James Hurley is more inclined to use the word “friends” than “fans”
in characterizing enthusiasts of his music. Of all the positive developments
emanating from the new indie model for a musical career, he says “artists
relating to the audience on a personal level” is the most exciting. That’s
saying something, given how easily excitement comes to him.
By Barney Quick
He’s demographically a baby boomer, and began his journey in the old-school
music world. A major indication of that is his marking of February 9, 1964 -
The Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan television show - as a
pivotal moment for him.
Still, though he was, like everyone at the time, struck by their star power,
he based his own career on that one-on-one connection that music can create.
“There are actually two separate music industries,” he observes. “One
is about providing musical services. The purest example of that is playing in
a cover band, which I did for years. The other industry is peopled by artists
seeking a connection.”
While many artists are skittish about this time of shakeout, where business
models for record distribution and live performances are rapidly changing, Hurley
is stoked about the possibilities. “Under the old model, we got a little
skewed in our perspective regarding how to build and maintain a career,”
he explains. “When it became apparent that vast sums of money could be
made, the big music companies brought out their big guns,” making it clear
to the artists how dependent they were on those companies. “Now, it’s
nearly back to the earliest days of the whole field, before anybody had done
marketing research to find out what demographics liked what kind of music.”
The current phase of his career dates to 2005, which he spent touring up and
down the west coast “basically playing for anyone who would have me.”
He says that, prior to that year, “guitar was my main job and writing was
what I did with my life. In 2005 I combined them.” He began amassing contacts
and nurturing friendships. Meticulous Internet research of the possibilities
in Britain led to his first UK tour in 2006. “I called it my ‘Two
Tennis Shoes and a Rail Pass Tour,’” he says.
In 2007, he began doing house concerts. Using resources such as ConcertsInYourHome.com
and his own mailing list, he plotted tours of various areas in which people
would host his shows in their homes on an invitation basis. He likes the setting
for its conduciveness to inviting listeners to hear him try new things.
He has released three CDs of his own compositions, the latest being Tempest
in a Teacup. While he has a recognizable approach to his guitar playing
and his vocals, his song structures vary widely. “I know a lot of artists
feel that eclecticism is the kiss of death,” he says. “I just have
to serve these songs, wherever that takes me.”
At this point, his live performances are evenly distributed between three categories:
house concerts, coffeehouses, and songwriters’ showcases. Accolades are
coming in now. Folkworks magazine named him one of the Top Ten Live Acoustic
Male Singer-Songwriters in Los Angeles for 2008.
He tours in a well-worn compact car and lives with minimal roots to a home
base. “My girlfriend is very understanding,” he says.
The roots from which he derives his greatest satisfaction are the friendships
he forms as he tends to his calling. “I got a call the other day from a
guy in England I’d met twice. He was asking me about an enigmatic message
I’d left on Facebook the night before, saying, ‘What’s up with
that remark, Hurley?’ That guy is a friend and will remain so.”
He plans to tour the UK for a third time in September 2009. Other plans include
getting back into electric guitar, as well as finding more ways to incorporate
African rhythms into his work.
Hurley says the key to his considerable workload is keeping his passion high,
“since this is what I’d be doing no matter what.”
"Tempest in a Teacup"