Coming from a family of traditional singers in southeastern Kentucky, James Reams has played both old-time and bluegrass music since he was just a little sprout. There were traditional singers on both sides of his family, and his father played in a string band. James migrated north in his mid-teens when his family moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, where he stayed until he moved to Brooklyn, New York in the early 1980s. In 1982 James arrived at New York's Port Authority Bus Terminal, carrying two cardboard boxes and two pairs of work shoes...looking for a better life, having left behind a dead-end job in an agricultural supply store in Wisconsin. At first, in his scramble to survive, he didn't play much music. But when he did, those who heard his authentic Kentucky mountain sound encouraged him to play more.
Before long, he started producing albums beginning with his first release "Kentucky Songbird" in 1994, followed by "The Blackest Crow" and "The Mysterious Redbirds" in 2000. He formed the Barnstormers in 1993 and released the first James Reams & The Barmstormers CD "Barnstormin'" in 2001. Teaming up with reknowned banjo player, Walter Hensley, resulted in the release of "James Reams, Walter Hensley & the Barons of Bluegrass" in 2002, an album that received an IBMA nomination for Recording Event of the Year and earned James an IBMA nomination as Emerging Artist of the Year.
In 2005, James Reams & The Barnstormers cut loose with the CD "Troubled Times" which included a feature length documentary of the band entitled "Rollin On" and a preview of the DVD documentary "Pioneers of Bluegrass" expected to be released in 2013. Combining talents with Walter Hensley again in 2006 produced the album "Wild Card", that had reviewers singing James' praise. "This new recording features songs old and new, borrowed and definitely bluegrass. James Reams has a deep baritone voice that wraps itself around the emotion of a song and won’t let go." ~ B. Hough of CBA and “… another fine collaboration from James Reams and Walter Hensley. The result is an album full of spirited, traditional bluegrass music. James Reams’ solid rhythm guitar and strong vocals lend a solid foundation to Hensley’s clean and tasteful banjo picking..." ~ R. Steelman of Bluegrass Music Profiles. Wrapping up an impressive compilation of music is the 2011 release of "One Foot in the Honky Tonk" which made two Top 10 CDs of 2011 lists and included a single that charted nationally.
James is known as an “ambassador of Bluegrass” for his dedication to and deep involvement in the thriving bluegrass and old-time music community. His music features driving rhythm and hard-edged harmonies that take you back to a time before bluegrass was smoothed out for the uninitiated, the ill-prepared or the faint of heart. His original songs (alone and co-written with Tina Aridas) are important additions to the bluegrass repertoire, keeping this tradition alive with contemporary issues and new sounds. His guitar playing was highlighted in Flatpicking Guitar Magazine's Masters of Rhythm Guitar column. In addition to leading James Reams & The Barnstormers, he is the organizer of the Park Slope Bluegrass/Old-Time Jamboree, an annual music festival he started in 1998 that attracts musicians and fans of traditional music to its workshops, jamming and concerts and is the only event of its kind in or around New York City.
Having recently relocated out west, James put together a fine group of musicians and now has a presence on the east and west coasts. Once again he has teamed up with a well-known artist, this time it's Blaine Sprouse the legendary fiddler of Grand Ole Opry fame, with plans to release a new CD in 2014. James will be celebrating 20 years as a bandleader in 2013 with a Coast-to-Coast tour, the release of the DVD documentary "Making History with Pioneers of Bluegrass: Tales of the Early Days in Their Own Words" and more!
Take a listen to the musician that Bluegrass Unlimited praised as “There are few vocalists as natural as Reams. He doesn't have to try to sound down-home, he's there at each turn in the song.” And that Banjo Newsletter hailed "[James Reams sounds] as smoky as his heroes: Lester, Carter, and Red." You'll be glad you did!