|James Biehn at the Greenwood Lounge|
Five Questions With … James Biehn
The most important thing to know about James Biehn is that he’s as good a dude as he is a guitar player. And vice versa. And that’s saying a lot.
When he’s not gigging with the James Biehn band, he’s playing solo shows all around the city or sitting in with the many musicians wants to play with him or playing one-off shows with a variety of bands. On top of that, he’s the owner and driving force behind the Central Iowa Music Lab in Des Moines, where dozens of students are learning from James and other top players in Des Moines to play and sing and write songs and work together as musicians. Oh, and he’s also an amazing father to about a half dozen or so super rad kids (I think it's 5, but I can’t keep track).
To say James is integral to the music scene in Des Moines is an understatement. He’s not only a key player in most everything cool that’s happening now, he’s also planting seeds for the future, breeding the next generation (or two) of musicians that will carry the torch forward for years to come.
Somehow, we caught James when he had a few minutes to spare and he agreed to answer a few questions for the Bigfoot Diaries.
If you haven’t seen him, do yourself a favor and check him out as soon as you can.
There’s no cover, so there’s no reason not to pop in for a bit.
You teach a lot of people to play. Is there anything about music that can’t be taught?
“Anyone can learn to play music. It is the job of the instructor to understand how each student is ‘wired’ and adjust their teaching techniques to accommodate that student. Also, a student’s goals also come into play. Learning guitar to play by the campfire? That’s probably an easier goal than, say, playing at the Blue Note (jazz club) in New York.”
If you could only play one chord from now on, which one would it be and why?
“Probably an open A chord, all fretted strings played with the index finger. That’s get me a long way towards my dream goal of playing rhythm guitar like Malcolm Young.”
When was the last time you played “Freebird” at a gig?
“Last time was probably around 2006 at Raccoon River Brewing Company. That’s the last time I remember anyway. I actually don’t mind playing it if it’s a sincere request. But it never is. I’d play it more often if it was mandatory for the person that requested it to sit in a chair five feet from me for all 12 minutes of the song. But they’re usually pussies, so they won’t.”
(Note: I’ve yelled Freebird at James many times and he’s never once found it as funny as I have. Because I love him, I promise to stop now).
Zappa, Hendrix, Vaughn, or Garcia. You can bring one back to join you in one gig. Who do you pick?
“Probably Hendrix, just because he encompasses a little of what each of the other guys possess: Vaughan’s blues roots, Garcia’s improvisational abilities, and Zappa’s progressive songwriting.”
On those rare nights when you’re not playing, which local musicians will get you to a show as a spectator?
“I’ve played a little bit around the country and I’ve never found musicians more gifted or skilled than the musicians in Des Moines, Iowa. Some of them have been good, but never better. That’s why it’s hard to pick one or two. That said, off the top of my head, I’d say Jeff Banks, Chad Elliott, and Matt Woods. They are listening to their inner voices very intently and doing a great job of making sure that what they’re hearing on the inside is what we’re hearing on the outside.”
You’re very complimentary about everyone who plays music. That’s nice, but come on — who do you really dislike?
As long as someone is really working on their craft and trying to realize their potential, then I’m a fan. But some people get on stage with goals that are decidedly non-musical, but they have the appearance of musicians. I won’t name names, but I find that so disingenuous. Duane Allman once said, ‘This ain’t no ballet and it ain’t no g…m fashion show.’ The minute the music starts to resemble either of those, I’m out. I want to connect and be connected with. If that isn’t your goal, then I don’t want any of it.”
Connect with James on his to find future shows and check out the as well!