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Kenny James:
A Glance Back in Time


By Jennifer



   Just for a minute or two, imagine a jukebox shooting out songs as 20 poodle skirts sway to the music. Do you remember the days of leather jackets & rebels, hula hoops & sock hops, I Love Lucy & a young, hip-swiveling rock & roller, known simply as Elvis? If you do remember those times, or even if your knowledge of the 50's begins and ends with Grease, Kenny James will take you back to that era in about two seconds as he performs his unbeatable tribute to Buddy Holly.
   From the moment Kenny runs through the aisle, making his first appearance of the night, he immediately holds the crowd in the palm of his hand, or rather in the pocket of his crisp, 50's style jacket. At once, Kenny shows a lively personality as he skillfully picks his electric guitar. While giving his highly feel-good performance, his upbeat attitude seems to rub off on almost everyone in the audience, as everyone claps and hums along with him. As the segment continues, you might even catch yourself quietly singing along to "That'll Be the Day."
   Soon after walking onstage, he begins singing one of the many beloved tunes from the "Father of Rock & Roll," and Kenny truly sounds identical to the original recordings. It's amazing! Kenny hits each note and phrases each lyric just like Buddy Holly. Regarding this, Kenny says, "I did have to work on the Buddy voice to get the right dialect. His phrasing was the most important. Our range is similar but I had to work on his accent. It's funny because I had a little bit of that coming from Indiana. Some of us up there do have a little slang to our talk. When I moved to Las Vegas I worked in an acting class and was taught proper diction. Buddy being my career I just lost it and went back to the accent. Weird how things work out."
   Also, when Kenny is singing, the audience can soon imagine what it felt like to see Buddy Holly live on American Bandstand or The Ed Sullivan Show. Still, Kenny doens't just replay the old times. Instead, he makes every song fresh and new with his lively renditions. For example, "Peggy Sue" is the same catchy rock & roll hit that it's always been known for, but Kenny-- with his brilliant guitar playing and "Holly" voice-- gives his own special kick to the song.
   Kenny also has a knack for capturing the Ritchie Cunningham innocence of the 50's with his whole attitude and the way he sings each song. The best example might be "Everyday," one of the crowd favorites. With sincerity, Kenny displays a sweetness and simplicty through his great voice. Brian Bliss adds a touch of innocence with his beautiful piano solo. And the Three Inspirations softly back-up the song with almost angelic voices, so that the final effect is nothing short of beautiful.
   And it's a fact: you have to like this guy. He is genuinely nice, and it's obvious that he cares about the crowds as well. By making eye contact with the audience, as the the other performers at Memories do, he shows the crowds that they are important to him. Also, the people who work at Memories obviously love him too. In the case of Josh Livingston, aka Jake Blues, he appreciates him because "(Kenny) has helped me out a lot."
   And no doubt about it. Kenny is extremely talented, and because of this, he has had the opportunity to work with many classic music acts. "I have had the luck and honor of working with, and meeting with, some of the greats. The Drifters, The Coasters, Chubby Checker, Tommy James and the Shondells and in the country field Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson. They all have had an effect on me. I've learned from each person on how to conduct yourself on and off stage. The most pleasant surprise was learning that most of them are Christian also. It made me realize that you can be a Christian and still perform rock and roll and not worry about people thinking your the old cliche of what is portrayed by so many. Marty Stuart was the best. We talked and I jokingly told him that when we meet again that its going to be when I am walking off stage and he is walking on. Meaning I was going to be his opening act. Then I said no he is going to open for me. He stopped and told me that I have a good attitude and the right heart. He said at that point 'If you know it's out on you to do and it's in your heart, the Lord put it there and if you work with Him then you will make it.' I felt that to be a huge statement and always refer to that when I feel I need a kick in the pants."
   Another terrific aspect to Kenny's act is that he is so active! He goes all over the stage, like Lou Vuto, on almost every song. Josh Livingston says that Kenny "can't stand still," which shows that Kenny is almost constantly active when he performs his highly energy-packed segment.
   One more highlight in Kenny's act is when he includes jokes and other dialogue in-between songs to smoothly bridge the parts of his segment. Jarrod Millsaps, Memories resident Elwood Blues, decribes Kenny as a "comical person," while Josh Livingston further describes Kenny as "funny (and a) great entertainer."
   So it's safe to say that Kenny James is a class act. He is definitely blessed with many talents: a wonderful voice, excellent guitar skills, a great wit, and an overall nice nature. The audiences at Memories Theatre should thank Kenny James for using his wingtip shows to step back to the 50's for a few minutes every night.