Blues vocalist Cee Cee James gets lowdown

James, Lloyd Jones, David Pinsky, Phil Newton and Pete Herzog play Agate Ridge Vineyard Friday, July 26
Cee Cee James and Rob "Slideboy" Andrews.Bob Pennell

Blues singer Cee Cee James and her band — including hubby Rob "Slideboy" Andrews on rhythm and slide guitar, Jesse Kennemer on lead, Doug McAlister on bass and Mike Lutz on drums — will set out to tour behind their new CD, "Blood Red Blues," at the end of July.

The CD — on James' independent label, FWG Records — peaked at No. 13 on Billboard's Blues Album chart and topped at No. 2 on XM Satellite Radio.

If you go

Who: Cee Cee James and Lloyd Jones

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, July 26

Where: Agate Ridge Vineyard, 1098 Nick Young Road, Eagle Point

Tickets: $20

Call: 541-830-3050 or see www.agateridgevineyard.com

"We recorded it with producer Jim Gaines (The Spinners, Santana, Huey Lewis, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Steve Miller)," James says. "Someone told me I needed to record with him, so I raised some money through Kickstarter and used my retirement account to pay for the rest.

"This tour is a big push for us. We'll play the Full Throttle Saloon during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota, then headline at the Summertime Bikes and Blues Fest in Freeport, Texas. We'll open another show at the bike fest for Foghat. We have a gig at a national blues club, the Boulder Outlook Hotel in Colorado. There are others, but those are our anchor dates."

Before James and her band get on the road, they'll perform for a blues fest on Friday, July 26, at Agate Ridge Vineyard, 1098 Nick Young Road, Eagle Point. Look for blues duos featuring David Pinsky (The Rhythm Kings), Phil Newton (The Shouters) and Pete Herzog to open the show. Portland roots musician Lloyd Jones (The Lloyd Jones Struggle) will top off the festival. Music will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased by calling 541-830-3050 or at the winery. See www.agateridgevineyard.com and www.ceeceejames.com for information.

James and Andrews are the principal songwriters of the group, and the couple likes its roots-rock "raw and real." James' vocal style is as wild as Janis Joplin's.

"We drew our early influences from artists like Tina Turner, John Lee Hooker, Chaka Khan, Aretha Franklin, Robin Trower, kind of a wide swath of artistic creativity," James says.

One of the 12 cuts on "Blood Red," "I Got a Right to Sing the Blues," is more like Turner meets Hooker, James says.

"Mostly because of the vocal chops and because it's really raw and lowdown. It's basically snippets about the hardships of my life. Tina would do it that way, and so would John Lee Hooker."

The song was nominated for song of the year by Blues Blast Magazine. Online readers can vote for it at www.bluesblast.com.

"Another song, 'Wounds,' is really different," James says. "It's not blues, but more like soft, contemporary pop. It's from that swath of creativity. We go from rough, raw stuff to songs that are tender. That's the way life is."

Born in Portland, James has been singing as long as she can remember. Now a resident of Williams, she recalls singing "Sunny" in the back seat of her mother's '57 Chevy. At age 5, she and her mother left Portland and moved around the country.

"I sang lead vocals in a couple of high school choirs, various talent shows, and I had my own church band when I was 12 and living in Oakland, Calif. In my early 20s, I was in a heavy-metal band called Wizards in San Diego. I had big hair, wore boots and carried a whip," she says. "You can imagine."

Later James moved to Los Angeles, found a good vocal coach and met a producer who helped her release a CD under the moniker Christina Fasano: Funky White Girl. From there she moved on to R&B with her album "Spiritually Wet," taking home the 2000 R&B Artist Award at the 10th annual Los Angeles Music Awards.

"Spiritually Wet" garnered rave reviews, many print and Web interviews and other artist awards, yet failed to take off.

"We were independent recording artists with no manager, no label," she says. "As independent artists, we relied on social networks to sell music and get shows."

The Funky White Girl morphed into Cee Cee James and began writing and performing blues. When her second husband died of cancer, she left Southern California and returned to Portland. There, she and Andrews wrote their first roots-rock CD, "Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl," in 2008.

"It ("Low Down") was quiet for a year, then it got picked up by an independent label and took off into the blues world. It rode blues charts for months, topping at No. 7 on XM."

"Seriously Raw," a live CD recorded at Sunbanks Rhythm & Blues Festival in eastern Washington state, followed in 2010. It hit at No. 1 on Cashbox, an online chart based on sales.

"It all costs money," James says. "We've put a lot of money and effort into becoming successful. We're still waiting for that break."

James and her band are campaigning for cash to fund their tour at www.indiegogo.com.


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