Boney James still a hot draw

Published on October 11th, 2018

By Jim Dail

It is often fascinating how careers can begin.

For Grammy winning saxman Boney James, it was the fulfillment of someone else’s need, at first.

“For a brief period, from the time I was 8 until I was 10, I played the clarinet and that was it,” he said. “I didn’t know much about the sax, but my music teacher needed a sax player for the band and once I did it I was really listening to all these popular songs and it became my favorite thing.”

James will close out the 2018 Thornton Winery Champagne Jazz Series on Saturday night.

“My first sax was an alto, then it was a tenor in high school then soprano around there,” he said.

He’d been inspired by much of the music, especially R & B, during the ‘70s.

“In terms of my eclectic taste, I grew up in the ‘70s and on the radio you could hear so many kinds of music compared to now,” he said. “Classic bands like Earth Wind and Fire were doing a lot with horns and you even had a hit pop record from Average White Band with ‘Pick up the Pieces.’ There was all that sax on James Taylor and Carly Simon songs, and great stuff by Grover Washington and the Crusaders who were really incorporating some funky rhythms. It was a great time to play.”

But he wasn’t even planning a music career, which is a surprise when one considers his success. He has won four Grammies, as well as Soul Train and NAACP awards. All of his albums have reached the upper part of the contemporary jazz charts, most going to Number 1.

“I didn’t think I would be a musician,” he said. “It was only between my freshman and sophomore year [At UCLA where he was a history major] where I considered it seriously. I was already studying something else, so I had my degree to fall back on.”

James was part of numerous bands and touring groups behind Morris Day, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Caldwell and Teena Marie. From there it has been a stellar career.

“I got an interesting career and a small group of fans that think I’m a legend and a group that has never heard of me until they see me live,” he said. “It’s always great to win new converts. I played in Vegas at a casino and there were my core fans and then people wandering in and people who had never seen me before. I am definitely still looking to expand my audience.”

And how does he do that?

“I just keep doing what I am doing, trying to ride the winds of show biz and the media and all that and the job is to spread my music and increase people’s awareness and try to engage the audience,” he said.

That includes new music as well.

“Each record is all about the songs and the melody,” he said. “The freshness is key to me. At the same time, I am not trying to re-invent anything. I’m just me.”

His most recent album, “Honestly,” was yet another hit for him. It might be that time again for another one.

“The studio is always cyclical, generally speaking,” he said. “After I turn something in, there’s about 6 months before I want to think about it. It really is an intense experience making a record.”

But now there’s that feeling that it may be time.

“It’s been a year since the last record, and I’m starting to dust stuff off,” he said. “The wheels start to spin and the next thing you know you are galloping full speed. It’s something that happens by itself.”

And while cognizant of changes in the music industry, it doesn’t affect him one bit when it comes to recording.

“I’m making music and writing songs regardless of what’s going on in the show business world,” he said.

Part of that is the stage presence.

“Whenever I’m on stage, people can see I am enjoying myself,” he said. “I do love being up there and I let that hang out. In terms of constructing a show, that’s a muzzle you can develop over time. I think I’ve improved. In terms of being a natural performer, I’ve always had that same feeling of being in contact with the band and the crowd and there’s something, a power you get.”

And don’t forget the trademark hat.

“I think it’s good to have a little mystique costume,” he laughed. “In real life I’m kind of an introvert. I am sort of a quiet, introspective person. I think a lot of performers, like Michael Jackson, are not super entertaining when you get them away from the stage. For me, I just try to be myself and it works for me.”


When:  7 p.m., Saturday, October 13

Where: Thornton Winery, Temecula

Admission: General admission: Sold out, Gourmet supper: Sold out

Information: Call 951-699-3021 or visit Website,


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