James Lee Stanley
I had never met James Lee Stanley nor seen him perform prior to interviewing him, but the conversation was like talking to an old friend. He is a very personable man with quick wit and vast musical knowledge. These traits will certainly translate into a great show at the Norman Williams Library in Woodstock, May 9 at 6 p.m. The Beachwood Recording Artist from West Hills, Calif., is performing as part of a fundraiser to support the programs at Vermont Volunteer Services Humane Society. Stanley says, “I hope people will come in and be entertained by me and contribute to the organization.”
The benefit concert is $15 at the door, which supports the VVSA. Since their inception in 1986, VVSA has been a forerunner in animal welfare and protection in Vermont. VVSA receives no federal, state, or municipal funding but relies on its own fundraising efforts, donations and volunteers. Its work encompasses humane legislation, senior citizens’ companion animal programs, feral cat rehabilitation, wildlife assistance, animal adoption and the creation of the first spay-neuter assistance program in the state of Vermont which evolved into the Vermont Spay Neuter Incentive Program (VSNIP). Their motto is “Together We Truly Do Make A Difference!”
Sue Skaskiw founded the organization in 1986 and is the executive director there. “It’s such a special treat to watch James perform, not only is he entertaining but he’s witty, he’s endearing and he’s funny,” Skaskiw said of Stanley. “I had the opportunity to meet him 15 years ago when he and Peter Tork played for us. We’ve stayed friends ever since. He’s one of the most generous musicians I’ve ever met.”
Stanley starts his show by saying, “If you want to take pictures, go ahead. If you want to send my music along to people, be my guest. If you want to record this go ahead.” A somewhat uncharacteristic request among recording artists.
“Watching him perform is great,” Skaskiw continued. “He engages the crowd. People have called him a ‘musician’s musician’ and I wasn’t quite sure what they meant by that but now I realize they appreciate the way he plays.”
Animal protection is an ongoing cause Stanley supports.
“When you think about it, they can’t protect themselves from our inconsideration, greed and our complete disregard for their existence,” he said.
Stanley has done many benefits for the VVSA and he said they’ve all been successful. “It’s been a nice association for us both.”
Stanley has worked with many big names in the business. He produced Peter Tork from The Monkees album, formed a two-man band with him and then they toured the country together. That tour came to Burlington years ago and that’s how he met Skaskiw.
Born in Pennsylvania, Stanley lived in many states and countries before settling in California. He has over 25 recordings not counting the dozen or so he’s produced for others. One of the others is a Top 5 disco hit he produced for his sister Pamela titled “Coming out of Hiding.” The San Diego Chargers picked it up and used the song for five years as their team’s entrance song.
Stanley also has some acting chops and was a regular extra on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager” for five years. Beside playing a regular Bajoran security deputy, he appeared as various Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans, Bajoran civilians, Cardassians and other unnamed aliens. He did all the singing for the Klingons.
He got his first recording contract in 1962 when he was only 16 years old. He’s been dedicated solely to music his whole life except for when the Air Force made him speak Chinese.
Stanley’s latest CD is “The Apocaloptimist.” It’s a positive CD with a mellow groove to it. The album title combines the words “apocalypse” and “optimist.” He explains his rationale, saying that he thinks the world is turning in a bad direction. “I think we can fix it provided we do the work before the weekend. I think we’re really at a tipping point,” he said. “I hope it’s rectified peacefully but if you look at history it rarely is.”
His album is full of songs that have a message and tell a story. Track 1, “Living The Party Life,” is a perfect song to start it off. Track 4 is a unique version of the Beatles’ “Drive My Car.” Track 5, “Here We Have My Father,” is a song in praise of his family; he starts with his father and then moves on to his mother, sisters and extended relatives. It’s a sweet song about missing his mom and dad. My other favorites are track 8, “When You get Right Down To It,” which started out as a poem he wrote the morning that he heard of Davey Jones’ passing. It’s a cool, jazzy song. Stanley thinks Davey would love the playful take on life and death. Anther favorite is track eleven, “Twinkle In Your Eye,” which is a joyful, loving song.
Stanley covers classic tunes in a unique way. He made an album with a friend, John Batdorf, called “All Wood and Stones” where they took Rolling Stones tunes and played them with acoustic guitars and plenty of harmonies. XM Radio went crazy for it and called it the album of the year.
One day after that record launched Standley had lunch with John Densmore from The Doors. He told Stanley that if he did with The Doors what he did with the Stones, he would come play on the record. He did and both Densmore and Robby Krieger, the two living members of The Doors, played with him on “All Wood and Doors,” along with a slew of great musicians including Cliff Eberhardt and Peter Tork.
“Performing live is real music and the interaction is real. If you don’t have the goods or haven’t done the work it doesn’t go well but if you’ve done the work and you reach them, you touch them, you impact them and make them feel good, it’s the best,” Stanley said of performing for a live audience. “I love the studio but there is nothing like live performing. It makes me feel fantastic when someone tells me that I sound better live than on the record. I work with a lot of people where you find out later that studio wizardry made them sound good. There’s a guy that performed at the Grammys recently and you can hear the auto-tune machine at work. Everyone has become Milli Vanilli, it’s pathetic. The fact that I can go out there and do what I do on my CDs is great. It’s the best.”
Stanley says he does a lot of comedy in his shows, “I’m not sure if you can tell by this interview but I am funny,” he said. It was a statement of objective truth. He said he likes to throw some barbs at the right-wingers, and fight what’s wrong in the world with comedy. “I like to make people laugh but I also like to make them think when they laugh.”
For more information on the benefit, www.vvsahs.org. For more information about Stanley, www.jamesleestanley.com.