Dennis James is a professional musician and solid songwriter, creating dozens of old school Rock, Folk Rock and Country original gems and electrified arrangements of public domain folk tunes, 30 of which (so far) he’s shared with the Macjams community. (Actually, more than that, since he’s posted several demos that I had “fanned” but he’s since deleted.) Some of my favorites include…
– Forgotten Things
– Pittsburgh Winter Greys
– And I’ll Sing A Hymn…
– Born Reckless
– Keys To Aberdeen
– If Looks Could Kill
– All Roads Lead to my Heart
– Too Little Too Late
– Beyond The Forest
– Whisper In The Wind
– Seems Like Forever (Has Turned Into Never)
Originally from Australia, Dennis currently lives (and plays) in Pittsburgh PA. You can view the stuff he does in real life on his YouTube page:
In his live gigs, he covers ’50-’60s rock, playing lead and never singing. But on tracks he shares with Macjammers, he displays top notch writing and sure-handed arranging in the Folk Rock genre. I totally dig his authentic vocals. To me, they create a sense of wry humor and a compelling combination of confidence and naked vulnerability. And his guitar work is exceptionally solid.
Dennis started playing music at age 14 and, like many Macjammers, was initially inspired by The Beatles:
“…1964, Perth, Western Australia, after hearing the Beatles, particularly SEEING them….the hair, clothes, etc., I wanted to be a rock star rather than a musician at that point. Had always loved pirates and stuff, and the English bands made that look possible. I still ain’t changed as I push 60. (Several months later the emergence of the Stones confirmed the issue once and for all!) I was the class nerd of ’63 and over the summer holidays (Dec/Jan) I became aware of the Beatles and returned to school with the beginnings of a Beatles haircut and boots… During that year became the cool guy of the class…LOL!!!!”
It wasn’t long before he became a guitar hero Down Under:
“I started playing bands for real in 1966 after dropping outa high school and doing the fashionable Art School thing for a while. Many, many bands….many highlights which would mean little to members from outside of Oz. Went to the top and back many times over the decades in my home town of Perth, moving to Sydney in the 80’s and backing up quite a few Oz recording stars, including Stevie Wright of ‘Friday on my Mind’ fame. Spent two very crazy years with his band – limos and all. Having a beer at the bar with Tom Petty in Sydney in ’86 was bloody cool, too.
“I started writing (and singing) original stuff seriously in ’93 with a song called ‘Line in my Mind’ – very Pettyish.
“Currently, I play with a power trio Rattlesnake – blues/rock playing bars and clubs in Western PA. A long way from what I write and put up here on MacJams. But I think my passions are fishing and Aussie Rules football… both probably come ahead of music at this stage of life. But I still love the live playing and the rewarding American audiences.”
Where is your favorite place to fish?
“The Sydney coast. Around here, I love wading the Yough River near Pittsburgh and fishing the Delaware Beaches… so far.”
How did you end up coming to the USA?
“Internet romance! She lives here in Pittsburgh. I had never left Oz before, mortified of flying… came by sea! Wish I was in a more music orientated city though… back in Perth was more active.”
Dennis has a series of old public domain songs, many from the Civil War era, that he sells from the stage at gigs. They’re all fresh folk-rock covers full of heart and personal histories. Some of my favorites:
What do you plan on doing with the other songs you posted on MJ? Many have a demo feel (mainly becuz of MIDI drumming). Do you want to sell them to someone else to record?
“Hard question. I started writing with the intention of selling to younger artists. Thus all attempts were basically demos. As time went on and home recording became easier and affordable, I created stuff that suits me and draws on decades of favorite influences, and if anyone wants ’em… fine. I have made very little attempt to get them out there though.
“However, my ‘folk’ cover collection is selling well at gigs even though not a one of those songs or my own stuff has ever been performed live! A lot of my older posts still on MJ have been re-mixed since, with attention to the midi drum deal. (Actually, with one of my last several songs, Jiguma asked if I had live drums on it?) To use live drums on everything would be difficult to organise. Nonetheless, I have thought of it often and have access to several good drummers. Never really thought it worth it to this point.”
What instruments do you use?
“Stratocaster is my main instrument. Dominant also in my recordings is a Schector electric 12 string. Harmonica and Ibanez bass guitar, Jackson electric guitar for rare slide playing.”
What is your recording process? (You’re not a Mac guy, are you?)
“I use Cakewalk Sonar 7, Win XP, 4 gig ram, PC Drummer, WaveLab mastering software, favorite plug-in is Sonitus. Because of my living situation, I use no amplifiers and plug all instruments into Yamaha mixer via a simple old Zoom guitar effects unit….for vocals as well.
“I tend to record ‘in the red’ – just can’t help it – then sort it out on the WaveLab.
Monitor via RockIt studio speakers… then take results out to the car stereo.
I learn more every week about the whole process and re-mix/master just about everything often!”
Musically, what is your strongest asset?
“I been a lead guitar player for 5 decades….”
What’s your weakest aspect and how you get around it?
“Vocals… I have NEVER sung live in a band. Plenty of double/triple tracking goes on!”
How do you come up with a song?
“95 % of my songs are based on life experiences. When I feel I need a newie I sit down, start playing anything… look at a list of phrases – old movie titles, etc. – and thus a chorus usually comes up first. If I am in the mood for a ‘prettier’ song, I initially use the 12 string; for a R&R vibe, it’s the Strat with full noise goin’. The arrangement is usually in place before I hit record, not much changes from that point, other than ‘sounds.’ Occasionally an entire idea hits when half asleep or driving…”
Any tips to share?
“I am very ‘old school’ and the only tip I can give is… be yourself and don’t bite off more than you can chew.
“I like the suggestions on recording techniques here at MJ – very insightful. And I like the encouraging and loyal reviewing by a small band of folks here.
“My greatest wish would be to have the guts to go out live, front a band doing the stuff I love, the kind of material I have here on MJ. But I would need two other guitar players who play like me, 3 other singers and… So, I guess I have to go on playing Hendrix to the pub crowds ‘cos it’s what I have always done successfully…”
Check out Dennis’ songs on his Macjams Profile page.