Seen live, Armstrong has a confident stage presence that combines grace with mischief. Few blues artists know how to play the crowd as James can, shifting dynamics from a whisper to a growl. Wherever he travels around the world his magnetism continues to hush a noisy rabble or entice a crowd to follow him out into the street or down the length of a beach. Little wonder he’s been dubbed: The Ambassador of the Blues.
Guitarist, singer and songwriter James Armstrong was born to play the blues. His mother was a blues singer. His father played jazz guitar. Born in Los Angeles, California, Armstrong formed his first band in the seventh grade and by the age of 17 he was touring the country. Today he travels the world and continues to infuse his voice and guitar playing with his unique personality and seasoned skills.
In his twenties James was the youngest guitar player to play in Smokey Wilson’s legendary band. James also helped form a band in Southern California called Mama Roo. That collaboration resulted in an album of the same name, and his first recording contract with Crescendo Records. In the early 90’s James got plenty of exposure to his musical influences, including Albert Collins, who spent quality time with James and taught him a few tricks. Shortly after that he was discovered and signed by HighTone Records owner Bruce Bromberg who found Robert Cray, and Joe Louis Walker.
Then, just as he was about to tour with his critically acclaimed first album Sleeping With A Stranger, tragedy struck. The events surrounding a home invasion left Armstrong without the use of his left hand and arm, including permanent nerve damage. This threatened to end his career forever. But, thanks to the support of friends, fans and the blues community Armstrong came back two years later with a second album, Dark Night.
What Armstrong lost in the tragedy he gained in “a whole new respect for the music itself, the power in slow blues, how the silences between the notes are as important as the notes”. Armstrong also turned his efforts to perfecting his songwriting, vocal and slide guitar skills, all the while developing his gift for turning hardship into song. The results were a third album, Got It Goin’ On. The CD garnered two WC Handy award nominations for best blues guitarist and for best song of the year with Pennies and Picks. The CD, Got It Goin’ On, with its new grooves and surprises, was praised by critics for its part in redefining the blues and keeping the genre alive.
Over the years Armstrong has performed in many countries including North America, Europe, Scandinavia, Asia and the Middle East. He has worked beside Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, Chaka Khan, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout, Tommy Castro, Roy Brown, Shemekia Copeland, Charlie Musselwhite, Ricky Lee Jones, Joe Louis Walker, Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix’s drummer), Peter Tork (The Monkees), and Jan & Dean, just to name a few.