James Clay Garrison has been on a journey of discovery. Finding professional success as a guitarist at the age of 15, he worked with musical luminaries like Ray Charles, Stephen Stills, Brian Wilson, Dave Mason and Eddie Van Halen. His exceptional musical talents as a player, composer and songwriter have been used on soundtracks for top video games including Redneck Rampage and Quake 3. He's even had cameo appearances on General Hospital, and 21 Jump Street.
The last five years, though challenging for Garrison, have culminated in a new album—1000 Million Miracles, which even in its rough mixes excudes beauty and vocal strength as well as a surprising mix of musical sophistication and immediacy. A blend of rocking roadhouse songs, quiet reflections and even hints of The Beatles and Soundgarden, 1000 Million Miracles is about the human struggle and asks tough questions like "Who are we?" and "Where did we come from?"
Garrison wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album and the musicians are all stellar. For example, jaw dropping fretless bass is played by Trent Stroh, who is best known for his stint with Eddie Money. Drums are played primarily by Todd Sucherman, who has been touring with Styx for the last 15 years, and has been awarded multiple 'Best' prizes by Modern Drummer. Much of the keyboard work on the album is played by American Idol Music Director Matt Rohde, whose touring credits include Christina Aguilera, Maxwell, Jane's Addiction, Jennifer Lopez, Hanson, Alanis Morissette and Isaac Hayes.
I asked Garrison a few questions as he reflected on the last few years and geared up for his upcoming show during Friday's North Pine's Twilight Walk.
Do you think self-reflection is on the decline?
Absolutely. The first line in the title track is, 'She's opposed to sons and daughters...stares out at the road and hits a number, swears her ship is coming in, but I wonder, I wonder.' Of course, technology might be somewhat to blame. We have no time for self reflection with devices attached at the hip demanding our every moment of time, free or otherwise. There's not much thinking involved if one never has to remember a phone number again, or how to add and subtract or even how to express themselves in full flowing sentences.
Meaningful self reflection requires a great deal of effort. What are the benefits?
It leads to satisfaction, peace of mind and muscles. I think I've been charged as being a bit introspective on my previous recordings. I do believe I went a little shallower this time, however not really intentionally.
How has your life had changed since your last album came out in 2003?
I am no longer married nor am I living with my family. I have been through some ordeals like doing time and my mother passing of pancreatic cancer. I left a composing job at FOX TV to care for her in 2010, [which I did] for 6 months. This record is dedicated to her. She was nearly gone when she made me promise to finish the project. It had been so long in the making, and so much and so many were involved. Plus, she loved "Our Last Good Bye," one of the songs written while away at the State-paid recovery. [laughs] It took a while but, in the end, she was very proud...
During the time behind the fence, I wrote several of the songs featured on this recording, all of them relating to my present relationship. I had never written a love song prior. I am back in the graces of my upper-level musician friends—co-workers I guess you could call them—and many of them appear on this recording as well.
You've got some great strong and horn arrangements. Did you write them?
Yes. I didn't take any music classes until my mid-30s and am still shocked when I can remember how to use what I learned, especially after playing live rock and R&B without charts for so many years. My son, who recently graduated from Berklee College of Music, knows so much more, technically, than I do, but I am still his teacher in most areas. He plays drums on one track.
What was it like having your son play on a track on your album?
It was not as awesome as his first full gig with me as my drummer. My cheek muscles were literally, not figuratively or metaphorically, sore the following morning. He is a natural and it is awesome to see. My daughter, who is in the Art program at CSULB, created the cover art for the new CD...It is a miracle that I get to make a living doing what I love.
James Clay Garrison will be performing this Friday night, July 20th, as part of the North Pine Twilight Walk, which runs from 6 to 10 PM. He'll be playing in front of Anderson's Paint & Hardware at 714 North Pine Avenue. Connect with James via facebook, ReverbNation, and on MySpace.