Article and interview by Jaco Engelbrecht.

Edited by Matt Nijland.

3 April 2020.

Header photo credits: Ponerboy

Jimmy talks influences, gear and why he refuses to clean up his Strat

Read Jaco’s chat with Jimmy below

Jimmy James, The True Loves

True love: Jimmy and his beloved Silvertone jamming with The True Loves at a KEXP in-studio performance. Photo credits: David Rzegocki.

Jaco: Well, it’s understandable seeing that you have so many shows booked for this tour. You’re in Prague now taking a break in between shows. Not a bad place to be resting!

Jimmy: Yeah. First time I’ve ever been here. I’ve always heard about it for so many years, you know? I like looking at the older architecture, something we never find in the US where most buildings are torn down every 30 to 50 years or so.

Jaco: Yeah that’s great man! New places and new experiences are always good for a band! Well, lets talk about the tools you use to do your craft and that elusive Silvertone. So, how old were you when you first picked up a guitar?

Jimmy: Well, I was around twelve. My sister always had this old beaten up acoustic guitar which I would run my hand up and down on.

Jaco: Were you listening to a lot of music when you were young? How did you become exposed to music at that age?

Jimmy: Yeah, especially around my two sisters, rest in peace to both of them. My older sister used to play a lot of pop music. She had a lot of that going on. My middle sister was a drummer, and she used to listen to bands like Rush, Dire Straits and Boston.

Jaco: How did you get into the Motown, Soul and Funk sound then?

Jimmy: Well, my mother. She had a bunch of Motown Records, and she would play a lot of The Temptations records. And I remember when I first heard “My Girl” , which a lot of people would know about. Robert White, who was the session guitarist for the Funk Brothers, was on that track. I was sold on that! In my mind, I was like, “Is that what a guitarist should sound like?”, and I loved the sound of it. Eddy Willis also got me sold on that sound. But the one thing that scared me the most later on, I remember, was hearing my sister listening to “Purple Haze”. When I first heard Hendrix, that scared me. I must’ve been eight… and it really scared me. But going back “My Girl” was what got me into guitar.

Jaco: And what got you into the hollow-body and Strat sound?

Jimmy: Well, after my sister’s guitar, my mother got me a new guitar which I played so much, the tuning pegs broke off! So I could not tune it without pliers and I broke strings quite often. But my first proper guitar was an old Harmony Rocket with a bowed neck. I had my Strat since I was a teenager. It’s my baby. I won’t change a thing about it!

Jaco: Yeah man. That thing is well played and looks like it has seen some miles.

“The dirt keeps the funk”: Jimmy and his favourite “funky” Strat jamming with Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio at Upstream Festival for KEXP. Photo credits: bebelabree.

Jimmy: Some people have asked me, “Man, why don’t you clean that thing up?”. I’m like “nah”. I’ll have to go with a famous quote from Motown bassist James Jamerson: “The dirt keeps the funk”, so I won’t change a thing.

Jaco: It sure has its own mojo.

Jimmy: Yeah. Even playing other Strats, regardless of the name, this is the type of guitar that sparks creativity – something I can’t stop playing.

Jaco: So except for a fret replacement, is she all stock? Pickups? Hardware?

Jimmy: Yeah, haven’t changed a thing. Except for the odd pot that might have gone bad you know?

Jaco: Well, the saying is, “Tone is in the fingers”. And you sure have a sweet tone! Tell us about that old Silvertone hollow-body you found in the garbage?

Jimmy: Georgetown Music, here in Seattle. Found it in the dump and fixed it up. And I was looking for something similar to my old Harmony Rocket because I loved the hollow body sound – I always have. And it was the same colour as my Harmony. When I picked it up, I could not put it down. I like guitars most people don’t want – rough and unpolished. I’m not really a guitar collector and just wanted something that sounded good to my ears, and its done everything from The True Loves and Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio.

Jaco: Well, seeing that you play with a trio and a big band with a horn section, what amps do you use between the two bands? Do you use different amps between the bands?

Jimmy: Well, it varies depending on what is available on the road and backline. But the Fender Hot Rod Deluxe has the punch, brightness and bass response I want. The one I used for recording in both bands in the past was a Peavey Delta Blues with the 1×15 speaker, which has a lot of bass response which is fantastic, but you can’t find them on the road as they are scarce. Sometimes in studio, I will mess around with a Fender Silverface Twin – whatever feels good in the moment.

Jaco: Pick or fingers?

Jimmy: Well, mostly pick. But when I’m at home, I’ll use fingers.

Jaco: What sized string gauge do you use?

Jimmy: I used to play 11, but now I play 12 gauge. Anything under 10 feels like dental floss.

Jaco: Seeing that you do a cover of “Move On Up”, how has Curtis Mayfield’s playing style influenced you?

Jimmy: You know, the one thing that I always want to mention about Curtis Mayfield that the general public overlooks, is what he did before the Superfly album. And to understand Mayfield, it’s important to go back and look at his work with The Impressions. Curtis was so smooth, I can’t even put it into words. You can hear Curtis in “Electric Ladyland” by Hendrix, it’s all over that. Hendrix learned a lot from Mayfield. I love listening to Curtis’ guitaring and his songwriting, and a lot of it is not in standard tuning. He used to tune to the black keys on the piano, and it worked for him. He was self taught. Words will never describe it.

Jaco: Being in instrumental bands without singers, do you feel you have more space?

Jimmy: I was so used to playing behind singers all the time that I never thought about being in an Instrumental band. It was the furthest thing from my mind, actually. I was used to backing vocalists, being a session player. I was always trying to play to the personality and the timbre of a vocalist. I still play as if there is a singer around, but you have a bit more space to move around.

Jaco: What advice would you give musicians here in South Africa?

Jimmy: Play what you feel. In the words of James Jamerson again, “If you don’t feel it, don’t play it”.

Jaco: Jimmy, thank you for your time. Hope to see you playing in South Africa soon!

Jimmy: Thank you, no problem at all. We would love to come to South Africa!

Be sure to follow Jimmy and his musical journey with The True Loves and Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. Click on the icons below to check out Jimmy and his bands’ respective social media pages.

Jimmy’s Instagram page:

The True Loves’ Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Spotify pages:

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Spotify pages:

Jaco Engelbrecht
About the Author: Jaco Engelbrecht

Jaco joined the SA Guitarist team as a journalist in November 2019. He is a guitarist and composer in the South African bands Africa Sun and CAN of WORMS. He has a deep love for blues, funk, soul and jazz music. He also has a huge passion for lutherie and sees instruments as pieces of art. Click the red text to visit Jaco’s social media pages on Instagram: @jengelbrecht95 and Facebook, and follow his musical journey and muses.