Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
Earlier this summer, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing James Carothers perform live for the first time at The George Jones Rooftop. It was a celebration of the release of his latest album, a tribute to the late George Jones, entitled, Still Country, Still King: A Tribute to George Jones.
I’ve seen some artists that are working their tails off to bring back that true, traditional country sound, but when I saw Carothers play and sing, my immediate thought was, “I think he’s got them all beat. This guy is as real country as they come.” It turns out my quick assessment was spot on. I later read that Nancy Jones, widow of the late George Jones, personally chose Carothers to play regularly at The George Jones because he was, for all intents and purposes, the honest to God, real country deal.
I didn’t get a chance to speak with Carothers that night, it was simply too chaotic, but I saw enough of him and his band to feel safe in recommending him to anyone that craved an old school, authentic country voice. When the chance to sit down and talk with him came up, I didn’t hesitate. I had to find out if that authentic country persona I saw on stage was just a great act or if James Carothers lived and breathed country in real life.
Think Country: I already saw you at The George Jones and that was a tribute to George Jones, is that right?
James Carothers: Yeah, that’s right. We just finished releasing an album called Still Country, Still King: A Tribute to George Jones and me and some of the other players that met each other at The George Jones did the record together.
TC: I’m going to guess that you’re a George Jones fan?
JC: Yeah, I’m a big George Jones fan and I always knew he was the best country singer. I didn’t really get to know that much about him until I started working there. So, I’ve worked there for three years playing his music now.
TC: As far as your “Back to Hank” Facebook video, over 4.4 million views! That’s a lot. Did that help grow your fanbase?
Video courtesy of jamescarothers.com and YouTube
JC: Yeah, that video and a site called We Hate Pop Country shared it, and that made us get more fans all over the world. It was great.
TC: That’s really awesome.
TC: Where are you from James?
JC: I was born in Selmer, Tennessee, so my family’s from around Adamsville, Tennessee, Selmer, Tennessee. It’s like, by Jackson, Tennessee, West Tennessee. That’s where I was born. I lived there until I was nine-years old and then I moved to New Mexico, so I grew up in New Mexico and I moved back here about four years ago to do country music.
TC: So, when you moved back did you move back by yourself, or did you come back with a band?
JC: I came back with my wife and two kids at the time. Now I’ve got three kids.
TC: Oh, well, congratulations! Nothing like being a Dad, right?
JC: Thank you, it’s the best, I love it.
TC: So, you’ve got a lot more going on than just your music, you’ve got a family life.
JC: Yeah, I’ve got a family life too and that’s the best part.
TC: I’m just running through the talking points and you played the 2018 Tumbleweed Music Festival with artists like Marty Stuart and Cody Johnson. Cody Johnson is really bringing back the traditional country sound. You’ve got a real traditional country sound yourself.
JC: I pretty much quit learnin’ songs in the year 2000. So, all the country music I know is like, real, true country.
TC: Yeah, when I saw you, I thought, “Wow. This guy sounds VERY country.” You have a great voice, you really, really do.
JC: Well, thank you.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
TC: You’ve opened for some big names. Who did you feel you connected the most with?
JC: Well, really a lot of the people I opened for, I never got to talk to. I never got to meet ‘em or anything.
TC: Who did you feel like you most appropriately opened for then? Who did you feel was the best fit?
JC: I think that’s a really good question. Let me take a look at the list. They’re all really good, but I think Charlie Daniels is probably the most memorable and I did get to meet Charlie so that was really cool.
TC: Was he nice?
JC: Yeah, he was super nice and my kids were with me and one of my kids is named Charlie. He was just so cool, I loved meeting him.
TC: He is really legendary. A living legend.
JC: He really is.
TC: I’m sure that was a thrill for you. Where did you open for him?
JC: It was in Franklin, Kentucky.
TC: Your stream numbers are great on all the different platforms. You must be happy with that.
JC: I can’t believe that. I owe it all to my wife. My wife does all that kind of stuff for me because I’m not that good with the computer.
TC: You’re lucky to have her, because clearly, with the kids and all, she has her hands full.
TC: You have so many good things going on. You must be playing out a lot. If people want to see you live, where can they go?
JC: I play downtown all week most of the time and after our “Back to Hank” video, that’s when we started getting a lot more bookings out of town. I just got back from out of town this morning from Cincinnati and Illinois.
TC: You must be tired.
JC: A little bit. Some people play in town, some people play out on the road and some people do both. I’m doing both right now and it’s a blessing to be able to work.
TC: When you come home your kids probably want to crawl all over you, right?
JC: Yes, and that’s a blessing too. It makes it all worthwhile.
TC: Some people don’t ever get that chance. I’m very happy for you.
TC: You still play at The George Jones, right?
Graphic courtesy of The George Jones
JC: I still play there two or three times a week.
TC: So, anyone that wants to see you in Nashville, The George Jones is a good place to start.
JC: Yeah, or they can just check my website. My wife keeps my schedule pretty much up to date. My website and my Facebook.
TC: I hear you’re going to play the Grand Ole Opry.
JC: Yeah, I’m still waiting to hear back about exactly when.
TC: You won a contest that says you’ll play “in conjunction with Alan Jackson”, does that mean you’ll play the same day as Alan Jackson?
JC: Yeah, at the same show because I won a contest called the WSM Road Show, a singing contest. The winner gets to play with Alan Jackson on the Grand Ole Opry.
TC: That is really an honor, isn’t it?
JC: Yeah, I’m so happy. It’s the best thing ever.
TC: That’s going to be such a huge day for you.
JC: Word is, it’s going to be at The Ryman Auditorium, so I’m really super excited about it.
TC: That’s going to be amazing. Would you say that’s going to be the biggest day in your career so far?
JC: Without a doubt.
TC: Will you have your whole family come out?
JC: I hope so. I hope they let us know in enough time so I can get ‘em tickets. They quit saying “Hello” to me anymore. I call ‘em up and they just say, “Hey, when’s your date on the Opry?” I just tell ‘em, “I don’t know yet.”
TC: You know they’re just going to keep asking.
JC: That’s okay. I love it. There could be worse things.
TC: Can I ask you really quick about your bass player? Your bass player was really awesome.
JC: I’m glad you noticed that. I might tell him, but his head’s already really big.
TC: Alright, well, maybe just tell him that I thought he was “okay”. Just kidding. He was great.
JC: I’ll tell him that you thought he was “acceptable”. No, he’s great. He’s got a great name too. His name is Jerry Lee. Jerry Lee Combs. Kind of like Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s a great guy. I met him right away when I moved to town. He’s the one who told me to try out at The George Jones. We set there and played George Jones music for years together and still do. He’s my right-hand man. We go out and do a lot of acoustic things together too, so it’s not just the full band. Like, just this past weekend it was just the two of us.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
TC: I noticed when I was at the release party, I thought the whole band was good, but there was a chemistry between you and him.
JC: We’re always lookin’ at each other because we’re used to playing by ourselves a lot.
TC: I didn’t even know that at the time, how weird.
JC: That’s cool that you picked up on it.
TC: I absolutely picked up on it and I thought he was fabulous.
JC: Yeah, we’ve played countless times, just the two of us. When we add the other guys, it makes it a lot easier.
TC: I thought it was a really good show. Especially when I first got there, there weren’t many people there and all of a sudden, it was like, whoa! The place was packed. It filled up so fast.
JC: We were so happy. We just got a lot of love from our friends and our family and our fans. A lot of them drove in, maybe even flew in from different places for that. They were just so supportive. We’ve been so lucky, meeting so many nice people from across the country coming through Nashville. They like old country or they like George Jones and then we’ll play ‘em an original song and they like that, and then it’s really cool when we get to go to their towns and play for them, the people that we’ve met here. That’s what we’ve been doing.
TC: Do people then say things like, “We saw you in Nashville and we’re so glad you’re here in my town now?”
JC: Yeah, they do. You know, a lot of times, it seems like people that come to Nashville, they’re the people in their communities that can afford to. Not everybody can afford to make the trip or buy the drinks, because the drinks are so expensive. So, when they come here, they’re kind of like the leaders of their communities, so they’ll say, “Hey, why don’t you come to our community and play for us?” So, they’ll hook that up and we get there and they’ve turned a lot of their friends and family on to the music that we’re doing. We get there and we get to meet their families and their friends and get to see how they live their lives in their places. Most of them are out in the country somewhere too.
TC: Those are often the real, diehard country fans.
TC: What did you listen to growing up?
JC: Well, when I was a kid my Dad had like two or three cassette tapes in his truck. It was Hank Jr. and Jerry Jeff Walker, so those were the only ones I knew for a while, and then when I got a little bit older that’s when Alan Jackson and Garth Brooks and everybody came out, so I listened to like, 90’s country non-stop. Then when I was in high school I listened to rock and stuff. I tried to play in bands and I couldn’t sing the rock music very well because my voice changed and it was too low, and I sounded kinda like a hillbilly when I talked, so country music was easier to play. That’s what I loved, that’s what I already knew anyway.
TC: You could listen to rock, but you couldn’t play it or sing it.
JC: I could imagine myself playing or singing it, but I couldn’t do it in real life.
TC: Me too! I can air guitar and lip sync but that’s as far as you want me to even try! I’ll kill people.
JC: I can try playing Metallica on the guitar, but it sounds like country.
TC: Country Metallica, I’d like to hear that.
JC: It’s not very good.
TC: I like Metallica, but I don’t know that the country version is going to go over very well.
JC: It’s not.
TC: I can definitely imagine you playing Alan Jackson or Garth though.
JC: Yeah, that’s the wheelhouse we do and I love that music because it’s so relatable. It all tells good stories about real people and life. I love it too, because if I imagine the story it’s telling, it makes it easier to remember the lyrics.
TC: That’s one of the things that really amazes me about singers. How DO you remember lyrics?
JC: Yeah, like “A Boy Named Sue” (Johnny Cash) is a really long song and it’s this big, long story. I guess I just think of the story that it’s telling. I kind of visualize it, like, “Then what happened? Then what happened?”
Video courtesy of johnnycashrules32 and YouTube
TC: But you do it so fast!
JC: Yeah, it’s happening pretty fast. It’s probably the fastest thing I do, I’m pretty slow at other stuff. A lot of it is repetition too. Or a lot of the songs are about a love or a love lost and it’s easier when you think of the whole story, like you already know the whole story and you’re just kind of repeating the story to someone else.
TC: I suppose if it’s one you’ve done before, it’s memorization too?
JC: Oh yeah. Then you don’t even have to think about it, it just comes out.
TC: It still impresses me no matter what.
JC: It’s crazy to think that our minds can do that.
TC: YOUR mind can do that.
TC: How old are your kids now?
JC: 9, 8 and 2.
TC: They’re still young. Obviously, there’s places they can’t go because they’re too young, but do they ever get to go to any of your shows?
JC: They get to go to some of them, and when I play at a bar sometimes they can come in, but they just think that it’s kind of boring most of the time because they’ve seen it done so many times. It’s probably like watching your Dad screw a piece of drywall to a wall. The Charlie Daniels thing, that was a cool one they got to go to. My drummer, Jack, he played for Charlie for 15 years, so my son Charlie, I got him up on the stage so he could stand behind Charlie Daniels and watch him play the fiddle to thousands of people. That was super cool.
TC: I’m sure when he’s older, he’ll realize what an amazing thing that was.
JC: They like it a lot, but maybe they’re not as into it as I was at that age.
TC: How do you keep connected with your family when you’re out on the road?
JC: When I was a kid, I always imagined people going out on a bus for a month at a time and never seeing their family. For me, it’s a little bit different. I usually leave on a Thursday or a Friday and I get back on Sunday or Monday, so I’m just gone a few days. It’s nowhere as hard for me as it is for someone who’s in the military that gets deployed for a year or two at a time. I miss ‘em, but I get to see ‘em every single week. We’ve still got a good thing going with the family. We work hard but I don’t have to be gone all the time.
TC: The kids know the routine now.
JC: Right, they do and the wife at home is super supportive. I don’t have to worry about anything. They’re well taken care of.
TC: That’s wonderful.
TC: What are your thoughts on going over to the UK?
JC: Absolutely, in a heartbeat. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to go over there and play two years ago and I had a great time. I played in Scotland.
TC: That’s great. Did they love you?
JC: They did, and there again, I met those wonderful people here in Nashville. Lynda Malia was here giving people tours. It was Country Music Tours International and I played for them a number of times and I became friends with them, and so they brought me out there to play. I would go back there in a heartbeat. I got to play in Norway this past summer.
TC: That had to have been fantastic.
JC: It was fantastic. People were beautiful, nice people and they loved country music too and they actually spoke better English than I do. Yeah, but I would love to go to the UK. I love it there. We like to give each other a hard time, but at the end of the day, we all like to be together at the pub bein’ merry.
TC: That is so true. I love that quote.
TC: Finally, because we ARE Think Country, when you “Think Country”, what do you think?
JC: Right now, when I “Think Country”, I think Alan Jackson, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because I work in his bar all the time too. I work in AJ’s Good Time Bar and his slogan is “Keepin’ It Country” and so every time I’m playin’ in there, I look up and it says, “Keepin’ It Country”. Actually, that’s his slogan and he borrowed it from George Jones.
Photo courtesy of alanjackson.com/broadway
TC: Were Alan Jackson and George Jones friends?
JC: Yeah, they were good friends and George and Nancy kind of welcomed Alan to town and helped him out when he first got here.
TC: So, they were good with him borrowing the slogan?
JC: Yeah, they were cool with it and I think George and Nancy were happy that someone like him was coming here to keep it country, so when I “Think Country”, I’m like, programmed to think Alan Jackson, “Keepin’ It Country”.
TC: I think that’s perfect, because I think Alan Jackson is becoming a patron saint for country music of this day and age, don’t you?
JC: Absolutely. We’ve got George Strait, and he’s super iconic, he’s the King and he’s kind of got the Texas/Western thing already. I just can’t help thinkin’ “Keepin’ It Country”. When I “Think Country”, I think “Keepin’ It Country”.
TC: If you’re looking at that slogan on the wall all of the time, how can you not? Has Alan Jackson ever walked in his bar while you were playing and made a surprise visit?
JC: Not while I was there. I’ve heard he makes surprise visits, but not while I was playing, but I’m hoping after The Ryman when I get to play it, I can meet him and if I do, I’ll say, “When I ‘Think Country’, I think of you.”
TC: Hey, if that happens, I want to know about it. Thank you so much James, it was a pleasure meeting you.
JC: Thank you, it was great talking with you too.
At the beginning of this interview, I said I needed to know if James Carothers was just a great actor or if he was the real deal. I’ll tell you what. He is as real of a deal as you are ever going to find. If you are a fan of the country legends, George Jones, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and any of that class of singers, you need not look any further. This is your guy. He has the voice. He has the look. He has the swagger. He has the musicianship and the band. That might be more than enough, but after sitting down and talking to him, I can tell you that he has the one magic bullet that others may not have. He has real country running through his blood. He has real country values. Anyone can put on a cowboy hat and sing you a classic country cover in the style of George Jones. They’re a dime-a-dozen in this town. I sat face-to-face with Carothers and really listened to his words. He doesn’t even know how to be anything but country. His family comes first, he loves and appreciates them and he takes nothing for granted. Every new fan that he EARNS means something to him. That’s real country. He IS the real deal.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
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