Riffing on the blues with WNIJ’s James
By Todd Houston
This week, our Rockford Rocked Interview series catches up with David James, the host of WNIJ’s Saturday Night Blues.
RRI: For those that don’t know, you are the host of the Saturday Night Blues Show on 89.5 WNIJ out of DeKalb. How long have you been involved in radio?
DJ: Let’s see, I’ve been involved in radio for about 30 years now, 20 years between gigs at WXRX and WNIJ.
RRI: You’re a huge blues music fan. What was it that attracted you to blues music in the beginning?
DJ: What attracted me to the Blues initially was the Blues Brothers in 1978. I remember seeing them on SNL performing “Soul Man;”. I was already familiar with that song because when I was in third grade my parents gave me a box of 45s and a cheesy little record player. The original Sam and Dave version was included in the box. Let’s not forget: blues is the music that gave birth to rock n roll.
RRI: I’ve listened to the Saturday Night Blues show many times and you always seem to keep it fresh by adding artists that I have never heard before. Do you actively search out new blues talent or does it just sort of fall into your lap?
DJ: Yeah, I actively search out new blues talent on Facebook and Twitter. Some of these artists that I find are not new at all and have been performing and producing blues music for years. Blues music is universal and you can find it all over the world. The Flaming Mudcats from New Zealand played at the Crossroads Blues Festival in 2016 and Stormcellar from Australia played in 2014 and 2015.
The search for music does fall in your lap from time to time. Sometimes new artists are brought to the area via gigs, etc. The station receives a great deal of new music on a monthly basis via promoters who do a fantastic job of getting new music out and promoting their clients. Shout outs to Todd Glazer, Frank Roszak, Betsie Brown, Rick Lusher, and Rosy Rosenquist to name a few.
RRI: You have also been a part of the WYBR and the WXRX 104.9 crew. Being a hardcore old-school blues guy, how difficult was it to play Metallica, Linkin Park and Limp Biscuit on a regular basis?
DJ: My time at WXRX predated their current format so there was no Metallica. I was terminated from WXRX in August of 1990 because the program director believed it was overkill to play two Stevie Ray Vaughan songs in a row every hour of my shift the day after he was tragically killed.
RRI: When you worked for WYBR did you ever just follow the yellow brick road to work?
DJ: I remember following the yellow brick road at the Cherryvale Mall to find the radio station when I was a kid, but when I worked for WYBR they were located on Sandy Hollow.
RRI: Why do you think blues music is making a comeback? Or is it?
DJ: I don’t think blues music is making a comeback.; it’s always been a part of (the) culture. Unfortunately, commercial radio has chosen to ignore it for the most part. Maybe someday program directors will come to their senses and it will make a “comeback” and get the airplay recognition it deserves. WNIJ has dedicated airtime to the blues genre for 25 years. They have been airing nine hours a weekend for a substantial period of time now (thank you, Dan Klefstad). There is plenty of talent around today, but the genre needs a younger audience to replace those that are unfortunately getting older.
RRI: There were a few places around town that hosted weekly open stages where blues musicians could just show up, jam with others and have fun. Sadly, egos and personal agendas tend to get in the way and ruin the party. Thoughts?
DJ: Mary’s Place has open stage two times a week and it caters to all musicians. Rockford had a blues jam at the Kryptonite Lounge a couple years ago, hosted by Barstool Bob and Ron Holm, but unfortunately, it wasn’t drawing crowds that would allow the club owner to keep their doors open. Open stages are still popular and quite a few exist in the northern Illinois area.
RRI: You posted a photo of yourself and blues guitar great Johnny Winter on your Facebook page. Did you get a chance to talk to him at all?
DJ: I did get a chance to meet Johnny Winter at the City Winery in Chicago. He was a kind, soft-spoken gentleman. I asked him if he had a favorite Muddy Waters album that he produced—he answered: “The album that made Muddy hard again!” (Hard Again was Waters’ 12th studio album, released in 1977.)
WNIJ airs nine hours of blues every weekend. On Saturday nights, David James presents a three-hour blues soundtrack for your party. Listen from 9 p.m. to midnight on 89.5FM or WNIJ.org. R.