Don't Start with Me
A little more than three years ago, Loretta Lynne James stepped on the stage at Ace's Lounge to sing in public for the first time. Until that Labor Day weekend, the former stand-up comic/actor had never considered becoming a singer. But that night was to be the start of a journey that would lead her to Memphis' renowned Royal Studios where she would meet legendary trumpet player and producer, the late Willie Mitchell. "I had no idea where I was going musically. I was new to singing and so lost. Going to Memphis-especially Royal Studios-was like a trip to Mecca for me. So much of the music my father loved when he was playing came out of that city." (James' father was a drummer.) "I guess I went there looking for a direction." Standing in the vocal both at Royal Studios, where Al Green's famed #9 microphone is still in service, Ms. James caught the eye and ear of producer Sylvester Sartor, Jr. "He was watching me through the glass and I suddenly felt like an imposter. I was sure he was going to throw me out of the booth." But Sartor didn't throw her out. Instead, he befriended her, introduced her to composer Julius Bradley and later invited her back to Royal Studios for a private discussion with Willie Mitchell. "Mr. Mitchell and Sylvester decided I should come back to Memphis to record a CD," recalls the singer. Inspired, she wrote an entire album's worth of material the same night she returned from Blues City. But before the singer had a chance to return to Memphis, both men fell ill and within a year, both had passed away. "I thought that was the end," James recalls. "I didn't have the money or the experience to do it on my own." But Sartor encouraged her to develop the material she had written. So she enlisted the help of co-composer John "Dash" Dixon and together they wrote the music for her Memphis-flavored, horn-driven roots R&B album. "It was a big project, an expensive project," she says. "We had a horn section, background vocals and organ and piano and multiple guitars." In all, seventeen local musicians would contribute to the CD. The singer started a fundraising drive on her web site and collected nearly half the money she needed to begin the project from fans, friends and family. Dixon and James went into the studio and recorded until they ran out of cash. "And then we just came to a dead stop," she says. For nearly a year, the project languished while the singer tried to raise additional funds. "Steve Arvey got the project going again," says James. Arvey found an affordable studio where she could work bits and pieces of the tracks as money trickled in. (Arvey also laid down the guitar track on "I Told You.") Finally, one of James' fans contributed the funds to have the CD mastered and Sartor, who now serves as the singer's personal manager, contributed the rest. After more than two years, the CD was finally finished. "Don't Start With Me" contains seven original songs and three covers.