Arts and Entertainment

Cee Cee James: Singin’ it raw and real

Cee Cee James does what she does best at Concerts on the Lane in Langley. The singer will perform Saturday, Jan. 9 at Cozy’s Roadhouse in Clinton to raise money for her band to perform at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis later this month.    - Brian Kelly / Record file
Cee Cee James does what she does best at Concerts on the Lane in Langley. The singer will perform Saturday, Jan. 9 at Cozy’s Roadhouse in Clinton to raise money for her band to perform at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis later this month.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / Record file

When she sings it’s like a speedway to the soul.

Cee Cee James writes songs straight from her lived-in heart and sings the blues with a steamroller passion that’ll knock you flat and lift you up again.

She and her band will play a concert at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 9 at Cozy’s Roadhouse in Clinton.

It’s a fundraiser where James hopes to raise enough to get her band to the finals of the 26th Annual Blues Challenge at the end of the month in Memphis, Tenn.

They won the opportunity to compete after being chosen by the folks of the Klamath Blues Society in Oregon. They’ll play along with more than 100 other blues bands and musicians from around the world in one of the most prestigious blues gatherings ever.

Klamath Blues Society president Phyllis Faries has been impressed with James and her band before and was happy to be able to send them as the finalists.

“We hope that she and her band will get the recognition they deserve,” Faries said.

“I think she will be very well received there because of her unique style. We are rooting for her and the band no matter what the future brings, and we believe it will be all good,” she added.

For James, it’s about one slender thread of life leading to another, as she put it.

“The universe was talkin’ here,” James said.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity and I am so grateful to the Klamath Blues Society for giving me the chance to represent them at the challenge. I’m just very honored.”

James and her band, who include her husband Rob “Slideboy” Andrews, songwriter and rhythm/slide guitar, Dan Mohler on bass, Chris Leighton on drums and Karl Moffitt, lead guitar, have only about a third of the $4,500 it’s going to take to get them to the competition. James hopes to raise the difference at the performance, which includes a raffle and silent auction.

“I’m trusting that it will happen. The universe will provide. We always have what we need when we follow what destiny we are meant to follow,” she said.

Indeed, in the past few years James has learned a lot about following where her heart and soul carry her and belting it all out along the way.

Her most recent record, “Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl,” was released in 2008 and is getting ready for its international release in February.

The record received honorary mention from longtime blues aficionado and writer “Pete the Blewzzman” as the 2009 Blewzzy Award for best CD.

He said of her: “Trust me when I say it — once you listen, you’ll have discovered the woman that the blues world will soon be marveling over — Cee Cee James.”

And it’s not just her Janis Joplinesque vocal cords that make her so memorable. Like the best blues songwriters, James pays attention to her life’s experience and writes lyrics based on a heart laid bare.

“Low down where the snakes crawl, that’s where

I found my soul,” she writes on the title track.

Low down where the snakes crawl

That’s where I died

Out there in that desert, is where

I saw the light

Low Down... Oh that’s where

I shed my skin

Out there in that desert

Buried your old love with tears

Raw... I found my soul

Hungry... I found my heart

Achin’... I found my bones

Naked... I shed my skin

James cut her chops in Los Angeles where she became a prolific R&B performer on the pop-funk scene where she honed her writing and recording skills and released the 1999 award winning pop/funk release “Spiritually Wet.” She was nicknamed “the funky white girl.”

“It was like Music 101 for me. It’s where I learned about working in the studio, egos, money, power,” James said. “It was all valuable and became very useful later.”

But the blues always weaved in and out of whatever she did, even the heavy metal rock ‘n’ roll that suited her powerhouse voice.

“But I couldn’t take that world of Hollywood. They eat you up and spit you out in L.A.,” she said.

James wanted to be who she was. Born in Oregon, but having lived in Southern California for most of her life, James felt she needed to get back to her roots and put some distance between the memory of some painful insecurities and her tough first marriage.

While discovering the power of her new voice, James also found love and a healthy relationship with her second husband, Woody Bailey, who helped her to become who she was meant to be.

“I put the funky white girl project to rest. I found the blues in my voice which had been stifled for so long,” James said.

She came out of herself, blossomed in a way that shocked even herself and began to use all those chops she never knew she had.

“A huge vortex of change happened; like a brick wall fell down,” she said.

The Northwest called her home after the devastating loss of Bailey to cancer.

In Portland, she put together a strong band of stellar musicians who very quickly began to get into some of the best blues clubs in the city.

Eventually, she was drawn by Whidbey Island, a place surrounded by what she calls “the creative force of the mother.”

In 2007, she and Andrews settled in a little house in Langley where they’ve been happily working on a new album.

“I Got A Right To Sing the Blues,” is a song she wrote in response to her new-found self-respect for having come through the war zones of her life. It’s the title track to a CD she hopes to release in early summer.

What she writes about is injustice, she said, calling the process “a growth pill.” Pain, sorrow — she sees them as teachers and knows them for what they are. Recognize them, she said, and then live in the world and make it better.

Another new song, “Let’s Get Loose,” is about letting go, a sentiment that smacks of what could be called James’ new modus operandi for dealing for the slings and arrows of life — heal thyself.

“With every song, I always try to circle around to the healing part in the end,” James said.

It’s the part of the song that is necessary if you reveal your demons to the world; as one does in those honest songs.

Although she said this new one will be a happier CD, it still goes deep. The artist in her is finding out who she is and what she can bring to the world.

And although she and the band will continue to play gigs at blues clubs throughout the region, her newest idea is to create a traveling road show that would play local halls for charitable purposes; to support the community while giving people a meaningful musical experience.

“You reach a point where you just want to give back,” she said.

The fundraiser concert is $5 and starts at 8 p.m. A limited amount of tickets are available.

Cozy’s Roadhouse is at 8872 Highway 525, up the hill from the Clinton ferry dock.

To learn more about the International Blues Competition, click here.

You can also support James by private donation or purchase her CDs with a click here.

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