Q&A with Teresa James performing March 6 at Ojai Underground Exchange

web 3 6 TeresajamesHeritage Festival
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Rhythm Tramps


BE THERE OR BE SQUARE: Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps at Ojai Underground Exchange, 1016 W. Ojai Ave., Friday, March 6, 7:30 p.m. Cost: $25. Call: 805-340-7893.


Some people will do anything to get out of Santa Clarita — a place that is neither funky nor greasy and does not rock. Teresa James, who fronts her band, the Rhythm Tramps, has been on that endless, mindless, senseless (and darn fun) road trip for years. Plenty of stops have been veritable home games for band regulars in the 805, including their impending adventure Friday night (March 6) at the Ojai Underground Exchange. 
James, along with her significant other/bass player and songwriter Terry Wilson, now reside near the end of the 126, close to the 805, but even closer to Magic Mountain, and convenient driving distance to El Lay.
The band has recently released its 10th album, earned a Grammy nomination (finally) and plays kick-ass, foot-friendly rockin’ blues, or as they suggest, music that is “funky and greasy.” Putting the rock in raucous, James has that perfect powerful blues voice to make it all memorable. She discussed the latest during a recent phoner.
BL: So what’s the latest with you and the band? Still funky and greasy?
TJ: Absolutely. We just put out a live CD at the end of October. I’m really excited about it. We recorded it over four different nights, spread out over about a year and a half, and it’s cool because we have three different drummers and three different horn sections, but all of them play with us a lot. So we picked the best tracks from all the different nights, so it’s a real, true representation of what we sound like live, depending on who’s in town when you come to see us play. I think it also captures the fun of our shows.
BL: This is supposed to be fun, right?
TJ: That’s my thought — this should be fun.
BL: You’ve been here for a while — are you a California girl yet or are you still a Texan?
TJ: It’s hard to lose those Texas roots, you know, but California is definitely home. I’d be hard-pressed to go back. Houston is where I’m from.
BL: My son and I took a tour of the Confederacy last July; anyway, just outside El Paso on Hwy. 10 there was a sign that said: “San Antonio 581 miles” What the hell? Texas is huge — it takes a day, pretty much, to drive across it.
TJ: That’s what we’re used to. From here to El Paso is halfway to Houston.
BL: You guys are almost official residents of the 805 since you play here so much…
TJ: I know. We played a gig in Santa Barbara recently and we haven’t been there in a long time. It was for the blues society up there and it was such a fun thing. It was nice. Everybody was great and we had a really good crowd. We’re really looking forward to playing in Ojai — it’s been a while. I’m trying to remember — we used to do that street thing.
BL: Ojai Days…maybe?
TJ: Yeah, Ojai Days — it’s been a minute since we did that one. I always love playing in Ventura County — it’s always 15 degrees cooler than where we live, you know, and it’s just gorgeous.
BL: I have a logistical question: How does the band travel? Do you guys sometimes camp or do you always have to get hotel rooms or what?
TJ: Yeah, we get a hotel room, but lately I’ve been doing the Airbnb thing — most of the times, it’s cheaper and it’s handier and homier.
BL: How often do you practice and how much hassle is it to get everyone together?
TJ: Sometimes we work as a four-piece and sometimes we work as a five-piece, but our main guitar player is Billy Watts and my drummer Herman Matthews — they’ve both been with me for 20 years; I mean Billy, pretty steadily, and Herman, off and on — when he’s not with Tower of Power, Tom Jones or whoever.
BL: You’ve had Billy longer than he’s been a Mojo Monkey.
TJ: Yeah, the Mojo Monkeys — they’ve gotten to the point where they go to Switzerland once or twice a year. It’s good for them, but I hate it when Billy leaves town. He knows my songs better than I do. Oh, wow, I’m actually moving right now.
BL: Watch out for the cops. Don’t get a ticket. How important is being part of the festival circuit?
TJ: We’ve done a couple of festivals, and we were nominated for a Grammy last year. Wait a minute — I think I better pull over since the traffic is speeding up … I’m gonna do that. Hold on.
BL: So did your price go up on account of a Grammy nomination?
TJ: No, not yet. It’s like an 18-month lag between when you get the Grammy nomination and when you start getting better gigs. We’ve done a few nice festivals and we have some things coming up this summer.
BL: So was the Grammy nomination your big break or have you had it yet?
TJ: Yeah, the Grammy nomination was our biggest break, especially for a band like us — just working in the trenches for so many years, decades, really, know what I mean? We’ve submitted our albums before to the Grammy committee, and there never was really any thought that we would actually get nominated. The first ballot has everybody — everybody that submitted, and I figured, “OK, that’ll be one more time that they’ve seen our name.” When we got the nomination, it was my friend calling me up at 6 in the morning. Congratulations. For what? For your Grammy nomination. Yeah, right — quit messing with me, man.
BL: So, you guys have been to places as cool as Switzerland by now?
TJ: Yeah, but it’s been a while. We’re talking to some people in Germany about doing something there in the fall. You know, Eric Burdon had Terry and Billy and me in the band, so we did a lot of traveling with him. With our band we get a lot of airplay and great reviews in Europe, but when you’re first starting out, you just need to look at it as an adventure.
BL: Europeans appreciate the blues even more than we do for some reason.
TJ: They do. It’s crazy.
BL: What advice would you give to the next generation?
TJ: I’d tell them that you really have to love it. It’s not an easy way to make a living, that’s for sure, especially now since all the rules have changed. There are more opportunities out there, but it’s also hard to figure out exactly what you need to do. Be yourself. Don’t try to put yourself in one particular bag because if you’re faking it, I think people will know it. I love to perform. I love to play music — that’s what I do.


— Bill Locey covers the music scene in Ventura County.


If I had a faster car, a richer girlfriend or even one with a job, here’s where I’d be lurking in the back this week:
Crooked Eye Tommy at Keynote Lounge in Ventura (March 6)
Mark Masson at Winchesters in Ventura (March 6)
Expandards at Greater Goods in Meiners Oaks (March 6)
Wood Brothers at UCSB (March 6)
Beach Boys at Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez (March 6)
Nina Gerber & Chris Webster at Russ & Julie’s House Concert in Oak Park (March 7)
Uptown Brothers at Cantara Winery in Camarillo (March 7)
Chelsea Williams & Eric Harrington at Ojai Underground (March 7)
Buddy Guy, Jimmie Vaughn at Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara (March 7)
Dr. Know at Discovery Ventura (March 7)
The Tossers at Winchesters (March 7)
Bruce Goldish at Sundry Gallery in Ventura (March 7)
Brian Faith Band at Grapes & Hops in Ventura (March 7)
Love Revisited at the Echo in Los Angeles (March 8)
Acoustic Crossroads at Winchesters (March 8)
Jade Hendrix at Museum of Ventura County (March 8)
Karen Eden at Topa Mountain Winery in Ojai (March 8)
Rick Reeves at Island Brewing in Carpinteria (March 8)
Cocobilli at Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara (March 8)
Ricky Skaggs at Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara (March 9)
Jerry McWorter Trio at Copa Cubana in Ventura (March 10)
Tame Impala at the Forum in Inglewood (March 11)
Teresa Russell at Surfside Seafood in Hueneme (March 11)
G. Love & Special Sauce at SOhO in Santa Barbara (March 12)

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