Timothy James isn't your average high school freshman.
When he was just nine years old, James picked up a guitar after watching his father play, and it turned into an extension of himself. It came so naturally to him, and after developing his skills and style, he's now performing and competing at national and international music festivals at the age of 15, and he's set to release his first EP in a few weeks.
James lives in Mulino and just finished his freshman year at Molalla High School. He says his original influences include classic rock icons like the Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd, which led him to blues jams in the local area, when he really began to come intrigued. These days, he listens to a little bit of everything, from jazz, to metal, to pop, and everything in between.
James played in the world-famous 2017 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee, which earned him a spot in the 2017 Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland with Ryan Stadler, a Molalla High School alum and current student at Clackamas Community College, and Edwin Coleman III on the drums.
"I'm just really excited to play for all of those people," James said,
Despite playing in some very prestigious festivals and events, James enjoys some of the more low-key environments, like the Analog Café and Theater in Portland's Hawthorne District, Billy Blues Bar and Grill in Vancouver, Washington state, and Volcanic Theatre Pub in Bend.
While in Memphis, James says he was able to see and hear firsthand a plethora of good influences, while developing some industry contacts.
"I think one of the good things about [the festival] is contacts, you make a lot of contacts," James said. "It's just really fun meeting people, especially kids my age, because around here there's not a lot of kids who play out as much as I do, but down there it's very professional it's amazing."
James says while he does love the blues, he doesn't want to be limited to one specific style of music. His style is his own, a "Counting Crows-John Mayer" mix with a little bit of blues influence. His father, James Wong, chimed in and labeled it as "pop" with a chuckle.
James released a demo album of four songs in 2015, and he has plans for a nine-song EP. James had help from Ken Brewer, whom he took lessons from a while ago; Brewer did the recording, engineering, and mastering of the EP, according to James Wong. The album will be released on Spotify and iTunes, as well as physical copies for sale, after a couple of local release parties; James says he's hoping for the end of June or early July for the official release date.
"We've been working on it since December, it's got nine songs, a lot of them are electric, but there's a couple more acoustic ones too," James said.
James says he started out by playing guitar at home, teaching himself for the most part, but he eventually began to meet people, and he's corroborated with a number of artists over the years, including local musicians Gary Meziere, Rae Gordon, Brady Goss, and more.
James' music in the past, and still much of his current music, includes solo work. But he's developed a relationship with Stadler that works for them both.
"I got out and you meet more people, you get better obviously, and then you start playing with more people and it's like 'Hey, maybe I should hit this person up to play with me sometime and now me and Ryan are playing all the time," James said.
While James can usually be found with a guitar strung over his shoulder, he also plays the Alto saxophone with the Molalla Symphonic band and occasionally some piano at home.
James also writes all of his songs, and he says his inspiration ranges.
"Lots of love songs, then there's just some feel-good stuff about the weather and stuff like that, and then there's some darker stuff too, I'd say sort of – I love Molalla, but [there are[ not always the best influences here," James said.
At the Molalla Farmer's Market on June 8, James set up under a covered awning to play a few of his songs, including "Midnight Train," which displays a bit of the ominous tone that James mentioned:
'She rides the midnight train to get away,
I ride the midnight train to get away,
We ride the midnight train to get away,
From this hell that we put ourselves in.'
Video from James' performance of the song can be found below.
When asked what the future looks like for him, James says he doesn't quite have a clear picture yet.
"That'd be great if I got famous, but I doubt that's going to happen," James said with a laugh. "The chances are very slim; I hopefully want to do something in college that involves music, [Clackamas Community College] has a music performance technology program that I might like to do, something like that."
Catch Timothy James at the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland at the FedEx Crossroad Stage on Friday, June 30 from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
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