Come meet singer and songwriter “J”

If you follow my FaceBook Page (Black Tortoise Press,) you may remember me interviewing “J.”  He was the MC at “Autumn’s Living Library,” a book signing I attended last fall.  To refresh your memory, click here for that very short and very amateur video interview.

“J,” aka Jason Hemphill, impressed me because of his decision to make music his career, and because he that decision to do so with commitment, passion, and a focus on spiritual compassion. And, like me, he wasn’t exactly starting-out-in-life when he resolved to launch his career in a new direction.

I just had to find out more about “J.”

J and I met-up at our local free-trade coffee shop “Conscious Cup,” where, indeed, get great coffee to enjoy in a community environment.

J grew up in a “faith-filled,” blended family. He has a sister that’s 3 years younger and a half-brother 25 years younger. They attended church every Sunday. “My second family is my church family,” he told me.  “My early experiences shaped my view of what a church should be and what worship should be.”

As a child he learned to farm alongside maternal grandfather. He appreciates the value of hard work and perseverance. J taught himself how to play the keyboard in his teens. As an adult he became part of The Elevate Project, a local, loosely-bound band of 7-14 musicians. “We pull from our network or musician, depending on the need.” That was in 2011. “We’re an interesting gathering of musicians that met while working in the church.”

It seems only natural that J eventually became the local First United Methodist Church’s Director of Contempory Worship Arts. Now he’s taking his music to the next step to be a full-time solo artist. “During worship leading, I asked ‘what do I do now.’ J said. “My goal was to write and perform music, but God was telling me to do the band first, and write later.  Rehearsals began immediately.”

Today, J writes whenever the spirit moves him. “I considered my music ‘blue-eyed soul’, with gospel influence,” “J” explained.  According to

Blue-Eyed Soul refers to soul and R&B music performed and sung by white musicians. The term first came into play during the mid-’60s, when acts like the Righteous Brothers had hits with soulful songs like “You Lost That Loving Feeling.” Throughout the late ’60s, blue-eyed soul thrived, as acts like the Rascals, the Box Tops, Mitch Ryder, Tony Joe White, and Roy Head had a series of hits. During the ’70s, blue-eyed soul continued to be successful, as acts like Hall & Oates, Robert Palmer, Average White Band, Boz Scaggs, and David Bowie updated the formula.

Here’s an example of one of “J’s” solo singles.  Yeah, that’s right in the same groove of the Righteous Brothers.

“I try to make time to write when I’m inspired,” he told me. “Finding the time is not the challenge, taking the time is.  When God speaks I want to stop and listen: write it down or play it out.  I keep a note pad or recorder with me.”  (I understand what J is saying. My next novel keeps calling me when I lay my head on my pillow at night.  I fail to fall asleep because Eldie and Rita are prodding me to tell their story.) J also told me he loves writing at a roll-top desk that he purchased from a grandfatherly figure who went to church with him.
Lucky for J, he has a wife, Christina, who supports him all the way.  (I know that feeling, too.  Loved-One is the best.)  J has his site set on a  “Night of music with J at the Piano” as a soloist while he continues to cultivate the band as an a separate entity.  “It’s time to step back from that a bit and focus on the creative part of me.” J wants to cultivate a one-on-one relationship with the audience. “It’s exciting and I’m a little scared to be that exposed,” J said.  (Of course, I can identify with that, too.)
J and I decided to support each other.  We hope to put something together at Conscious Cup.  Sort of [tweetthis]a 60s-flavored coffee shop performance with musicians and readings from authors/poets.[/tweetthis] And we’ll tithe any sales to help our local hungry and homeless.  If not there, somewhere else.  We’re putting our hopes out there to God’s universe. Wish us luck!