by Rick Moore
Carothers is in Nashville on a two-day whirlwind promotional trip, some 1,200 miles from his Los Alamos, New Mexico home, for meetings and interviews surrounding the success of his Nashville-recorded CD Honky Tonk Land, and its second single, “I Must Be Alive.” He’s been doing the things that all aspiring country headliners have to do: shooting videos, singing, answering the same interview questions again and again, being ushered around town by management, answering more questions. He’s getting a good taste of the side of the entertainment business the public doesn’t see. And he’s happy for it.
“It’s been busy the past couple days, but I’m having a great time,” Carothers says, stretching his lanky frame into an uncomfortable hotel chair. Unlike many singers, his speaking voice belies the tone of his singing voice as well. Carothers is a baritone, one who sings in the range of artists like Johnny Cash or Josh Turner. Not to say that he’s limited in where his voice can go. He just knows what sounds best for the type of music he prefers: genuine country music.
Honky Tonk Land and its singles thus far are seeing increasing download action, and have had airplay as far away as Ireland. And he’s already well-known in the Desert Southwest, where his live performances attract standing-room-only crowds who are fans of the more traditional brand of country that Carothers is a practitioner of, almost by default. MusicRow magazine’s Robert K. Oermann, who is also Nashville’s reigning music historian, said that “This boy is a stone-country singer,” and he wasn’t kidding. Carothers’ music doesn’t have a lot in common with the pop and rock-influenced country music of today. It’s a subject he addresses in the first single from Honky Tonk Land, “New Country Singers.” He doesn’t necessarily think today’s Nashville product is all bad, it just isn’t who he is.
“I don’t want to sound like some kind of hater,” he says, leaning forward for emphasis. “I don’t take myself very seriously, but I do take what I do very seriously. Bro-country isn’t any worse, in its own way, than outlaw country. There’s a formula for both of them. One guy goes to prison and one goes to a bonfire; one gets thrown out of the house and gets divorced, the other picks up the girl on Saturday night in his truck and goes to a party. It’s kinda like David Allan Coe talking about the perfect country song. The definition has just changed a little.”
While Carothers knows what he likes and does best, he also knows that there has to be a little compromise in the music business, as with anything in life. “I don’t have a problem with any of the ideas, I just have a problem with the formula,” he says. “But I know it’s profitable, and I understand why people do it, to have a sustainable income and career. As far as my own taste in music, I get turned off when I see it as more of a formula and less of an art form. Don’t get me wrong though, because I also envy them and wish I could do that. I wish I could get paid a million dollars for eating a slice of pizza on TV. So I don’t want to seem too high up on my horse because they’ve achieved the same thing I’m still after. It’s hard.”
The husband and father of two grew up listening to the same music as so many of today’s country singers. Names like Cash, Garth, Yoakam, Travis. But he also listened to many of the FM rockers that his generation came up with, like Ozzy and Iron Maiden. He decided he belonged in the Cash/Haggard/Waylon/Jamey Johnson world, and, like The Hag and Vince Gill, taught himself to play lead guitar so he could do it himself if he had to. “If there’s anything that Vince and Merle showed me, it’s that it can be done,” he says. “That a guy can sing lead, play lead, write, and run a band all by himself if he needs to. For the time being, it’s better for me to do it myself.”
So that’s what he does. He wrote Honky Tonk Land’s songs on his own, save for one by his father, Jim. “I haven’t done much co-writing,” he confesses, “but my management and I are talking about setting up some co-writes with some Nashville writers for me.”
It’s not easy for somebody who lives in Nashville to make it big, and even harder for somebody in a different time zone. So Carothers is considering a relocation to Music City. “I’m definitely looking at moving to Nashville,” he says. “It would be a pretty big decision ‘cause I’m really a small town guy. And it takes a lot to be able to give what you need to give to be successful in Nashville and also be a good husband and father, which comes first for me. But I know you have to be where it’s happening.”
One thing that might help make his decision easier is that Carothers isn’t a complete stranger to Tennessee. He was raised, for his first decade or so, in southwest Tennessee, near the home turf of Walking Tall legend Buford Pusser. He grew up singing in church with relatives, including his songwriter dad, who still lives there, and who would probably love to see the prodigal son make it big and also make it home for Christmas dinner. “Tennessee’s where my roots are for sure,” he says. “And my wife would probably love it here because the humidity keeps your skin from drying out as fast.”
So James Carothers knows he needs to take the plunge, and the more often he flies to Nashville to make contacts, the more likely it is that he will someday. “Sometimes I’m happy just being a regular dude, a family man,” he says. “But other times I know how much I love doing this, and if I don’t go for it I’ll always wonder what would have happened if I did.”
For more, visit www.jamescarothers.com
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