One July evening, the temperature hovered around 90 degrees at Greek’s 205 Bar in downtown Victoria as Jerry James and his band started playing a wide variety of music in the courtyard.
In a dark green western-style shirt and jeans, James’ wavy gray hair blew in the breeze created by a fan on stage. Sometimes a cigarette hung from his lips surrounded by his equally gray beard. Her Willie Nelson-style voice created a calm ambiance for couples, families and groups of friends to dine or just have a drink. While he performed songs such as “Country Roads”, “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” to the public, he would sometimes go out into the yard playing his harmonica. James said he is known to some as the “Old Troubadour” because he is “an old man who always sings pretty well”.
“It is the responsibility of the artist who has this person’s life for so many hours to give him pleasure, memories and a respite, especially these days with everything going on,” James said. . “I can make people happy, and for me, that’s what it is.”
George Charkalis, owner of Greek’s 205 Bar, said James, 68, has performed at his establishment since it opened in Victoria. Charkalis also owns the Greek Bros. Oyster Bar and Grill in El Campo, where James also performs.
“Everyone loves Jerry James. He is great with customers and knows his musical history. Often times he tells stories of how the artists were inspired and who sang the songs. He keeps a good flow of information mixed with all of his music, ”Charkalis said. “We are always happy to have him here.
Younger, James admired the way girls passed out in front of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. That’s why he picked up the guitar in the early 1970s and started singing folk music in the Montrose neighborhood. from Houston.
“I’m not the young male that I was in my thirties. It was a long time ago when all the girls came to see me, ”James said. “It’s more about the music now. “
That said, James added that he doesn’t move like a nearly 70-year-old man.
“It’s an active show. Part of what I really love about it is that it keeps me young, ”James said. “I can’t wait to use my energy to interact with the crowd and other band members and have fun.”
James was born in West Virginia and raised in Pennsylvania and Ohio before moving to Houston in grade six. He moved to Victoria in 1994 to do water resources work for the city of Victoria. Some of his other projects have been the transition from manual collection to automated solid waste collection and the start of the city’s recycling program.
“Most of the people in town know me as the water guy,” James said.
In the late 1970s, he started forming groups that played country rock and blues in Houston. In the early 1980s, he formed a country group. He led these groups as a singer and rhythm guitarist.
In addition to the guitar, James plays the harmonica, mandolin and banjo.
“I play the blues harmonica,” he said. “I’m known for it.
James left the music scene in 1986 to raise his three daughters. During this time, he occasionally sat down with other groups to satisfy his urge to perform. In 2008, James started playing music again when his children were out of school.
“It all started again. I started playing solo folk music in Victoria and it became a band, ”said James. “Now I play Texas country, blues and rock, along the coast. “
In addition to James, the Jerry James Band includes Nolan Derosia, singer and lead guitarist; Johnny Beard on bass guitar; and Ralph Salazar Jr. on drums. On the way to becoming an institution, James has performed regularly with his band at Greek’s 205 Bar, KB’s BBQ, Aero Crafters, Wellhead Tavern, Indianola Fishing Marina and Hurricane Junction in Port O’Connor, among others. .
“We’re doing a very broad mix, and I don’t really have a favorite. I like to do blues, rock and country and listen to all that too, ”said James. “I love playing with the band – all the excitement of the shows. When we do a show, we step out of the audience and interact with them. We involve the audience, tell stories and make a variety of music for them. Usually there is a story that leads to each song.
While James doesn’t have a favorite genre, he’s outspoken about his love for Willie Nelson.
“I love doing Texas country going back to the Cosmic Cowboy stuff from the 70s,” he said. “It’s amazing how some of the younger guys do the Austin stuff from the ’70s.”
James said he creates his own renditions of popular songs and also performs original music. “Just One Woman” is her favorite original song.
“I’ve been doing this on and off for most of my life. I love doing it, so I hope I can keep doing it for a long time to come. Willie is 88 and he still plays, ”James said with a laugh.
Elena Anita Watts is the feature editor for the Victoria Advocate. She covers faith, arts, culture and entertainment, and she can be reached at 361-580-6585 or [email protected]