Cool Casey James made the American Idol Top 10 last night, guaranteeing the Fort Worth guitarslinger a slot on the Idol concert tour later this year.
Folks around these parts have been watching James play and sing in local clubs since he was a teenager.
The list of guitarists who have jammed with him in recent years is like a who’s who of local axe masters. They all describe James as likable and well on his way to a musical career whether he wins Idol or not.
A few, however, humorously recall him as being cheap when paying sidemen.
Many frontmen such as James don’t use the same musicians from gig to gig, but rather have a revolving list of guitarists, drummers, and bass players who can sit in for a show with little or no rehearsal, and yet still sound tight.
In those situations, frontmen often divide the night’s pay up evenly among the musicians. James, however, would sometimes pay himself a larger amount.
It’s understandable for frontmen to do this, especially if they booked the gig and deserve a finder’s fee. Still, pay amounts in local clubs are rarely very large. Most frontmen divvy up evenly.
Guitarist Mace Maben sat in with James many times a couple of years ago but slowed down after James “went down on pay,” he said.
“He wasn’t being particularly greedy, he probably just needed the cash,” Maben said.
Maben made it clear that he holds no grudge and is rooting for James to win Idol.
“He’s a good kid and a good player, way beyond his years,” Maben said. “He plays like an old pro.”
Maben has watched Idol sporadically in previous years but decided against watching this season’s contest because the show is “cheesy” and “sucks you in” and wastes time. Then he discovered James made the cut.
“Now I end up watching it every damn time it’s on,” Maben said. “I’m really proud of that kid.”
Fort Worth guitarist extraordinaire Buddy Whittington has also played in James’ musical lineups at local clubs in the recent past. He recalled playing a show in Grapevine with James that paid $400. James was suffering from a sore throat that night, so Whittington did much of the singing. But at the end of the night, James gave his three bandmates $80 each and took a larger frontman’s cut for himself.
“If he wins American Idol, I’m going to make him pay $100 next time,” Whittington said.
Whittington described James as humble and a good man despite any ribbing he gets for paying himself bigger cuts after gigs.
“We’re all rooting for him,” Whittington said.
Bluesman James Hinkle said James is exactly like he appears on TV.
“He’s not egocentric or anything, he’s a nice guy,” he said.
Hinkle met James at Keys Lounge six or seven years ago. James’ mother would drive him to the Sunday night blues jams and hang out while her boy sat in with his much older peers.
“When you play guitar with him, he knows when to back off and when to cut loose, which is something you have to learn,” Hinkle said.
James didn’t sing much back then, and Hinkle was surprised to hear the fledgling vocalist sing so well on Idol.
“He has a great voice, a good Southern soul blues voice,” he said.