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MUSIC: Ventura County | ROCKTALK

The Lady Is a Tramp

But Rhythm Tramps' Teresa James works hard to succeed in the music business.


Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps will make their monthly appearance when they pack the Cafe Voltaire in Ventura on Saturday night. James is yet another Texas transplant trying to make it big in the rock 'n' roll business here in SoCal; and her debut CD, "The Whole Enchilada," now in it's second pressing, is a Texas two-step in the right direction.

Singer-guitarist James moved west from Houston in 1983 and she still hasn't lost her accent, even though she is a Dodgers fan, at least until the Astros come to town. The Rhythm Tramps have been in existence longer than that.

"The band has been around since 1975, but it was a different version," said James during a recent interview. "Terry Wilson, my husband, started the band when he was living in England. Oh man, there's been a lot of players come and go--that's how they got their name. But actually, I enjoy that because it keeps it fresh."

The Lone Star State has a formidable musical tradition, but James said not all the great musicians are back in Texas. California also rocks.

"There's a lot of great players out here, which at first, was very intimidating. Everyone I met seemed to have played with someone really famous or done something really amazing. This tends to make you rise to the occasion," she said.

Not just Texans but hopeful musicians from all over move out here to be near the center of the music industry. But James doesn't think the L.A. scene itself is so hot. There seem to be more and more venues hiring DJs, cover bands or having karaoke nights, which may or may not take opportunities from the purveyors of original music.

"In the beginning I thought that was so, but I don't think so anymore," she said. "There's just not that much of a live music scene in L.A. anyway. I think there's more interest in live music in, say, Ventura than there is in L.A. People just don't go out to see music that much, and they don't go out late. Maybe there's a glut of good musicians because the club owners don't want to pay any money."

The Rhythm Tramps are totally tight, a certifiable roadhouse attraction, and James has a smoky blues voice that can do justice to Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin or anyone else. But James really shines on the band's originals, written by her husband, the bass player.

"Our music is funky, a little Southern, but it's not country. It's sorta bluesy with a lot of different influences. We have a lot of originals, but on a given night, when we play two or three sets, it's usually about half and half. We do songs by Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin, including a cool reggae version of 'Piece of My Heart,' but most of our covers are pretty obscure."

When she's not playing with the band, James is doing stuff that allows her to keep that night job. She's an in-demand studio musician, plus she's been heard on several television shows. James also stays busy doing commercials, even one for Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.

"I do a lot of studio work, songwriter demos and stuff like that. For a full-time musician, you have to accept more gigs, and I find myself taking anything because it costs a lot of live out here."

The band plays five or six times a month, including a couple of times in Ventura. James, meanwhile, is taking the appropriate steps and hoping that things work out.

"Well, we have a Web site now, and we've hired a lawyer to try to help us shop the album. We want to get more distribution. We also just taped a segment for a new PBS show called 'CD Highway,' which is a show about independent, unsigned recording artists, just like us."

It's not easy being a musician, James said. "People don't realize the fact of how hard you really work. The music part is free--that's the easy part," she said. "But we're always driving somewhere. You load the truck, you drive there and then when you get there, you set up, then play, then tear it down, load it back in the truck, drive home, then unload it all again. The music part is the great part."


Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps at Cafe Voltaire, 43 N. Palm St., Ventura, Saturday night, 9:30 p.m. COST: $3. CALL: (805) 641-1743.

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