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Jimmy James & The Vagabonds

During the mid- to late '60s, Jimmy James & the Vagabonds towered among the most popular soul acts on the British club and college circuit. Though rivaled only by labelmate Geno Washington & His Ram Jam Band in the hearts and minds of the London cognoscenti, the group's sellout performances nevertheless failed to translate into strong record sales, and commercial success would remain elusive until the rise of disco a decade later.

Born Michael James on September 13, 1940, the U.S. native was raised in Jamaica, first tasting fame as a solo act with the Tip Top label single "Bewildered and Blue," which topped the Jamaican charts in 1959. After scoring a second number one with "Come to Me Softly," James was approached by the Vagabonds -- second vocalist Count Prince Miller, guitarists Wallace Wilson and Phil Chen, bassist Coleson Chen, keyboardist Carl Noel, saxophonists Milton James and Fred Fredericks, and drummer Rupert Balgobin -- who were at the time the most popular live band in Jamaica behind Byron Lee & the Dragonaires. After installing James as lead vocalist, the Vagabonds enjoyed even greater popularity among locals and tourists alike, in 1964 issuing the Island label LP Presenting the Fabulous Vagabonds. However, the group yearned for international success and in 1965 relocated to London, where an opening gig for the Who at the famed Marquee Club resulted in an invitation to headline the venue on a weekly basis.

Under the wing of original Who manager Pete Meaden, the Vagabonds emerged as one of the hottest live acts in the U.K., renowned for both James' gritty, powerful vocals and the colorful antics of his foil Miller, the latter a born crowd-pleaser. After cutting "Shoo-Be-Doo You're Mine," a 1965 one-off for Columbia, James & the Vagabonds signed to the Pye imprint's Piccadilly subsidiary, in early 1966 issuing their label debut, "I Feel Alright," an exuberant stomper in the mold of their electric live appearances. For the follow-up, the group covered the Dells' "Hi-Diddly Dee Dum Dum," cracking Disc magazine's Top 50 for all of one week before sales sputtered.

Just why the Vagabonds' appreciative live audiences did not show their support at retail is a mystery -- their records were of consistently high quality, but often it seemed Piccadilly had little idea what to do with the band, and more than once the stronger performance from a particular session was relegated to the resulting single's B-side. Their third Piccadilly single, "This Heart of Mine," also featured on James & the Vagabonds' first full-length effort, The New Religion. After a fourth Piccadilly 7", "Ain't Love Good, Ain't Love Proud," Pye shuttered the label and the group moved to the parent company in time for 1967's "I Can't Get Back Home to My Baby." That same year, Pye also issued London Swings: Live at the Marquee Club, a concert LP devoting one half to James & the Vagabonds and the other to fellow nightclub favorites the Alan Bown Set.

With the release of the 1968 LP Open Up Your Soul, James & the Vagabonds finally scored a U.K. chart hit with their cover of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine," at the time one of the singer/songwriter's more middling hits -- James' cover spent two months on the British charts, peaking at number 36. The group also scored a U.S. hit when in 1968 its re-recorded version of James' early solo hit "Come to Me Softly" -- a B-side in Britain -- appeared as an Atco label single and entered the Billboard Hot 100. After 1970's "Better By Far," Pye dropped the Vagabonds and the original lineup splintered; both James and Count Prince Miller pursued solo careers, with the latter scoring the reggae smash "Mule Train" in 1971. In the meantime, James teamed with producer Biddu to notch the minor hit, "A Man Like Me," before signing to Trojan for a series of little-heard singles that culminated in the 1971 cult classic "Help Yourself." He still spent the better part of the early to mid-'70s outside the studio, gigging relentlessly with an ever-changing Vagabonds lineup in tow.

In 1976 James re-signed with Pye, immediately scoring a pair of disco-inspired pop hits with "Now Is the Time" and "I'll Go Where the Music Takes Me." Subsequent efforts like the wonderfully titled "If You Think This Funk Is Junk, You're Drunk" failed to chart, however, and his career again faltered -- 1984's "Love Fire" was hotly tipped as a comeback contender but went sadly overlooked, and three years later James also recut "I'll Go Where the Music Takes Me" to little avail. He nevertheless continued touring the cabaret circuit into the next century. ~ Jason Ankeny
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: 25 Beach Music Classics

1. I Love Beach Music

3. Whispers (Gettin' Louder)

4. It's In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)

5. Cool Jerk

7. Hello Stranger

8. Work With Me Annie

9. Get On Up

10. With This Ring

11. Hey! Baby

12. I'm Gonna Miss You

13. Untie Me

14. Gimme Little Sign

15. Backfield In Motion

16. The Cheater

17. Double Shot (Of My Baby's Love)

18. Love Makes The World Go Round

19. Come To Me Softly

20. In A Moment

22. Color Him Father

23. Give Me Just A Little More Time

24. Brenda

25. Build Me Up Buttercup

x

Track List: Bubblegum Soul

1. Give Me Just A Little More Time

2. Where Did Our Love Go

3. Build Me Up Buttercup

5. I'm Doin' Fine Now

6. Jack In The Box

7. Sad Sweet Dreamer

8. Band Of Gold

11. Want Ads

14. Black Joy

15. Eeny Meeny

17. I've Been Hurt

18. Red Red Wine

19. Melting Pot

20. The First Cut Is The Deepest

x

Track List: Disco Power Vol. 3

1. Passion

2. Dance Little Lady Dance

3. Never Give You Up

4. I'm On Fire

5. Your Love

6. Dolce Vita

9. Now Is The Time

11. Substitute

12. In The Bush

x

Track List: Sounds Of The Seventies

Disc 1

2. Young, Gifted And Black

3. Indian Reservation

4. In The Summertime

5. Lola

6. Rainbow

7. Give Me Just A Little More Time

8. You Can Get It If You Really Want

9. Me And My Life

10. Band Of Gold

11. Double Barrel

12. Banner Man

13. Black & White

14. Let Your Yeah Be Yeah

15. The Devil's Answer

16. Mouldy Old Dough

17. Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron

18. Dancing On A Saturday Night

19. The Man Who Sold The World

21. Kung Fu Fighting

22. Sad Sweet Dreamer

23. Everything I Own

24. Streets Of London

Disc 2

3. Girls

6. Oh What A Shame

7. I Believe In Father Christmas

8. You To Me Are Everything

9. In Zaire

10. Now Is The Time

12. Fanfare For The Common Man

13. Egyptian Reggae

14. Uptown Top Ranking

15. It's A Heartache

16. Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs

17. Jilted John

18. Knock On Wood

19. Hersham Boys

20. Love's Gotta Hold On Me

21. One Day At A Time

22. Rapper's Delight

x

Track List: The Best Of 60s Mod

1. Tin Soldier

2. Till The End Of The Day

3. Do Anything You Say

4. My Friend Jack

5. Take A Heart

7. Hold On

12. No Good To Cry

13. Everything's Gonna Be Alright

14. The 81

16. Guns Of Navarone

17. Phoenix City

x

Track List: The Piccadilly Story

Disc 1

2. Half Of My Heart

3. There I've Said It Again

4. Honest I Do

5. Theme From Z Cars

6. Don't Come Crying To Me

7. Picture Of You

8. The River's Run Dry

9. I Knew It All The Time

10. It Might As Well Rain Until September

11. All Of Me

12. Long Gone Baby

13. Ferryboat Ride

14. Walk Right In

15. Hey Paula

18. Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya

19. He's So Near

20. Tip Of My Tongue

21. Don't Lie To Me

25. Sally Go 'round The Roses

26. Where Did Our Love Go

Disc 2

4. The Girl Who Wanted Fame

5. Baby Do It

10. Take A Heart

12. Leave It To Me

13. That's My Life

14. Why Don't I Run Away From You

17. You Don't Know Like I Know

18. Dear Mrs Applebee

19. Ain't That Peculiar

20. Que Sera Sera

21. Ain't Love Good Ain't Love Proud

23. Run To The Door

24. 98.6

25. I'll Always Love You

26. Almost But Not Quite There

Comments

Report as inappropriate
Please play the lyrics of things song come to me softly
Report as inappropriate
Come to me softly what a great song
Report as inappropriate
A group that is overlooked

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