Teresa James played five NoHo festivals at the beginning of NoHo's growth, and she has lived, worked and recorded in the district. But above all, she was just nominated for a Grammy Award. We asked her some questions to get to know her better.
Did you always know you wanted to be a singer?
Yes! I always loved to sing - ever since I was a little girl. A few years ago, my mom was going through a bunch of old school papers that she had saved and found an old handwriting practice page from my 1st or 2nd grade class where I had written, “I love to sing. When I sing, you know I am happy.” So, I guess that pretty much tells the tale.
Where were you born/raised and how did that influence your style of music?
I was born and raised in Houston into a home where there was always music playing, so I got a very early exposure to all kinds of music. And Texas has such a rich musical heritage - cowboy music, blues, country, Zydeco, even German music. I grew up listening to all those different styles and I know it had a big influence on me. Getting to see people like Townes Van Zant or Lightnin' Hopkins in small local clubs, too, was totally inspiring.
How would you describe your music?
It's always hard to describe your own music. Ours is such a blend of so many different influences, it is hard to say... we lean toward a roadhouse kind of sensibility in that it has a very live feel to most of it, and we mix in elements of Motown, blues and Louisiana rhythm with a strong dose of Texas soul, so that it kind of depends on which song you are talking about. It feels like the new CD, “Here in Babylon” definitely comes from a slightly different place than our other CDs - not totally, but a little more self-contained.I feel like we stripped the songs down to the essence and brought out the heart of it more.
Where and how did you get your start?
I started taking piano lessons when I was really little - around 5 years old. My older brother was taking piano lessons and after he would finish practicing, I would sit down and pick out what he had been practicing, so my folks started me on lessons early. My dad taught me to play guitar when I was around 8 and I remember the first time I played and sang in front of my class was in 4th grade when we were studying Australia - I sang “Waltzing Matilda.” After that I used to play every chance I got. I remember one church social where I sang my big number back then - an old folk song about making moonshine - pretty funny.
Didn't you play at NoHo Theatre & Arts Festivals?
Yes, we did a few years ago...I loved it! It was a thrill to get to come and play in North Hollywood. When I first moved to CA from TX in the 80s, that was the first place I lived for many years and it still feels like my neighborhood when I drive through it. It has really come into its own, though - it still has the cool, funky feeling that it always had, but it is definitely more uptown.
I see that you have been nominated for a Grammy Award in Contemporary Blues? How does that feel?
Unbelievable! I still don't feel like it is real...
We (my husband, Terry Wilson, and I) have been doing this for so long and have always just tried to keep growing and making the best music we can. After a certain point, you stop worrying about trying to make a 'hit' or aim for any particular market, you just make the music that is in you and hope that it resonates somewhere and finds an audience that feels it the way you do. We have submitted our CDs in the past for a Grammy, but honestly, I never even look to see who the final nominees are, because without a label or management, I never thought we would even be in the running. When our friend called to congratulate us that morning, I totally thought he was pulling our leg. It is really gratifying to know that we have been recognized by our peers in the industry. Score one for us independent, working musicians.
What has been your favorite memories of your career?
Wow... there are so many... my first tour in Europe (actually any of the times that my band gets to go and play in Europe)... the year that I toured with Eric Burdon - that was wonderful to tour the world with my husband and so many of my best friends and not have to worry about being the band leader... the Blues Foundation nomination for our CD “The Bottom Line,” the time the SAG Singers Committee asked me to sing at their program honoring Randy Newman... and of course, the Grammy nomination will be right up there at the top.
What do you hope to accomplish in the future?
To get to keep singing and making music and to have people want to hear it... (and maybe have a little more cash in the bank - that definitely wouldn't hurt...)
What advice would you give to a person wanting to be in the music industry?
If music is what you want to do, just do it... and keep doing it. Don't think too hard about it. Of course, you have to put in the time to perfect your craft so that you can really find your own voice and then let it take you where it will go.
We have several gigs coming up in the LA area. We will be at The Write-Off Room in Woodland Hills every Wednesday for a while - at least through February; on February 11 we will be doing a gig at the Baked Potato in Hollywood (that is a new one for us - looking forward to that); and on Valentine's Day, we will at our favorite Valley pub, Ireland's 32 in Van Nuys.
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