Steve James and his National

Photo by Kirsten Mohan

‘Life is a thin thread
It’s a thin little hand on a hospital bed
It’s all of the things that you’ve left unsaid
Life is a thin thread
It’s a fine line between loving and not
Between holding it back or giving all that you’ve got
Feeling you’re free thinking you’re caught
It’s a fine line’

Thin Thread

By Connie Kaldor

Sometimes it just hard to keep the threads connected. It’s easy to take for granted that there will always be time for one more stitch but there is never enough time and the unfinished fabric always leaves me wishing I had done more.

Vanessa and I got an email from Cindy Cashdollar up in Woodstock telling us that our friend Steve James had just passed away. For those of you who were fortunate enough to hear Steve manifest his art you know that you heard one of the great ones. A tradition based resophonic player, he was never fettered by tradition. I remember him and Bill Kirchen jamming together at the Fur Peace Station more than a decade ago and marveling at his ability to move seamlessly through styles and genres.

When I would play Seattle if he was in town he would stop by and we would just talk and invite our souls. We didn’t hang out often and we didn’t work the same circuit but we inhabited the same world. I was so taken by his art that I would frequently visit his website to see where in the world he was and what in the world he was up to. There was never any grass growing under his feet.

He was a renaissance man on many levels. A writer, composer, player, luthier, guitar broker and probably many other things I was unaware of. He was also my friend.

All of his recorded work is worth listening to. That said, there is a tune on his American Primitive album called Talco Girl that for some reason required that I listen to the song frequently. Aside from the stunning guitar accompaniment the lyrics are more than a movie… they are a miniseries.

So I sit at my kitchen table in our house on top of the hill in Ohio and I quietly reflect on the passing of another friend.

Fair winds and following seas brother… fair winds and following seas!

YouTube link for Steve James Talco Girl


  1. Comment made on July 9, 2023 by John Aengus

    Hello… I feel a bit behind the times. I just found out Steve passed in January. I have been dealing with my own health issues and was not paying as much attention to the new as I clearly should have been.

    I knew Steve from right after he ended up in Austin. For several years we lived only a few blocks apart on the same street in South Austin. I was blessed to be his friend. And fan. I saw Steve play many times. probably well over 100 shows just in the Austin years.

    And had the pleasure to hire him to play at a festival I used to produce.

    We became pretty good friends and stayed in touch over the years.

    After Steve moved to Seattle, we synced up again. I had moved to Washington by then.

    I got to see him perform with Del Ray a couple of times at Dusty Strings.. amazing shows.

    And I got to hang out with him for a couple of quality days last year. There was a Guitar Show in Tacoma at the Tacoma dome. There were something like 150 guitar dealers there. I had a booth and was selling some of my old vintage instruments. I invited Steve to share the booth with me and he readily agreed.

    we got to hang out, have dinner, tell and listen to stories.. it was a lot of fun. We caught up on all the gossip. Exchanged stories about where all our old South Austin friends had ended up.

    Steve sold a few of his guitars and did quite well at the show. lol.. I sold zero. But got to have Steve in my booth for the entire weekend.

    Steve was a great friend.

    RIP buddy. Will miss you.

  2. Comment made on January 15, 2023 by Ham Neggs


  3. Comment made on January 15, 2023 by BrendanC

    @Ham Neggs

    If this were baseball season, you might have jinxed Burrow, Ham. Cincy plays tonight. Everyone between 17 and 30 looks the same to me, too.

  4. Comment made on January 15, 2023 by Ham Neggs

    Sorry for everyone’s grief,may it be good.
    But Jorma that gentleman from I🔥 Izzy’s High School dusted himself off quite nicely last night and showed poise under pressure,
    Peace✌🏻️❤️Love All Ways🔥🚲🌹🙏🏻🖖🏼

  5. Comment made on January 14, 2023 by Chappy

    Excited to see Dave Alvin and his band scheduled for FPR in July! I just ordered tix and look forward to getting back to the Ranch and SE Ohio for a visit.

    Also, if any folks in DC/MD/NoVa area are not aware, Eric Brace & Last Train Home are playing their 3rd and final show of their mini-reunion tour tonight (Saturday 1/14/23) at the Birchmere. They played to a sold out house at the Tin Pan in Richmond last night. The band was in top form and played 2 great sets. Some good stories about the late Peter Cooper, Tom T. Hall, and Duane Eddy. Sure wish they’d get together more often. Be sure to go see em live if you get the chance…an outstanding band.

    Lastly, just finishing up a biography on the late great steel guitar player Buddy Emmons (by Steve Fishell). I heard about the book via Jim & Buddy show on XM a few weeks back. Great read…entertaining and informative…so much history and a lot of good stories.

  6. Comment made on January 13, 2023 by Greg Martelli

    Watching an Eric Clapton DVD
    The lady in the balcony
    The lockdown sessions .
    Not shabby

  7. Comment made on January 13, 2023 by Brian Doyle

    Carey: I left a message on your phone…

  8. Comment made on January 13, 2023 by Kevin

    Check out this self taught 6 year old boy. Leonardo Patrick!!!

  9. Comment made on January 13, 2023 by carey georgas

    @Brian Doyle
    How hard you having to try? Been a while to still be haggling. Property/Casualty was my bailiwick in my not so distant working past. If you need suggestions or a sounding board I offer advice gratis.

  10. Comment made on January 12, 2023 by Brian Doyle

    The weather down here on Sanibel has been heavenly…Cool dry nights with warm sun and 75 degrees in the day…The island is still devastated with debris…The wheels of reconstruction are turning slowly…House is a total loss…Trying to get insurance company to agree…

  11. Comment made on January 12, 2023 by BrendanC

    I’m sorry for your loss, Jorma.

    I don’t recall the late Mr. James’ music. I’m reminded of John Mayall’s ode to Ellmore, titled Mr. James. I lived near the Falcon Cafe when my Mother, Anne, passed from this life. The lovely and immensely talented Ms Cashdollar led Monday sessions there with her synchopators, a solid group of class musicians doing justice to America’s songbook. I attended a good number of their shows, which eased my grief. Woodstock listening and dancing quite nicely, especially to waltzes. Anne liked to dance. Thanks, Cindy. Check out her calendar, guys. I was introduced to her artistry and musicianship through her playing Turning Point Cafe with Jorma, Mike & Pete, and later a Hot Tuna Beacon show.

  12. Comment made on January 12, 2023 by JB

    More shredding from Jeff

  13. Comment made on January 12, 2023 by carey georgas

    Kinda weird having tributes to one deceased guitarist seep into a post lamenting the passing of another. Just weird, that’s all. Another sign of the times for people of a certain age, perhaps.

  14. Comment made on January 12, 2023 by mikie

    Jeff at his best:

  15. Comment made on January 11, 2023 by Chappy

    Saddened to hear of JB’s passing. He was awesome! He didn’t tour often so I feel fortunate to have seen him a few times over the years…most recently at EC’s Crossroads Festival in 2019 and back in the day when he did a co-headline tour with Stevie Ray Vaughan (late 80’s show at Hara Arena in Dayton, OH) and a co-headline tour with Carlos Santana (early 90’s show at Blossom in Cleveland). His work from Yardbirds through Jeff Beck Group and solo albums has been amazing.

  16. Comment made on January 11, 2023 by Greg Martelli

    RIP Jeff Beck ,obscure but cool is his guitar on Donovan’s Barabajagal

    Great scene in Claptons crossroad DVD ,this one in Chicago .Bill Murray sports an Eric Clapton 68 Cream era Afro Wig .
    He gives a singularly clever intro to his professed favorite guitar God , Jeff Beck takes stage resplendent in bone necklace ,and proceeds to provide 10 minutes of Jeff Beck inspired and executed Jeff Beck guitar .
    Truly unique interpretation of guitar .
    With Bogart & Apiece ?

  17. Comment made on January 11, 2023 by Rob

    @Dan Nigro

    I’m stunned. His playing in the 2020s was every bit as groundbreaking as his playing in the 1960s. A monumental loss.

  18. Comment made on January 11, 2023 by Dan Nigro

    Holy crap, Jeff Beck just joined that heavenly band

  19. Comment made on January 11, 2023 by carey georgas

    I’d say perhaps I got carried away with my assumption. Still real cool story. I left Austin right as the pot was beginning to simmer good, late ‘74, and went back to the Pineywoods. That book I referenced above is a good ‘un. I lucked across it in this tiny bookstore in League City. If you can find it, it’s the finest compendium of contributors to the Texas blues evolution I ever seen.

  20. Comment made on January 11, 2023 by Robert Neal

    @carey georgas
    I never shook his hand . I should have said Steve introduced me to their music. I did see Mance perform but we never met. Mance could get in the groove with the best of them for sure. I remember reading that LBJ was even a fan.

  21. Comment made on January 10, 2023 by carey georgas

    @Robert Neal
    You got to shake Mance Lipscomb’s hand? Man, that’s way past cool. He was as roots as it gets. His adult life until he turned sixty was farming and playing music on Saturday nights around his own little county (Grimes). Didn’t get recorded until he was 60. Died and is buried where he was born. Don’t get more country than that, folks. That’s as close to someone who had memories of the field chants as you’ll ever get, Robert. Thanks for sharing.

    Side note: Quoting an interview with Lipscomp done in 1972 from “Texas Blues” by Alex Grovenar: “Now when I get to playin’ (sic), I go out of the bounds of reason because I don’t like to stop. As long as it look like they payin’ attention to me, I can play all night for them”. He was referring to sometimes starting at 8:00 on Saturday night and playing straight through to anywhere from 4:00 to sometimes late as 11:00 Sunday morning. Sound familiar?

  22. Comment made on January 10, 2023 by Robert Neal

    Thanks for that very fitting poem.
    I was introduced to Steve by the late great Larry Monroe on the radio show he hosted here in Austin. It was always a treat when Steve was on his morning show. The songs and the stories were always something to enjoy because he was such a great guest. I became a big fan of Steve’s music, and would go to the clubs to see his shows here, he introduced me to Sam McGee, Mance Lipscomb, and Furry Lewis. Names I was familiar with but had not studied. He was a great teacher as well as musician, always sharing the gift of music.
    I would check his website on occasion just to check in on him.
    A true renaissance man indeed.
    A member of The Texas Music Legends Hall of Fame.
    What a wonderful human.

  23. Comment made on January 8, 2023 by Chris Babey

    I vividly remember Steve from my first visit to the Ranch in Fall ’99 as an amiable, dynamic, charitable guy and a great spirit. I think he spent almost as much time with our class (Jorma’s) as he did with his own and he made an effort to involve everybody. I still remember his brilliant litany of the different types of seventh chords and still use the info he shared with us on getting all of our instruments insured at a reasonable cost. I fondly recollect his colorful tales of working as a roadie for Mississippi John Hurt and vividly recall evening jams on the porch of the ranch where he played his National for hours. I remember Vanessa practically rolling on the floor when he would substitute place lyrics form his blues with the location of Fur Peace Ranch where he was currently singing. He was a true troubadour, a mensch, and a master of the folk process.

  24. Comment made on January 7, 2023 by carey georgas

    Had to add a little addendum to that last post. When I listened to that song, I says to myself, “if he ain’t from Texas, he’s been here”. So, I’m following him down the YouTube hole and come across him doing a song called “Freestone County Blues”. He introduces it as a song by Lemon Jefferson, who was born and raised in Freestone County, TX and a mentor to a young Lightnin’ Hopkins from nearby Leon County. Sure enough, the piece in Acoustic Guitar says Mr. James came to Texas in ‘92 and lived here for a while. Obviously did some studying on primitive Texas blues.

  25. Comment made on January 7, 2023 by carey georgas

    Thank you for that moving tribute to your friend. He was unknown to me, but when I went and listened to Talco Girl, it was like I’d been listening to him all my life. Townes Van Zandt came first to mind. Mr. James was obviously the superior guitarist, but the song itself sounded Townes/Guy Clark-ish. “Let Him Roll” is a song about a girl from Dallas. I found this tribute as I followed him down the search engine hole: I’ll be hearing more of his stuff starting tonight. Peace.

  26. Comment made on January 7, 2023 by Chappy

    Thanks, Jorma. Will be spinning Steve’s “Art & Grit” album with my coffee on Sunday morning in tribute.

  27. Comment made on January 7, 2023 by Joey Hudoklin

    So sorry. I love the poem at the top of your post.
    It touches me.

  28. Comment made on January 7, 2023 by Wes

    Och, that is hard news.

    I’ve been going through his book and the associated lessons as I can.

    I got the song I played at the student performance at Sanibel (Spanish Fandango) from watching his video.

    Was just starting to delve into his recordings.

  29. Comment made on January 7, 2023 by Pete

    Talco Girl – One of the first songs I listened to when I heard the news. Thanks for introducing me to his music. Listening again…

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