John James (guitarist)

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John James
John James (musician) on stage at Greenwich, U.K., 1982.jpg
John James on stage at Greenwich, U.K., 1982
Background information
Instruments Guitar

John James (born 1947, Lampeter, Wales) is a Welsh virtuoso fingerstyle guitarist and songwriter. He is best known for his original instrumental compositions for the guitar as well as interpretations of blues, folk, ragtime, jazz and classical tunes.


James learned the rudiments of music at the piano, switching to the guitar at the age of 12.[1] Initially he learnt his craft playing in local Pop and R&B bands but later focused on solo acoustic guitar work. He first made a name for himself in the folk clubs of the UK around 1968, playing arrangements of old blues, jazz and ragtime tunes (by composers such as Scott Joplin, and Reverend Gary Davis); Critics dubbed him the "Welsh Ragtime Wizard".[2]

A leading Figure of the Acoustic Music Scene of the 1970s....a period known affectionately as 'The Transatlantic Years' after the record label of the same name. His contemporaries within the label included Pentangle, Gerry Rafferty, Ralph McTell, Gordon Giltrap, Paul Brady and Steve Tilston. He recorded several albums for Transatlantic in the early 70s including a groundbreaking album of duets with fellow guitarist Pete Berryman[3] called Sky in My Pie. He also became the first guitarist in the UK to arrange and record the music of Scott Joplin. In the mid 1970s he was signed up by Kicking Mule records and in 1976 released an album of original fingerpicking guitar solos and duets called Descriptive Guitar Instrumentals. This also featured fellow guitarists John Renbourn and Duck Baker. According to Stefan Grossman, James's compositions were written out in musical form without the aid of the guitar - this enabled him to develop original ideas without being limited by his existing guitar technique.

With a Career spanning over four decades, James has recorded over 15 albums and toured extensively, playing with artists as diverse as Jools Holland, Ralph McTell, John Renbourn, John Martyn (Who was the best man at his wedding!) Led Zeppelin (he played support at their debut gig at London's Round House in the 60s!), Happy Traum, Eddie Walker and Dick Heckstall-Smith famed for playing in Jazz-Rock Band Colosseum, John Mayall and Jack Bruce, as a footnote, he was also a guest artist on the last ever Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry UK Tour of 1976. He has performed at many prestigious venues including the Royal Albert Hall (London), the Paris Olympia, Edinburgh and Cambridge Folk Festivals etc.

Apart from his recording and live work he has been influential in guitar education with compositions featuring in several guitar tuition books by Stefan Grossman (see "Bibliography" below). He was a columnist for Guitar International magazine and produced best-selling guitar tuition cassettes[4] and videos.[5] He has appeared on many UK radio and TV shows - including presenting a BBC TV series called Broadsides. James has played a variety of different acoustic guitars over the years.

  • Levin Goliath (Good Quality Instruments, Made In Sweden)
  • Gibson LG1 (Similar in size to their famed Nick Lucus Model)
  • Fylde Oberon (Beautifully Crafted English Instrument)
  • Martin M36 (1980's creation similar to an OM in dimension)

John James currently favours playing a Fylde, which is Flamed Maple Back And Sides, with a Spruce Top, as well as a nine string Fylde Acoustic. His live shows are notable for his humorous anecdotes as well as virtuoso guitar picking. A recent concert was at the Islwyn Acoustic Guitar Club in Wattsville, Wales on 17 September 2010, with old friends Wizz Jones and Pete Berryman.

John James lives in Lampeter, Wales, and still performs occasionally.


  • Morning Brings the Light (1970). Transatlantic Records (TRA219).
  • John James (1971). Transatlantic Records (TRA242).
  • Sky in my Pie (1972). Transatlantic Records (TRA250).
  • Head in the Clouds (1975). Transatlantic Records (TRA305).
  • Descriptive Guitar Instrumentals (1976). Kicking Mule Records (SNKF128). Track list: 1. Trio, 2. New Nothynge (duet with John Renbourn), 3. Rumble, 4. First Meeting (with Duck Baker), 5. Hanna's Skipping Song, 6. From The Bridge (with John Renbourn), 7. Of Days Gone By, 8. Guitar Jump (with John Renbourn), 9. Feet On The Ground, 10. Bumpass Stomp (with Duck Baker, 11. Gazing High, 12. You & I Across The Water, 13. When I Was Young & Easy.
  • Guitar Jump (1977). Kicking Mule Records.
  • Live in Concert (1978). Kicking Mule Records (SNKF136). Track list: 1. Picture Rags, 2. Opus 18, 3. Silver Swan, 4. Suitcase Shaped Like That, 5. Black And White Rag, 6. Rosebud March, 7. How Can I Tell You, 8. Pickles And Peppers, 9. Ragtime Millionaire, 10. Head In The Clouds, 11. Coconut Dance, 12. Victory Rag, 13. One Long Happy Night, 14. You And I Across The Water, 15. B Minor Run, 16. Tears, 17. Something There
  • With A Suitcase Shaped Like That (1981). Track list: 1. Quirpa Guatireña, 2. Bro Gwalia, 3. Dança, 4. Santa Cruz, 5. La Alborada (F. Tarrega), 6. Reserl Polka, 7. Marie José, 8. Appenzeller Dance, 9. 12th Street Rag, 10. El Marabino (A. Lauro), 11. Habañera, 12. Ffarwel Philip Ystwyth, 13. Pant Corlan yr Wyn, 16. Minor Swing (D. Reinhardt).
  • Acoustia Eclectica (1984). Stoptime Records (STOP101).
  • Guitar Music (1988). Stoptime Records.
  • Sky in My Pie/Head in the Clouds (1996). Essential Records.
  • Guitar Greats: John James (2009) Stoptime recordings.

John James also appeared on the following anthologies:


  • Advanced Fingerpicking Guitar, Ragtime and More! (2004). Homespun Tapes (CDJAMRG99).
  • Jools Holland's Music Makers - The Guitar With John James DVD (2001). Beckmann Visual Publishing.
  • Grossman, Stefan (Ed.) Contemporary Fingerpicking Guitar Workshop (Almo Publications, 1981).
  • Grossman, Stefan (Ed.) Fingerpicking Guitar Solos (Chappell Music Ltd., 1979)


  1. ^ Publicity material from the Llandudno Arts and Music festival[permanent dead link] - Summer 2009.
  2. ^ Grossman, Stefan. Fingerpicking Guitar Solos, pp 4-5.
  3. ^ Pete Berryman.
  4. ^ "Advanced Fingerpicking guitar", available at Homespun Tapes.
  5. ^ such as "Masters of British Guitar" (1995) and "Jools Holland's Music Makers - The Guitar With John James" ("Virgin Vision", 2001).

External links[edit]