Years Performed: 2017
Guitarist, singer and songwriter James Armstrong was born to play the blues. His mother was a blues singer. His father played jazz guitar. He formed his first band in the seventh grade and by the age of 17 he was touring the country. Today Armstrong travels the world and continues to infuse his voice and guitar playing with his unique personality and seasoned skills.
In his twenties James played in Smokey Wilson’s legendary band. In the early 1990s James got plenty of exposure to his musical influences, including Albert Collins, who spent quality time with James and taught him a few tricks. Shortly after that, James was discovered and signed by HighTone Records.
Just as James was about to tour with his critically acclaimed first album Sleeping With A Stranger, tragedy struck. The events surrounding a home invasion left him without the use of his left hand and arm, including permanent nerve damage. This threatened to end his career. But, with the support of friends, fans and the blues community, Armstrong came back two years later with a second album, Dark Night.
What Armstrong lost in the tragedy he gained “a whole new respect for the music itself, the power in slow blues, how the silences between the notes are as important as the notes.” Armstrong also turned his efforts to perfecting his songwriting, vocal and slide guitar skills, all the while developing his gift for turning hardship into song. The results were a third album, Got It Goin’ On. The CD garnered two WC Handy award nominations for best blues guitarist and for best song of the year (Pennies and Picks). Got It Goin’ On, with its new grooves and surprises, was praised by critics for its part in redefining the blues and keeping the genre alive.
Over the years Armstrong has performed in many countries including North America, Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and the Middle East. He has worked beside Albert Collins, Keb Mo, Chaka Khan, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout, Tommy Castro, Roy Brown, Shemekia Copeland, Charlie Musselwhite, Ricky Lee Jones, Joe Louis Walker, Mitch Michell (Jimi Hendrix’s drummer), Peter Tork (The Monkees), and Jan & Dean, to name a few.
Armstrong’s most recent album, Blues at the Border, honors the sound of traditional blues while giving it the contemporary grit his fans have grown accustomed to hearing from James. By drawing on his rock, country and folk influences as well as his deep blues roots, Blues At the Border manages to transcend the constraints of tight musical boundaries. “The blues is evolving like every other genre” he says. “You can be authentic and contemporary at the same time. It’s all about balance”
Sleeping with a Stranger – 1995
Dark Night – 1998
Got It Goin’ On – 2009
Blues at the Border – 2011
Guitar Angels – 2014