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Unsung Heroes: Vincent “Biggs” James

When I think of this next bredren we had the privilege to interview, I think of warm keyboard sounds and music that stirs your spirit. Vincent “Biggs” James is a legendary reggae player who has inspired many with his commitment to quality while keeping the music alive and real in this time. Whether he is playing guitar or keys or behind the soundboard, if Biggs is involved, you know it’s going to be good. Recently, we got to sit down with him and talk about his musical journey.


RF: What is your backstory and how you came into music?

VJ: I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina and Maryland. One summer, I think it was 1978, I spent a summer at my Uncle J.T.’s house. He was a musician and had a band that used to rehearse in his living room. He had drums, bass, a Fender Rhodes keyboard, guitars and everything. Every day when he went to work, I watched him drive down the street, then I would run downstairs and get on the drums and everything else trying to make noise.


RF: What are your early influences that inspired you?

VJ:  My early musical influences were Earth, Wind & Fire, Parliament, The Ohio Players, Chuck Brown, Rare Essence and Fishbone.


RF: How did you get into reggae music?

VJ:  I used to work at the Washington Times newspaper printing plant cleaning printing presses. One day, this guy walked up to me and said, “I heard you play guitar, Young Blood.”

I responded, “Yes, I do.”

He said, “Well, I play bass in a reggae band and we are looking for a guitar player.”

I said, “I play go-go –  I don’t even listen to reggae, so I’m not sure if I can help you.”

He invited me every week to come out to practice, so I decided one day to go. I became a member of the band Caravan, led by Jucci Carter in 1991.


RF: What was the name of your first band and other early projects you were a part of?

VJ: Before joining Caravan, my first band was Red Hot. I had also played with High Integrity and Pure Elegance.  After Caravan were bands, The Bottom Lion, Seed Is… and Session Rockers. I have done work with Nottz Raw which extends out to Kanye West, Snoop Dogg and Bilal to name a few.

RF: Talk a little about what drives you to devote such a big part of your energy towards recording, making albums and traveling around playing this music for people?

VJ:  Music has always been my inner peace and although I do not need to stand in front of a crowd of people to find that joy, I do love performing for the people to give them the energy and the joy that music gives me. When I discovered albums and artists that I fell in love with, it took me to places where I have never been. I want to give that experience to people. That’s why I love to record.


RF: Who are some of the artists you have helped produce?

VJ: It’s funny — I never really think about stuff that I have produced. I just do stuff and I’m moving onto the next. But I have produced for Sleepy Wonder, Ton a Hope, Empress Michele, Ever-G.


RF: What are some of the current projects you are working on?

VJ:  Current projects that I’m working hard on are finishing up a single for Kevin Isaacs and working on my album project that will feature a number of artists including, Tuff Lion, Prezident Brown, Ras Iba and others. I am actually being more hands-on in my effort to take my work to the next level.


RF: What is your message to the people and younger bands inspired by reggae?

VJ: My message to anyone who cares about the music and anyone who knows me knows I take the music 100% serious, because reggae, rock, jazz, blues were built of blood, sweat and tears.  So, I feel a responsibility to the music for the next generation. I’m just trying to do my part in the best way I can.


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Born in Coastal NC, Carl Blackmon grew up on Oak Island. He loved reggae from an early age and was able to connect and play keyboards for some of the greats in reggae, such as The Itals and Culture. Carl currently lives in Wilmington NC, with his fiancee and two children. He plays keyboards for Signal Fire and The Give Thanks Band.

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