Jimmy James ready for Simply Myrna
Although veteran singer-songwriter Jimmy James says it’s great to be back in Jamaica, the jovial entertainer told The Gleaner that he is “nervous as hell” about his upcoming performance at Simply Myrna tomorrow night.
In a very light-hearted mood when we caught up with him at his hotel, he jokingly wondered “what he has done to Myrna for her to want to inflict me on the Jamaican people”.
Simply Myrna is scheduled to take place on Saturday at the Courtleigh Auditorium in New Kingston.
James’ career spans over five decades, and his biography states that while a member of the Vagabonds, they toured the United Kingdom extensively and became the first-ever musical unit from the Western Hemisphere to entertain behind the Iron Curtain when they were invited to Hungary to perform a series of concerts.
The many tours that followed were to countries such as Tunisia, Germany, Greece, France, Belgium, Holland, and others.
He has shared stage with The Beatles, Sonny and Cher, Rod Stewart, Bobby Womack, and many others. He was also the first artiste to sing live on the BBC’s ‘Top of the Pops’.
James, who is 79 but credits his much younger appearance to “good genes”, now lives life on the high seas.
“I do a lot of cruises. When this idea was first introduced to me more than a decade ago, I told my agent, ‘Never!’ but we did the first one and it went well, and soon, I had a long list of shows to do on cruises,” the affable James said.
Some of the cruises run from three days to 10 days and include hen parties, or are classified as ‘booze cruises’, where they go from London to Belgium and back. But there are longer cruises, which take him to the Caribbean, and these are the ones which James actually loves.
“We were in the Caribbean during the Christmas. Now, that was fun,” he said with gusto.
James, who is the consummate professional, was waiting patiently to be picked up for his rehearsals, which he was actually looking forward to. However, he insists that he was not a show biz person.
“Show business was the furthest thing from my mind. I fell into this by accident,” he revealed.
His story is that he wanted to be a songwriter because “they used to get all the girls”. So he wrote a song, which, by the way, is now a classic, Come To Me Softly, and gave it to producer Herman Sang, the husband of Sonia Pottinger.
“I happened to go to the studio while they were doing the recording, and Herman asked me to go inside the voicing room and do a demo for the person who was going to sing the song,” James said.
The next thing he knew, he was at his filing clerk job at a tax office when he heard the song on the radio, and the singer was none other than himself.
“I cussed Herman, you see,” he said with a loud chuckle.
As they say, the rest is history.
In short order, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds was born, and with the subsequent popularity of that song and others, the group became highly sought-after. By the year 1964, they had taken ska and rocksteady to Britain, where they had a large following.
‘WE WERE LIKE THE BEATLES’
“Wherever we went, there were long lines and the ballrooms were full. We were like the Beatles, but the thing is that we were never business-minded, we were doing this thing for fun. So we were ripped off,” he recalled of the early days.
But this didn’t prevent the Vagabonds from going on to score major hits. A Man Like Me (1970) and James’ signature song, I’ll Go Where The Music Takes Me, were massive hits in Britain and to this day, are still in demand.
Among James’ most memorable tours in recent times was one he did in 2015 with singer Ben E King.
“We did a fabulous tour performing in theatres throughout England. In fact, it was so good that the promoters were getting ready to book dates for the following year,” he recalled. However, King, who had been sick, passed away two weeks after the tour ended. “He was such a gentle soul. You would never know that he wrote megahits like Stand By Me.”
James, who describes his life outside of cruising as fairly quiet, says he misses his lifelong friend, Count Prince Miller, who was also their emcee back in the day.
“Count Prince was my best friend. We would meet up every week and have dinner, but all of that is now in the past. And it didn’t hit me until about three weeks after he left and there was this void, because I really don’t have many friends,” he said.
Refocusing on tomorrow night’s show, James said modestly that he “hopes to entertain”.
“I would tell patrons to bring their voices as well. I have been singing so long that I’ll need all the help I can get,” he said robustly as he hurried off to the rehearsals.