Stanley Shapes Life Experiences Into Great Music
By DONNA BALANCIA
James Lee Stanley released a new live album called Alive at Last and it’s more than a live album. It’s a romantic comedy story of his life set to music.
Stanley’s truthful work sums up the highs and lows we all encounter.
But when he talks about his trials and tribulations it’s funny — and hopeful.
James Lee Stanley Stories
“People have said to me, ‘We want to hear the stories,'” said Stanley, whose career has spanned the diverse, including a run as the opener for comedian Steven Wright. “They ask me, ‘What are you, a comedian or a musician?’ Well I’m a little of everything.”
His storytelling style of performance is a rare find in a world filled with cookie-cutter musicians.
At a recent performance at The GRAMMY Museum, Stanley basically stuck to the script and in person and on the album, he takes the listener on a few detours of interest.
Among some of the favorites on the album are “I Don’t Want To Talk About It,” “The Street Where Mercy Died,” and “Racing The Moon,” a touching piece about lost love and teen yearning. His experiences have given him songs that he imparts on lucky listeners and they are more fortunate for his memories.
Stanley produced Alive at Last, which touts the talents of the renowned Chad Watson on Fender bass and Cheryl Prashker on percussion. The album was recorded during a live concert at Morning Star Studios in Spring House, Penn., by Glen Barrett. At The GRAMMY Museum, he was joined by Scott Breadman on percussion.
Stanley’s an interesting cat. This is a guy who actually sat down with Jimmy Buffett and when Buffett told about his new song “Let’s Get Drunk and Screw,” Stanley thought it was a little bit too lowbrow for him.
Years later when Buffett flew into LAX in his private jet, took a private car to his book signing at Brentano’s in Beverly Hills and told Stanley about his life aboard the yacht in the tropics, Stanley had second thoughts.
‘The More I Drink’
So he wrote the audience favorite sing along, “The More I Drink,” which has a chorus of “The more I drink, the less I think. The less I think, the better I feel, the better I feel, the more I drink. I got a system and it works for me.”
A night with Stanley is like visiting with an old pal. He tells stories that cover everything from high school and the girl that got away all the way up to the current day with his beautiful wife. He even mentions a wife or two in between, with the song “Worry About You.”
But Stanley’s got great timing and he really enjoys performing — the audience enjoys him right back. songs on the new album range from tender and sweet to raucous and rowdy and Stanley wouldn’t have it any other way.
He leaves no stone unturned when it comes to telling his life stories, whether in song or not. A part of the hippie generation, there were times when his appearance bugged his family.
Like his Italian grandmother who would give him grief over his long hair and beard, mainly because there was no cheek to pinch buried under all that hair. Years later, when she was on her deathbed, he recalled, her last gasp words were, “But Jimmy why are you wearing an earring?”
‘Alive At Last’
It’s either clever that he recorded his performance or that he’s performing to the album. Either way, if you see a Stanley performance and bring home the CD, it’s a great way to reinforce a great time.
Stanley shares a real camaraderie with the audience, as most of the people who were at The GRAMMY Museum performance appear to know him personally or are big fans.
As for his style in an age of manufactured talents, it’s a lesson for the young. He’s warm with the audience, his voice is so clear and so appealing in tone, and his jokes are actually funny. If we had to guess, it’s a good bet the late 1970s band Seals and Croft lifted his whole style.
But while Stanley is reminiscent of Seals and Croft and also the great storytelling songwriter Jim Croce — his songs are really for today. He sings of politics, even skewering the clerk who refused to sign the wedding documents for gay marriages, a song called “Do It In His Name.”
It’s a dying art what Stanley does and his style is inspiring. He’s a man who tells his story and says others should do the same.
“I would tell young people today to make the music you want to make,” Staney said. “And be proud of everything you do because it follows you for the rest of your life.”