Really The Blues
Still Bringing it.
James Nixon’s star probably shone most brightly in the 1980s and ‘90s when he not only made his own records but worked with top Nashville area Blues, Gospel and Country artists ranging from Elvis Presley alumni to Jimi Hendrix band members.
James credits his parents for instilling music into his life. His father played harmonica and piano as a hobby. His mother also played piano and sang. “Vocal is my main instrument,” James points out. “I started off on bass. I got into guitar about age nineteen.” At twenty he began singing Gospel music professionally. “Of course I was singing in church before that.” Nixon also performed as an opera singer in the 1950’s. “I didn’t have any schooling for the Opera. I had to learn certain techniques but I enjoyed it.”
James Nixon’s first Rock & Roll group was King James & the Scepters. He was lead singer in the otherwise all white group. The band worked a lot. “When I heard B.B. King, I realized I wasn’t the king and went back to my real name.”
Next James formed a high powered band called NTS Limited, named after Nashville Transit Service. That group featured co-leader Billy Cox on bass, Lee Martell on organ, Johnny Cool on drums and four horn players.
“I met Jimi Hendrix and Billy Cox at the same time in 1962,” James recalls. “I was doing shows at the Jumachi and the Top Six Club in Ft. Campbell. I used to sit in with them. They also came to Nashville on weekends to play at the Stealaway, the Del Morocco, the Club Baron, places like that. Johnny Jones, Jimi and Billy had that band The King Kasuals. Billy Cox and I are still good friends. When we’re offstage we build stuff, like speakers, furniture, whatever. It’s a hobby.”
After NTS Limited James joined another horn band, Past, Present & Future. Nixon stayed with them seven years. He started playing guitar for The Imperial 7 in 1976. He continued to play with that group over the years. Some heavyweight musicians went through that band including Johnny Jones, Freeman Brown, Larry Lee, Billy Cox and Harrison Calloway. Jimi Hendrix played with them for a few gigs. They served as backup band for many R&B acts that played at the Modern Era nightclub. It’s them on “Etta James Rocks The House” on Chess Records. They played shows with Bo Diddley, Bobby Bland and Johnny Taylor. Over the years they’ve done everything from small clubs to stadium concerts.
Though James Nixon was in the Nashville R&B scene as far back as the early 1960’s, he didn’t record until later. In 1979 he co-produced the album Dig A Little Deeper by The Fairfield Four with Wayne Hill. In 1985 he had a single produced by Charlie Daniels of the Kenny O’Dell song, “Behind Closed Doors” b/w his own, “The Boogie Bones”. In 1995 James recorded Over 50 Blues with his pals Billy Cox, Johnny Jones, Waldo Weathers, Scotty Moore and legendary Nashville radio personality Hoss Allen. Nixon later recorded Gospel albums for Ted Jarrett’s T-Jaye Records: “Me, Myself & The Lord” (1997) and “Stand Up” (1999). He can also be heard on Mac Gayden’s Nirvana Blues (1996) and Richard Julian’s Smash Palace (1998).
Nixon’s work in the program Blues in the Schools for the Metro Parks of Nashville won him the international Keeping The Blues Alive award in 2000. As a result he was asked to join the Board of Directors of The Blues Foundation. He has also worked with the Nashville Symphony.
The artists who shaped James’ music are many. “As far as Blues, there aint nothing like B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King and Albert Collins. In Jazz, I love George Benson and Larry Coryell. I like so many… James Taylor was one of my favorite artists for a long time. I always liked Johnny Jones’ playing. It’s hard to say somebody I like best. People say things like, ‘I know this cat can play so fast’. That don’t mean a thing. Is he saying anything? It’s not how many notes, it’s the way you put them together and make statements. As far as singers go I like Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls, Johnny Taylor, Marvin Gaye and Peabo Bryson. I like myself. You get to a point where you want to work on your own craft more than admire others.”
James Nixon considers music like a long, well-traveled road. “Sometimes the pavement is smooth and other times it’s rocky. But it’s beautiful in its own way.” And about playing guitar he says, “a guitarist is like a doctor. You practice it.”
Chris P. James