Ed Grisamore

Gris: Musician’s Nashville journey took off in midstate church

BYRON -- There are some people you root for in life.

You want to stand in their corner, lead the cheers at their pep rally and offer to carry their guitar case.

Alan James is one of the good guys. You pull for him. He gets up every morning, kisses his wife, hugs his kids, drives 21 miles to teach at an elementary school, eats his vegetables, minds his manners and plays his music.

So when you see him hitching his wagon to a star, you want to say: “Here, let me give a push!”

Alan is 35 years old, wise and humble beyond his years. He is thoughtful and well-grounded in his Middle Georgia roots.

He has been teaching music education/appreciation at Crawford County Elementary School for the past 10 years. He is the leader of the praise band at Liberty United Methodist Church in Macon, where he sings and plays the drums and guitar.

Last December, he signed a contract with a record company in Nashville, Tennessee. His single, “Because of Your Love,” has been played on radio stations from New York to New Mexico, and gotten airplay in Japan, England, France, Germany, Canada and Australia.

Alan is not an overnight sensation. He knows success comes before work only in the dictionary. You don’t go to bed as Alan James and wake up as Alan Jackson.

It has taken years to get to this far. He has worked hard and paid his dues. His family and church helped him raise enough funds to get this dream off the ground.

His proud mother, Veda, now tells folks she “wants to be known in the future as Alan James’ mom.”

Veda and her husband, Wayne, got married in 1977, the same year Elvis Presley died.

Maybe that’s why Alan has always been such a huge Elvis fan. His musical baptism came to the soundtracks of the King. When he was 6 years old, he watched the “This is Elvis” documentary, which showed archival footage of fans holding up signs welcoming Presley to a concert at the Macon Coliseum.

“I was sold after that,” said Alan. “There was just something about him. He had charisma and that impeccable voice. It seemed like whenever he walked into a room, even if he had never recorded anything, you would say, ‘That’s somebody.’ ’’

Wayne and Veda James have never been musically inclined. They didn’t play an instrument. They played the stereo. (Wayne was a disc jockey for WDEN-FM in the late 1970s.)

They filled the house with the classic songs of the 1960s and ‘70s. Alan has a video of himself as a little boy, dancing in front of the record player.

He took rings out his father’s jewelry box and put them on his own fingers. He pretended a tripod was a microphone stand and fancied himself as Elvis.

His parents bought him a drum set, which was brave, crazy or some combination of the two. From very beginning, though, they realized he was gifted. He demonstrated a natural aptitude.

He played percussion in the school band from Byron Elementary all the way through his days at Peach County High School. As a teenager, he and some friends formed a garage band in Fort Valley.

Although he mostly played the drums, he taught himself to play the guitar and started singing. He really found his voice when he joined the praise band at Liberty Methodist. And he began writing, too, mostly love songs to his high school sweetheart, Tiffany Shepley.

“They were cheesy love songs, and I always felt a little silly when I sang them,” he said. “Then my writing became more Christian-centered through my church music, and everything seemed to flow better.”

Alan majored in mass communication and public relations at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. After dating for nine years, he and Tiffany were married on Dec. 10, 2005. It was his parents’ 28th wedding anniversary.

Alan and Tiffany have two daughters, Anna, 4 and Ellie, 5 months. And he’s more than willing to share his music studio in the same room where Anna is home-schooled.

“My greatest blessings are my daughters, my wife and my family,” he said. “I am a man of faith and, although I fail at times, I try to keep my moral compass pointing north. ... Music is such a huge part of my life and no matter life’s circumstances I have never been able to turn it off.”

Breaking into the music business is like getting the game-winning hit in the World Series. Lots of folks want it. Only a few ever get it. In Nashville, there are thousands of aspiring singers and songwriters, waiting on tables while waiting for their big break.

He first reached out to Macon’s Jason Aldean, a country music superstar, to get his proverbial toe in the door. He had met Aldean, whose real name is Jason Williams, through some mutual friends. He also knew Jason’s mother, Debbie, who was a member at Liberty Methodist.

“I wanted to get a demo to him, but it slipped through the cracks,” said Alan. “I tried to use my connection, then the trail went cold. So I started poking around to try and find and record company. I found one and, on a whim, I sent an e-mail to the president.”

Lamon Records is an independent label that has been around since 1962. It is affiliated with Sony Music Entertainment and has sold millions of records, CDs and digital downloads.

Alan was impressed. He just hoped they would be impressed with him, too. He wrote the president -- Grammy-nominated musician Dave Moody -- and described himself as “green, stuck and trying.”

“He emailed me and told me to send a demo,” Alan said. “Within a couple of weeks, he called me back and said we needed to talk. They had a long backlog of demos. They get about 200 to 300 submissions a month and respond to two or three. Mine was one of them.”

You can find Alan’s four-song EP at www.lamonrecords.com, where it can be purchased or downloaded. “Because of Your Love” is featured and has been released to both country and contemporary Christian radio stations. It’s a love song to Tiffany, minus the cheese.

The other three songs -- “Spread The Love,” “Thank You, Lord” and “Promised Land” -- were written to the “glory of God.”

He also has filmed a music video that can be found online.

I hope he sells a million copies. I hope he sells 10 million copies. Here’s to the nice guys.

They deserve it.