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Really good and supremely confident turns by an artist on their debut records are a rarity but usually a sign of a long and rewarding career.

But in this case it’s the prelude to an enduring mystery of sorts… the start of a long and winding journey of a fascinating, if ultimately tragic, figure who was a really creative person who should be far better known for his music than he is.

Every story has to start someplace but nobody, including James Waynes himself, would’ve believed everything that was revealed about his future when looking into the crystal ball.

Come And Let Me Look Into Your Hand
Trying to piece together the life story of James Waynes is both a lesson in futility because of all of the wild stories he himself told and a lesson in compassion because of what ultimately became his fate when he was wrongly arrested for arson and attempted murder.

Committed to mental facility by a justice system that couldn’t believe this man was a once famous musician who might in fact be telling the truth and chalked up his litany of wild tales to delusions of grandeur, locking him away for seven years after deeming him legally insane and a threat to society.

But while his story was hard to believe, what is undeniably true was that he a very proficient musician with great songwriting ability, a good voice and an intoxicating singer who just might also have trained as commando which enabled him to be able to easily dodge bullets… one of many stories that strain credulity but can’t be written off entirely given what else we know.

But focusing just on his music, Gypsy Blues shows from the very start that he wasn’t crazy at all when it came to crafting really good, really interesting and really haunting work.


Created Many Years Ago
Stylistically this record could fit into a number of slots, yet still not be a comfortable inclusion in any of them. Bluesy, but definitely not blues. Jazzy without any of it being accentuated. Rock by virtue of its utter determination to exist on its own terms even if it eschews most of its dominant traits.

This recording remains a case of musical miscegenation at its finest – undefinable other than to say it’s welcome wherever people seek out music that stimulates your senses and stir your imagination.

Gypsy Blues takes its sweet time in telling its story, a semi-romantic look at the wandering fortune tellers that held such allure in the imagination (its culturally insensitive title at was commonplace at the time and simply passed off as a catch-all term for this sort of figure).

With its vibrant piano opening leading into lazy New Orleans-styled horns which set a vivid atmosphere, Waynes slowly spins a tale whose thematic mysteries are heightened by the meandering pace he chooses, building anticipation to see where he takes it.

Essentially it’s a character study as he’s placing himself in the role of the soothsayer and creating a cryptic aura around the figure, heightening the allure by leaving you guessing if and when the story is going to take a turn into more of a plot driven narrative. That it never does might be disappointing if what you were after was some sort of set-up, conflict and resolution, but the performance is so utterly disarming that even just a scenic tour through the outskirts of his imagination is worth the trip.


Nothing Goes On That I Don’t Know
Waynes’ voice here is a lot more traditionally melodic than his better known songs over the years where he tended to use a choppy rhythmic patter rather than this kind of melodic crooning. It’s really distinctive too, a slightly higher pitched metallic whine that a young Johnny “Guitar” Watson would feature in a few years time, a sound so captivating that it gives this an almost magnetic pull.

He’s somebody you want to hear more from and his enigmatic delivery only heighten that interest. In a period where straightforward rockers, yearning love songs and mournful laments of regret made up the overwhelming majority of rock songs, Gypsy Blues is a beguiling stylistic curveball that is mesmerizing the more you focus on deciphering each facet of the record.

Musically it’s no less intriguing. Though this isn’t something we’ve talked about too much other than when the recording techniques are so primitive that listening to the finished product is a chore, with this we have to single out the engineering which is first rate.

In fact this might just be the single best technical recording we’ve heard to date. The piano sounds so full, its tones so rich, that you swear the microphone is suspended right inside the instrument, inches away from the hammers hitting the strings. The horns too are mic’d so well that you can make out the textures of the notes even when they’re only playing softly in the background before rising up in volume for the breaks.

As for the vocals, Waynes’ voice reverberates as if he were in a futuristic sound booth even though this was cut at a time where he was surely live on the floor with no echo or delay to help create the effect. Considering that Sittin’ In With’s owner Bobby Shad was notorious for recording artists on a portable units he hauled around in the back of his car (something CLEARLY not the case here), it’s a travesty that we can’t pin down the studio and engineer for this to give full credit. It sounds amazing.

But so too does the song and performance itself. Highly unusual maybe, but all the more interesting because of it.

I Told Many Fortunes
Rock ‘n’ roll’s enduring appeal stems from a lot of different factors of course, but one that can never get enough credit is how unique it was always able to remain even when broader trends seemed to define it to the masses.

That so many idiosyncratic artists were able to find a home within its borders and thrive despite their inability or unwillingness to conform to the dominant identity of the genre is what allowed rock to not only withstand changing tastes that threaten to curtail any music’s popularity, but to lead the way into new uncharted territory time and time again simply because there was no limit to what you were allowed to try.

Gypsy Blues may never have led to a new widespread movement and Waynes may have just remained a quirky figure in its ranks, but both were indicative of the vibrant nature of rock ‘n’ roll when the normal rules of the game were discarded along with everything else.

There was nobody in this field telling you what you could and couldn’t do and so for someone as full of fantastical ideas as James Waynes, he’d found the perfect home for his talents. This particular record may not be something that has instantaneous appeal to everybody listening but it was something which added immeasurably to the ever deeper textures that rock ‘n’ roll was building and for that reason alone is a welcome addition to the story.


(Visit the Artist page of James Waynes for the complete archive of his records reviewed to date)