Meeting James Oliver
06th November 2022
I’m cheating a bit here. I did meet James and his trio, not for an interview but at the Orkney Blues Festival in late September 2022. I spent several hours across several green rooms and a few breakfast and dinner occasions meeting his trio, with my trio, as visiting bands do.
The festival was brilliant, and ‘JOB’, The James Oliver Band was my personal highlight, up against the mind-bending Cinelli Brothers, who were expectedly superb.
I enthusiastically posted this on my return:
‘This young man (29) is a Rockabilly and Roll genius, vintage Soul with that ‘gift’ you come across in the flesh from time to time when you’re lucky, and of course his band have to be THAT good to keep up‘
I stand by that post gig excitement!
The first time I watched him play, one of the Cinelli Brothers, after quite an entrancing performance, blowing the room away, introduced James with this line: “Here’s James Oliver now, coming to show us how to play guitar!”
It’s Danny Gatton, Chuck Berry, Albert Lee and moments of Peter Green all rolled into one, performed by a man from the Valleys of Wales who has been described as the Tommy Cooper of the Telecaster.
Across four gigs in a weekend they barely repeated a number, so I’m going to add Rock and Roll encyclopaedia of the Telecaster as well.
James told me he has a photographic memory, if he’s played it once, it’s in the ‘Twang bank‘.
He is also been gifted with a sharp-witted humour worthy of a huge stage on its own. I don’t think it’s deliberate, just a part of who he is, but his one-liners and timing had myself, John & Suzy with stitches and tears relentlessly over the weekend.
A fellow watcher said to me, “If he gets arthritis, he’ll do just fine at the Apollo!”
“Thank you. If you like us we’re the James Oliver band. If you think we’re sh*te we’re the Dylan Pepper Band!”
Dylan was the festival organiser.
Back to the TWANG! James is blessed with a clear natural touch on the guitar, the adoration of it and dedication to skill himself up to the highest level and a willingness to let a big variety of styles influence his licks and rhythm.
It’s that kind of playing that gives you the sense he is doing exactly what he was born to do, if you believe in that sort of thing.
I don’t, but he has me considering!
James told me he ‘burns out drummers and bass players’.
Mark and Chris at Orkney didn’t seem burned out and played a blinder. It’s safe to suggest whoever he’s playing with will have the goods.
These guys were a privilege to watch.
He’s just released ‘Live In The USA’.
Recorded at Carter Farm, Marlborough CT, with Steve Peck on drums and Tommy Reed on bass and James Oliver playing Danny Gatton’s very own 1954 Gibson ES295!
It opens with a classic: ‘T Bone shuffle’. There’s some sorcery of the guitar too, in Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love’.
To get this limited CD, you need to pop him a message on Facebook!
James was originally spotted after his UK gigging reputation and a series of guitar sessions and vinyl monologues on YouTube.
A dream come true: an invite to the states to play Gatton’s guitar.
And he’s going back…
Fender have also noticed James and shared his videos. https://www.youtube.com/@JamesOliverGuitar
He’s has been around.
“I’ve met all but one of my living heroes. But there’s a lot of dead ones you see. I managed to meet a couple before they were dead.”
He’s also modest.
“I’m a sh*te singer. I get people on at me about it all the time. I know it.”
I’m only quoting this in case you hear it from someone who doesn’t get it.
He’s not. What he does is perfect for the music and his vocal timing is fantastic.
And he’s human.
“I’m still holding on to my hair but it’s thinning fast, the more CDs you buy closer I am to my hair transplant.”
What I really want is for you to see and hear it yourself.
His records are awesome, he’s hilarious, he’s won awards and he’s on his way to greatness, but leave all of that till later when you’re a wild fan on google!
Most urgently you have to see his band play.
It’s about the gigs. The magic is watching the mastery of an instrument virtuoso loving their job and delighting everyone in the room. JOB play 300+ gigs a year, all over the UK and elsewhere, so you will have the chance at some point.
Please take it.
I will be there in the front row, 1 metre from James’ size 14 feet, at Edinburgh Blues Club on 25th November 2022.
Happy birthday James.
Don’t worry about your hair, the world is ready for its first bald guitar mega hero.
“I’ll do one more, then I’m going to MacDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts, haha!”
Interview courtesy Liz Jones.