James Willhite's Mellow Music

by Cindy-jo Dietz

I MET UP WITH THE BOYS from The James Willhite Band at one of my favorite eateries in Bonita Springs, the C-Grape Coffee & Wine Bar. Outside under the white canopy, as sunset quickly approached, we set up camp and began the interview. Several times the noise of grumbling motorcycle engines would whizz by and off again into the distance, heading lazily to and from the beach. The heat was moderate and brought with it the occasional unwelcome mosquito, despite spite this, the sun did go down and the interview went brilliantly.

Although the group is named after their lead singer, James Willhite, the drummer, Ross Friend, was more in the forefront when it came to discussing the band. James himself would interject from time to time, but he seemed to be a man of few words — at least when it came to being interviewed. A current addition to the group, Daniel Navarro on bass couldn’t make the interview.

These folks are all about the music and the people they are fortunate enough to meet through performances. “If people like what we’re doing and they get something from it, that’s more important to me,” explains James, referencing the pursuit of fame.

If you are not familiar with them, The James Willhite Band is a local group from Bonita Springs and Naples. They frequently play C-Grape, providing a menagerie of cover songs in the vein of Coldplay, Radiohead, John Mayer, etc. When asked what style they would categorize their originals, Ross explains it as a mixture, “blues influenced contemporary rock.” Beyond their 3-5 regular gigs a month, the band stays busy by hosting open mike night at C-Grape every Sunday. They also play regularly at the Bayshore Coffee Company in Naples and have recently been featured on WGCU 90.1 FM, performing live and talking about the recent release of “Little Girl (Alexander’s Song)” and “The Ring Around The Moon.”

I asked the guys how they felt their new songs differ from older releases such as “Must Be Love”, “Callous” and “No Dream for Sale”. Ross explained, “Those three songs were electric, more of that full band sound. The new songs are more intimate, acoustic with percussion”. James adds, “It feels like now it’s more pop-rock with some guitar. I think it’ll be a little bit louder and crazier in the future.” “One thing that’s changed since “Must Be Love” and “Callous” is that the songs have evolved by playing them live over and over,” says Ross. “To record them again, they’d be different. We think they’re better. That’s why people should see us live”.

The JWB band is laid back, with a quiet grace compared to many of the local bands. I found it easy to sit and enjoy a drink five feet from center stage and not feel as if my head would explode from the volume. Their music is great for the coffee house scene. It’s mellow, easy to chill out to and has a genuinely poetic message. The vocals are smooth and brings to mind the sound of Dave Matthews, John Mayer and Jack Johnson. With Ross holding up the rhythm on cajón it’s hard not to be brought back to the 60’s. This is great beach party, bon-fire theme music.

JWB has been together just a short year and a half, playing in the past with local musicians such as Erin Ronsen and Ben Roth. The lineup has changed slightly, but the focus remains the same. I was curious as to how the band got its start and where they thought they would be heading in the future. Ross explains, “The beginning was late 2007, at Starbucks in Estero. I was playing percussion with Mandarin Road. This nervous guy named James Willhite waltzed in with his guitar, played a few songs, then disappeared into the night. A week later he answered my Craigslist ad.”

So, what about the future? The guys say they aren’t worried about that. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. But we’re putting effort in every single day,” assures Ross.

Does JWB have any advice for struggling musicians trying to make a start in the community? Ross advises, “Find people you click with. People you would consider being friends with, not just in a working environment, and go to open mics. You’re always going to get better if you are playing live, on a microphone in front of people, instead of just in your bedroom.”

In reference to promoting the band, Ross put it bluntly, “The key is being concise and organized”. A few laughs and many questions later, it was time to let the guys get back to setting up for that night’s gig.
For more information about The James Willhite Band visit www.myspace.com/jameswillhitemusic81. You can see The James Willhite Band videos on www.youtube.com/JamesWillhiteMusic. James Willhite’s EP, The Story Unfolds, is available on iTunes. There are plans for a new release soon •

from the September-October 2009 issue

James Willhite

the James Willhite Band

"One thing that's changed
since our EP is that
the songs have evolved
by playing them live
over and over."

The Story Unfolds EP
is available on iTunes.