“America is a tune. It must be sung together.” – Gerald Stanley Lee, 1913
What is genuine “American music” in the 21st Century? What melodies convey the spirit of and relate to the life experiences of today’s average American? Is the historic artistry of sharing these experiences through song merely a distant memory, lost on a generation that neither appreciates our nation’s history of blue collar workmanship and survival, or the rough-hewn troubadours that delivered their stories about life?
The music of Cyrus James embodies this uniquely American spirit. It is his family’s story and heritage, passed on to and also lived by him. Cyrus had no choice; his life thus far has written the songs for him, simultaneously setting both the figurative and literal stages for him to tell whoever may listen, in song, what Americana truly means. Cyrus’ ancestors were prominent in early American agriculture and industry, with roots firmly planted in Virginia and Maryland for nearly two centuries. Cyrus’ parents then led their branch of the family west; he was born in the Arizona desert, raised on a farm in Colorado and now calls Austin, Texas home. Accordingly, his family’s history parallels that of America itself, expanding westward into new frontiers of opportunity.
“My formative years were spent out on a small piece of property about ten miles from town. My dad set two doublewide trailers side by side and remodeled them. There were eleven of us kids; I had two brothers and eight sisters. My dad built houses for a living and my mom stayed home, ran the farm, and kept us all in line, best she could.” As he grew into working age, Cyrus himself took various jobs that would eventually lead him to the experiences that would shape the subjects of his music. Beginning in his father’s familiar construction trade, Cyrus was then led to such roles as a coal miner, repo man, and even a marine engineer on ships from Alaska to Mexico, and everywhere in between on the West Coast.
The story of how Cyrus became a music man, however, leads back east to the Old Dominion and to the Sunshine State. Upon leaving his childhood home in Maryland, Cyrus’ grandfather, Freddie Goodhart, made his mark as a member of the first generation of Bluegrass musicians. An accomplished mandolin and banjo player, Goodhart took to the road after graduating high school and helped introduce Bluegrass to widespread audiences in Florida. He even diversified his repertoire for a period, playing mandolin with Texas blues legend, Lightnin’ Hopkins, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Eventually settling in the historic western Virginia town of Lexington – where he still resides today – Goodhart became a local musical celebrity, regularly performing on radio and television. Splitting time between Virginia and Florida, he played with such Bluegrass greats as Don Reno & Red Smiley, Vassar Clements, Chubby Wise, Leon Poindexter, Larry Rice, and members of the Seldom Scene.
His grandfather’s rich, musical life laid the foundation for Cyrus to eventually recognize his own musical talent, and inspired his pursuit of performing it professionally. “There were always instruments laying around the house growing up. The music is in my blood, so playing guitar just seemed like the right thing to do,” says Cyrus. “Dad always played banjo and guitar growing up; he picked a lot with friends, but did not play out too often. I started playing guitar and writing when I was around 14. My parents let me build this makeshift room in the corner of the barn loft, and me and my friend, Lawrence Hammett, would sit up there for hours on end, trying to write songs. It was always hotter than the blazes of hell up there because the sun would just beat down on that metal roof all day long, but looking back, it never seemed to bother me.”
A student of his pedigree but progressive in his own art, Cyrus James’ collective musical style is as vast as the swath of land covered through his grandfather’s Bluegrass history, and as varied in influence as the many landscapes throughout America in which he and his family have traveled. Cyrus is one of the last breaths of “true blue” in American music – grounded in the traditions of Country music, while at the same time proving that rock ’n roll is not, in fact, dead…rather, he utilizes it as the edgy complement to its rural cousin, and provides a truly unique, roots-based hybrid that exists as a virtual heir apparent to the self-proclaimed “Cosmic American Music” of one of Cyrus’ greatest influences, Gram Parsons.
"Cyrus James has grown from a rebellious high school rocker to a rowdy adult honky tonker. A genuine singer/songwriter whose stories come from his ramblings, Cyrus is the real deal. Whether solo or fronting a band Cyrus delivers a cold passion with toes on the edge of the stage authenticity, yanking at the roots of country music. Spellbinding songs tell the tale of this road wise troubadour." - Dave Bowman, music promoter at Blue Sky Music Presents and DJ at KVNF 89.1 Paonia, Colorado.
Cyrus’ first full-length album, Molly & The Devil, is a hard earned collection of his personal, true-to-life stories. Recorded at Yellow Dog Studios in Austin with visionary producer David Percefull, traditional Country, Rock and Roll, and the intuition of a world-wise singer-songwriter collide in simplified, three to five-minute laments in which anyone can visualize him or herself in Cyrus’ shoes.
Make no mistake, however – Cyrus is no simpleton. One discussion with him about the proverbial ways of the world reveal that Cyrus has experienced far more of its joys and perils in his first thirty years than many of us may encounter in a lifetime. But the simplicity in which he delivers his story is exactly how he wants to let you into his mind and his world. He knows his craft and his audience; the type of listener who seeks the substance that his music provides needs that message delivered to him or her in easily stated and relatable fashion. And he has combined that desire to share personal truths with a passionate intelligence and foresight in order to expand their reach, making Cyrus’ body of work nothing less than the lamentations of a genius.
Molly & The Devil is a journey through the spectrum of life’s conflicting paths – its highs and lows, its happiness and regrets. From life on the open ocean to the lonesome highways that lead back home. It is the acceptance of man’s natural and acquired wickedness and all that resulted from that journey, while also seeking the pathway to redemption – sometimes misguided, but always climbing toward that light in the midst of the darkness.
This is the voice of the everyday man and his everyday struggle. This is the story of survival of a modern day poet in the ever-changing landscape of life. And no matter what is lost on the “me” generation and its skewed view of life, along with its insignificant “problems”, true and substantive American music will survive through artists such as Cyrus James. In his own words: “as long as there’s one cowboy left, there’ll be one country song.”