In the studio… magic can happen. You start with an empty canvas, and end with a song! But it’s the inspiration that is so interesting to me. This elusive butterfly can hide for days and not show its face, but then suddenly from nowhere it appears as bright as the Sun.
Life long friend and musical colleague, gifted musician and all-around great guy, James Prather often teams up with me to create the elusive butterfly trick. I finally sat down with him as we delved into what it is like making music. Here is an excerpt from our conversation.
Mike: James Prather, tell me how music first came to you?
James: At the age of 6, music and recording both came to me. Santa delivered several portable cassette recorders under our tree one year. I loved recording things, all sorts of things. I’d play albums on a mono record player and set the cassette recorder next to the speaker and get a portable copy of the music I would otherwise have to be stuck next to the record player in order to hear. I then borrowed the second recorder from my sister and would sing along with what I had recorded on the first device, while recording on the second device. Then, I’d play that recording, having two of me and would sing for a third me. It was amazing, fun and awesome then, just as it is now.
Mike: Who are your biggest influences in your music world?
James: My palette is very small. The biggest were for sure Elton John and Billy Joel. I identified with them and just wanted to play piano and sing the rest of my life. I did decide early on that marriage and a comfortable life were probably more important, so I decided not to pursue a totally musical career. I do not regret that choice. I also decided I would never abandon music and with the help of friends like Mike, I have been able to stick to that commitment.
Mike: Favorite concert?
James: I was given tickets to the “Face Off” tour of Billy Joel and Elton John. It was fantastic!! I have not been to many concerts. A “Madonna” concert in the late 80’s at Soldier Field was also unforgettable.
Mike: You play a lot of different instruments, do you have a favorite or default when composing a new song?
James: For the last 10 years, I have started preferring the guitar, but piano has always been my primary. I love both, but I have to say, guitar has given me a bit more opportunity and is more portable.
Mike: How do you construct new music? Is there a template or is there something more organic going on?
James: Very spontaneous. Most of the time, it’s a thought and words come to fill out the thought. Other times, words are already given and I form them into a better fit for music. Other times, and it’s rare, the music comes with no actual thought at all. Often, I can’t fill that music with words, and that’s OK. I guess my favorite way to construct is to be given a lot of words, not necessarily the fixed lyrics, but full and fleshed out ideas; then I can shape them into a song.
Mike: Have you experienced moments of inspiration that unleashed a new composition in a very short period of time?
James: I used to compose with a guy named Charles Maxwell Green III. When we were young, had the time and could stay up late, we would go thru sessions of pure spontaneity. Much of what we did was kept and repeated for others and even recorded. I think spirituality starts by being like a child. The more I can soften my exterior and open myself to being like a child, the closer I can come to this flowing state. It’s harder now, but I believe it’s not impossible. Creations with Mike have also been very spontaneous and productive now, but our adult minds just seem to want to put form there, not letting the flow run as freely as it could. I also think health and well being have a lot to do with it. When I wake up rested and have had a good night’s sleep, possibilities abound! Adulthood gets in the way of both of those things too 🙂
Mike: I create music all the time. Sometimes end up with something that I don’t like. Have you created music that has ended up in the waste basket?
James: 98.7% of it!!! And, I think of the 1.3% remaining, 75% of that is the good stuff being repeated until I actually get it the way I like it. The most rare thing is when the reels are rolling and that spontaneous thing comes out and it’s not only a keeper, but it’s also something you can’t repeat! We’ve both had a few of those. That’s something you can’t describe to anyone who hasn’t had it, but it’s the best!
Mike: What’s your best work in your opinion? If that’s too hard to narrow the answer, then give me your top five?
James: “First Dance”, written for Jennifer and our first wedding dance. I spent the time working it out, so I felt I gave it my best. I also got a friend Len Lynch to construct it and get it ready for me to sing. It came off perfectly at our wedding, as a surprise to Jennifer and I didn’t have to sing it live. Great icing for that wedding cake for sure! Len studied professionally as a music engineer and is an awesome musician. That work inspired me to take recording to whatever level is possible for me.
Mike: How would you like to be remembered musically in the history books?
James: He’s that guy who shared his musical gift freely with anyone willing to accept it. Being great or professional or even well known isn’t that important to me; though I’ll admit all of that would be awesome. But, as long as I can touch lives along the way and those I touch aren’t offended, but in some way enhanced by the experience, I’m 100% on target.
Mike: Thanks for taking the time to sit with me today. It was a pleasure talking with you. This was a great conversation and now I’m seriously thinking about starting a podcast channel. Peace!