Interview with James Murrell by Shelley Simone 

Interview with James Murrell by Shelley Simone

1.       What do you “do” in music? You teach, you compose, you play...?

I perform and teach music in the Dayton, Ohio area, I have also taught in the Columbus, Ohio area and I have performed in Dayton, Columbus, and Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have several recordings of my music that I have composed over the years that I have put online through ( and on many other sites including (, MySpace Music (, (, (, (, like Zebra ( & commercially on Itunes ( + many more (,,, I also promote myself through my website - & through my profiles at Facebook ( & Tweeter ( I started doing this in August 2009 and so far I have; Fans: 525, Song Plays: 6780, Visits: 10802, Video Plays: 257, & Widget Hits: 22640 at my ReverbNation profile.

I have always composed music since I was very young. I started playing guitar when I was 10 Christmas 1979, & wrote my first song when I was 13.

2.       When did you first show interest in music?

I showed interest as young as 3 years old. We would go to my Great Aunt’s house & she had an electric organ/keyboard. I would go over to the organ & make up melodies. I grew up in Mount Orab, Ohio in Southern Ohio Brown County. On weekends, my Mom would take me to Georgetown, Ohio to shop and I would always beg to get the toy guitars at the stores there. I got my first guitar for Christmas in 1979 when I was 10. My first guitar teacher was Larry Unger the youth minister at Bible Baptist Church in Sardinia, Ohio.

3.       What kind of music did you first find yourself listening to?

The music I was first exposed to was Gospel music at my church (Bible Baptist Church in Sardinia, Ohio) which was old Hymns and Country/Bluegrass Gospel music. I was also exposed to popular music through my parents. My parents listened to the radio and they had a huge record collection of 1960’s popular music that my brother & I took from the attic where they had them stored. My parents had records by the Beatles, Beach Boys, the Kinks, and many others from that era. When I was about 11, I got my first record that was Billy Joel’s “Songs In The Attic” and Chuck Berry’s “Greatest Hits”.

4.       Did you formally study music? At what age?

I started lessons in 1979 with Larry Unger at age 10 for about 5 months. I did not start taking lessons again until I was 14 with Lloyd Hazlebaker in Bradenton, Florida. My family had moved to Bradenton, Florida after the Farm Crisis of the early 1980’s because my Dad had sold farms for a living and he found work there in Florida. Lloyd was a Western Swing Steel Guitarist originally from Norwood, Ohio who taught me many Standards and Jazz chords. He looked at me one day & said to me “Jamie (my nickname), when you grow up you’re going to be a Jazz Guitarist” and I said “What’s Jazz?” then he said, “You’ll find out”. I did become interested in Jazz and I went to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music (CCM) preparatory department & Toedtman School of Music and took lesson with Phil Willis when I was 21 for 4 years. Then I went to Central State University (CSU) and studied Jazz Studies with James E. Smith ( when I was 25 until I was 30 years old. Recently, I went back to school online at the Berklee College of Music where I finished a certificate program in Advanced Guitar. I have also taken many lessons from other teachers including David Cousino (, Jim McCutcheon (, Mark Porcaro (, Dave Cliff (, Gene Bishop (deceased), & Jeff Hufnagle (Jazz Composition). I have also studied hundreds of instructional books & videos.

5.       You play guitar. Any other instruments? What styles do you play?

I play Guitar, Bass Guitar, Mandolin, & Vocals. I have also studied the Piano, String Instruments (Cello, Viola, & Violin), Percussion (Steel Drums, Set, ect.), and Brass Instruments (Trombone & Trumpet). I also studied Music Theory, Jazz Composition, & Arrangement, so I would say that the pen is also one of my instruments.
My main style of music is Jazz music but I have played almost every kind of music that you can think of including Rock, Pop, Contemporary Christian, Country/Bluegrass, Music Theater, Singer-songwriter, Classical, Folk, Blues, R&B, Funk, and even Punk. My music reflects this lot, so that is why I have classified myself as an “Other” artist through my ReverbNation profile (

6.       You teach, what made you start teaching?

When I went to college at CSU, I decided to teach private lessons because I became interested through the many teachers that I had through the years. They passed their knowledge down to me and I wanted to do the same. I had also had many teachers that I have not mention that I felt as though they didn’t do a very good job so I wanted to give students a good teacher so I took some classes a CSU in Music Education. Teaching & playing are two very different skills. Someone can be a great player but cannot teach. On the other hand, I feel that someone who cannot play very well, does not have the experience to teach well either. Therefore, it is like a balancing act. I need to play well & teach well equally. I felt as though I had the right combination of playing skills& teaching skills to offer students a good teacher so I started looking for a job teaching at a music store. I got my first teaching job when I was 29. Before then, I would teach lessons to friends causally.

7.       When did you determine that music was literally “your life”?

When I was young, I dreamed of playing Guitar for a living, as many young people do, but it was a fantasy. I lived in a community of farmers and factory workers that would commute from Mount Orab to Cincinnati. My friends & family did not know of anyone who had done anything like making a living at Music except the Music teacher Mrs. Hawk at Western Brown School.

In my family, I had third & fourth cousins in Nashville, Tennessee that played with Country stars. They had a family band called The Murrell Family Singers that had recorded with regional Country star Jimmy Skinnard in the early 1960’s. After their Father died, The Murrell Family Singers broke up and two of the boys, Jimmy & Ricky Murrell, went on to play with modern Country stars. Jimmy Murrell played lead guitar for Tom T. Hall and lead guitar on the 1970 Television series “Pop Goes the Country” which was hosted by Tom T. Hall. Jimmy currently drives tour buses for many Country artists. Ricky Murrell played Bass for Tammy Wynette and currently plays Bass and is Music Director for Outlaw Country star Ricky Van Shelton. Ricky was on an episode of the 1980’s hit Television series “The Dukes of Hazard” when Tammy Wynette appeared on the show. Speaking of Hazard, my Grand Father Lloyd Murrell grew up about 60 miles North West of Hazard, Kentucky in Booneville, Kentucky. During Prohibition, he ran moonshine to many of the small places that Bluegrass musicians would play and personally knew Bill Monroe ( the founding father of the Bluegrass movement. He would tell me stories about those days and about my cousins and that encouraged me.

It was not until I went to college that I really felt that I might be able to do this. It is the hard road to take. I do not have health insurance or benefits that regular job provides. If a large percentage of my student were to stop taking lessons all at once, I would not have a way to pay bills. I have to be like a cat & land on my feet every time I am tossed in the air. I can’t imagine what I be doing if I wasn’t in music and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be doing this with my life.

8.       You compose. Do you compose for others or just yourself?

I compose mainly for myself but I have co-composed songs for Epiphany Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio ( including a liturgy called “The Blues Liturgy” ("Hear My Prayer <Murrell, Warrick, & Castle> - Free Download" - and two Christmas songs from their 2010 Christmas C.D. ("Glory To The Lord Most High <Murrell & Scheusner> - & "You Have Found Me <Scheusner & Murrell> -

In addition, when I compose I keep in mind the other musicians that are going to be on my recordings. Things such as the feel & the style of the way John Toedtman plays Bass has had a big impact on the arrangements of the songs I’ve recorded with him (Songs by James Murrell with John Toedtman:, as compared with Bassist Chris Berg (Songs by James Murrell with Chris Berg:

9.       What is it like recording? In addition, they hearing yourself played back!

Recording is a long process for me. To me it is like making a painting - you put one layer at a time until there is a complete picture, only you are painting the air. It can be painful to hear yourself back after recording. There is always a part of you that is saying “I can do that better, I know I can!!!!!” or “Everything was good except that note - ugh!!!”. It is a little bit different with me because I am the Composer, the Player, the Recording Engineer, the Producer, Music Arranger, the Mixer, Microphone Technician, and the Master Engineer. Therefore, when I am done playing my part I go into Producer mode and I try to listen to the sound quality and the overall feel of the performance. Then if the sound is not good, enough I tell the Engineer in me to change the mix & equalization. If the feel of the performance is not good enough, I have to tell the Player in me to re-do the part. It becomes like have having spilt personalities!

10.   Have you played with other local groups? (Other than noted on your website?)

I have also played with the Epiphany Lutheran Church Praise Band in Centerville, Ohio off & on for the last 10 years which was one of the first Lutheran Contemporary Christian Worship Praise music groups in Ohio. I have also played in other Praise & Worship groups in the Dayton, Ohio area.

11.   What is your favorite musical genre?

I like all kinds of music but I tend to gravitate towards genres that involve improvisation such as Jazz, Blues, & Rock - all rock bands were jam bands when I was growing up. I also love Classical & Folk styles like Bob Dylan & Peter, Paul, & Mary. Music did not use to be as fragmented as it is today. Musicians should be able to see the beauty of every genre & be able to recognize the masters of every genre.

12.   Did you ever study music history? If so, is there a particular period that you found interesting?

I took 2 years (6 quarters) of Music History at CSU and 2 years before that in Junior High School at Western Brown with Mrs. Hawk. I have also done a lot of study on my own. Especially about American Music. I specialize in American Music. My favorite period is the first half of the 20th Century in America. The rise of Jazz, Art Deco, Musical Theater, and Surrealism. The rise of Rock in the late 1950 and all the way until the 1980s is a fascination also. As far as the periods in European Classical Music, I would say that the Romantic Period is my favorite because of the passion in their music (I love the music of Ludwig Von Beethoven).

13.   Who has influenced you most in your art?

Many artists have influenced me. There are too many list completely but I will list a few key influences - Miles Davis, The Beatles, John Scofield, Pat Metheny, Thelonious Monk, U2, Jeff Beck, Wilco, Count Basie, The Police, Living Colour, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Django Reinhardt, John Melencamp, Rush, Yes, Jimmy Webb, Les Paul, Brad Paisley, Charlie Parker, John Lennon, John McLaughlin, Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys, Mike Stern, Bill Frisell, etc, etc.
It is almost pointless after a while to make list like this. There is one common thread in this list - Mastery.

14. Who currently is your favorite artist?

I’ve been listening to a lot of different artist including Pat Metheny, the Beatles, John Scofield, John Coltrane, Wilco, Jimmy Webb, The Rolling Stones, The Police, Bill Frisell, Miles Davis, Eric Johnson, The Yardbirds, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Billy Joel, Miles Davis, Rush, & R.E.M.

15.   Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I have no idea! I hope that I will get more gigs (Music performances) and be able to share the music that God has given me with a lot more people.

16.   Anything else you can think of regarding your profession?

Not that I can think except that it is important to follow your heart & not make unnecessary compromises, because there are many professions that you could do just to make money and, Music is not one of them. Music is a labor of love. If there is another thing that you want to do with your life that is equal in love that can make you more money, you should pursue that because Music is the hard road to success. Even if you are the greatest musician, it is hard to make a living at Music and there are not many benefits like vacations, insurance, 401K, etc. However, I would not trade even 1 moment of the experiences I have had in Music! It has been a great thing in my life.

Thank you for the interview Shelley!


James Murrell