'Jimmy's Premium Bonds'
Go back ten years...
'There are two bands around at the moment who are cleaning up on the club circuit. With the increasing popularity of soul music, the biggest outfits working flat out in Britain are Geno Washington & The Ram Jam Band and, of course, Jimmy James & The Vagabonds. Their success is assured.'
Or so everyone thought at the time, but they didn't reckon with rock & roll. The upsurge in rock during the second half of the Sixties conveniently wiped the dance floor with most of the soulsters. But the see-saw always tips back and with everybody now partying down like crazy, it's only right that out there helping things along are Jimmy James & The Vagabonds.
But although they've been around for a decade or more, it's surprising that their latest record 'I'll Go Where Your Music Takes Me' is in fact their first hit in Britain - although they've had a 'cult' following on both sides of the Atlantic for years.
Naturally it's a very happy Jimmy James who has found fame after years of hard work. While not detracting from Jimmy's talent, a lot of his success must be laid at the feet of British production maestro Biddu, who is hoping Jimmy James will be the vehicle for a repeat ride to the top similar to the one he had with Tina Charles.
But this is not the first teaming of Jimmy James and Biddu; they've had five singles released, the first being 'A Man Like Me', which quickly became a disco classic though it didn't cross over into the pop charts. It's the sort of luck the gentleman has always been up against.
'Happily I've always managed to keep working through all the different changes. When "flower power" rock hit the scene, soul took a slump but we managed to keep going by playing discos and working the cabaret circuit, though there were times when I almost thought about giving it all up,' he confesses.
'I met Carl Douglas back in 1964 and he got involved with Biddu. In fact the whole thing is a sort of family affair.
'I think Geno, who is also a good friend, faded away from the scene because he went to Spain for some time.
'The whole thing with Biddu gives me a lot of confidence because he only deals with a small number of acts and so he can devote a lot of time to each of them.'
That devotion has already resulted in an album called You Don't Stand A Chance If You Can't Dance - a mixture of dance music and 'deep' soul. The single 'I Am Somebody' which was culled from the album made 78 in America's Hot 100 and so helped establish Jimmy James in the States. The new single is also being released there and already getting extensive play in the New York discotheques. Jimmy is the first to hand out credits for this mushrooming popularity after trying to make it for so long.
'I've never worked with a producer like Biddu before,' he says. He knows so much about what he wants from the artist and exactly how to get it. 'The Vagabonds are a four-piece rhythm section that is always changing. The one I have now is a completely different band. This one has been with me for about two years now and I'm hoping to keep it a lot longer.
'Although I've finally got a hit record, and it's my first by the way, it hasn't seemed to have affected me or made that much of an impression so far. I've been trying for a hit in this country for 12 years, and now it's arrived. After that long, you don't go wild immediately.'
But Jimmy does let his hair down on stage, where the accent is very much on party time: 'We try and get a happy-go-lucky feel and involve the audience in the music. We like everyone to be one. But although it's essentially a happy sound, we also like to get a variety of songs in - fast disco dancers and soul ballads. We'll feature that variety on the next album, which is almost finished.'
Jimmy James is an example to all the struggling hopefuls these days who think they may never make those much coveted charts. 'You've just got to grit your teeth and keep on trying,' is how he explains it.
After all, who knows what might happen in the next ten years?
Tips for the Top
Tips for the Top