James Sallis: Music
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James Sallis, Musician

For many years, as he played country music in bars in and around Dallas, Jim also wrote prodigously about music, publishing dozens of articles in such magazines as Frets, Bluegrass Unlimited, Pickin', Mugwumps, Texas Jazz and Steel Guitarist, editing two anthologies about jazz guitar, and writing a study of guitarists' guitarists, The Guitar Players.

Jim is a founding member of Three-Legged Dog, a trio who frequently cart their 18 or 20 instruments to concerts and music festivals in the Phoenix area to play a wild mix of oldtime mountain music, vintage country, blues, old jazz, gospel, Cajun, calypso and originals that sound like all the above on guitars, banjos, mandolins, Dobro and Hawaiian guitar, fiddle, cello, bouzouki, accordion, harmonica, fretless electric and string bass, musical saw, jaw harp, mandocello and whatever else they find lurking in closets. The band's website is three-legged-dog.net; here you'll find bios, photos, sound clips and complete songs, accessible also via their Facebook page.

Jim plays solo sets of acoustic blues, sits in from time to time with bluegrass bands and other groups, and regularly accompanies singer-songwriter Linda Bilque on Dobro, banjo, Weissenborn and mandolin, both in concert and on her CDs.

Recently he had one of his old favorites restored, a triple-neck National steel from the 40s that he played back in Dallas days, and is valiantly trying to reintroduce himself to tunings like C6, B11, and E13th.

Aside from articles for specialty music magazines, Jim's writing on music includes the following:

The Guitar Players: One Instrument and Its Masters in American Music (New York: William Morrow, 1982; Lincoln, Nebraska, and London: Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, 1994, rev. ed.). This had its origin in Jim's desire to find out about the players that other guitarists always mentioned but who remained obscure, people like Lonnie Johnson, George Barnes and Hank Garland, but as he wrote his way in, Jim began to realize how much more there was to it: that he was telling the story of the parallel development of specifically American musical styles (country, blues, jazz, rock) and of the guitar as solo instrument.

Jazz Guitars: An Anthology (New York: William Morrow, 1984). Following Guitar Players and also from Morrow, an anthology comprising reprints and specially-commissioned pieces, all of them written by working musicians. "In American music, all roads lead to jazz."

The Guitar in Jazz (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1996) began as an updating of Jazz Guitars for University of Nebraska Press and developed into a new book, truly a gorgeous volume.

Jim's essay "Gone So Long" is about growing up in rural Arkansas listening to black music and becoming a writer. Jim's hometown, Helena, Arkansas, was in the forties an essential blues town. Everyone passed through: Roosevelt Sykes, Son House, Skip James. Robert Johnson lived there a while. Robert Nighthawk came from there. Sonny Boy Williamson was still around, playing daily over radio station KFFA.

"Mr. Johnson's Blues," on the amazing Lonnie Johnson, is a chapter from The Guitar Players.

The essay "Taking the Stage" (included in Jim's essay collection Gently into the Land of the Meateaters), is about his years playing country-music clubs in downtown Dallas.

"Demons and Mr. Cinq-Mars," also collected in Gently, recalls the profound influence Jim's band leader had on him — as musician, as teacher, and as the first and ever-enduring example of the creative life.

 


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