add to post and I put up their websites and pertinent info.     I would like it to be someplace that anyone can go and find out anything about any end of the music business.

 And I have a search engine on the site.  Type in a topic and every article pertaining to that will show up.   And there is also a comment section at the end of each article.  I read and respond to all the comments.

Photo by Cindi Byrkit

6 thoughts on “Backstage at the Resurrection with James Lee Stanley

  1. I was lucky enough to do sound for Tork/JLS under Peter Tork as headliner but they played together and were touring that year and the same summer I also did sound for John Stewart. BOTH did Daydream Believer as an encore. Both shows were at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia, and were about a few weeks apart. I believe it was either 1994 or 1995 when all those cats were touring nationally. I met them all and found them all to be very nice and happy to be playing. I was proud to have been there and to have been the person providing sound reinforcement!

  2. Nice interview. The upcoming CD sounds intriguing-can’t wait to hear it.

    Music lovers, if you don’t know James…well, you should! :)

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