The Journeyman: Guitarist Jamie James rocks out with Dennis Quaid this Saturday

Jamie James
Jamie James

These days, Jamie James wears a suit and tie and a crumpled pork pie hat, with a face somewhere between Rob Corddry and John Peel. He has slung a guitar over his shoulder through blues rock, rockabilly, hard rock, and can replicate a mean Delta Blues slide. And he’ll be one of the reasons movie star Dennis Quaid plays SOhO this Saturday, along with his rock band the Sharks, which Mr. James fronts. To get to this point, it’s been a long strange trip.

It starts halfway through Mr. James’ career. During the late ’70s and early ’80s, Mr. James fronted a pre-Stray Cats, pre-MTV rockabilly revival group called the Kingbees. They put out two albums, and a strong single, “My Mistake” on RSO records. One of their fans from those days was actor Harry Dean Stanton, and the two hit it off. Mr. Stanton sings, by the way, in a sweet, untrained voice, and at the time was looking for a backup band.

“I got Harry,” Mr. James says. “I didn’t want the pressure of being the lead singer anymore. So it was nice to take a back seat with Harry Dean. I grew musically.”

They played the Mint on Pico Boulevard every Saturday night in the ’90s, and there they ran into Dennis Quaid, who at first was reluctant, but then joined the group on stage for a guitar jam. Mr. Quaid and Mr. James had both started learning guitar, and liked the same music. By 2000, Mr. Quaid invited Mr. James up to his Montana ranch to write songs, and soon the Sharks band was born.

“This is simple, first-, second-, and third-gear rock and roll,” Mr. James says. “Because of working with Harry Dean, I learned to separate the music from the ‘star’ with Dennis. We’re not here to sell Dennis Quaid T-shirts, you know?”

The band plays a mix of classic rock covers and originals by Mr. Quaid and Mr. James, and it’s really just about having a great time.

Mr. James picked up guitar at age 15, after early years playing hockey and sports in his hometown of Toronto. But Deep Purple, his first concert, blew his mind, as he stood right at the front of the stage in a tiny club directly in front of Richie Blackmore.

“I’d never seen five guys create that kind of energy on stage before. It was electrifying!” he says. “And I didn’t want to be anything else.”

He immediately bought a guitar and joined a band. He made his way to London, then back to Detroit, where he became friends with Bob Seger, then made his way to Los Angeles in 1975, where he nearly joined a reformed Steppenwolf.

When he’s not touring with the Sharks, Mr. James has been focusing on playing Delta Blues, singing old classics the way they were first performed, and playing once a week at Santa Monica’s Harvelle’s. He’s still friends with Harry Dean Stanton, and the two of them do the L.A. Times crossword by phone every morning. (Mr. James plays the music in an upcoming documentary on Mr. Stanton, also.)

For the Sharks, Mr. James has teamed up with Tom Walsh on drums, Ken Stange on keyboards and harmonica, and Tom Slik on bass, while Mr. Quaid plays guitar and keyboard on top of singing. And they just want to rock out.

“The thing I love about the Sharks is that we’re five guys who all just love playing music,” he says. Simple as that.

DENNIS QUAID AND THE SHARKS
When 9 p.m. Sat.
Where: SOhO Restaurant & Club, 1221 State St.
Cost: $20-$25
Information: sohosb.com or 962-7776

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