You may not be a believer in fate, the idea that our destinies are linked to the whim of the universe. But James Armstrong’s journey in the world of the blues may well make a believe out of you. And if not, it will at least convince you that the man is gifted with amazing talent, determination and heart.
Born under a good sign
Armstrong’s journey began early. Born to a jazz guitarist father and blues singing mother, his young life seemed like a roadmap to success as a musician.
If the stars weren’t aligned to make Armstrong a star in the blues world, surely his DNA was.The passion was there, but it took young James a while to find the means to scratching his musical itch. He started on drums because, as he later put it, “It seems like kids just want to beat on something.” With the aid of instruction from some great pro jazz drummers, that random ‘beating’ turned into something closer to actual music. Later he would take to the guitar, inspired by his father, many blues legends and his hero Jimi Hendrix.
Of Hendrix, Armstrong would say. “I started trying to walk like him and talk like him. My buddy and I used to wear the headband like him.”
By the seventh grade he had formed his first band. By the age of seventeen he was touring the nation. James Armstrong’s future couldn’t have looked brighter. But shortly after the release of his first solo album in 1995, just as he was preparing a new tour, tragedy crashed down.
A detourAn invader in Armstrong’s Northern California home disrupted the bluesman’s life by nearly stabbing him to death. Armstrong and his family would survive the nightmare, but severe damage had been done.
The incident left him unable to move his arm for nine months after the attack. Armstrong feared it was over for him. But in the end it was only a detour, a two year respite from his life as a musician enabled him to rest and prepare for the remainder of his career.
It seems likely that his road to recovery was the inspiration for the song Healing Time.
I’m just gonna’ sit here
With my guitar in my hand.
I know there ain’t no answers
But I’m just trying to understand
It’s a dark night, It’s a dark night
But I can still see the light.
Back on the right path
In biological terms, Armstrong’s recovery isn’t complete. The nerve damage hasn’t healed in full. And the strength in his playing hand is limited (On the title track of “Guitar Angels,” he sings Now I’m a two fingered guitar playing man.)
But James Armstrong’s soul comes pouring out past the limitations.
And why not? The life of a blues star was, after all, the life he was fated to live.