“This new CD bears the stamp of James Armstrong throughout, along with the assistance of his good friend, Michael Ross, as producer,” says Catfood Records head Bob Trenchard. “Various musicians were used in the making of the album and it was recorded at three different studios, but the common thread is James Armstrong’s unique talent on every song. He is a true original in his songwriting, guitar playing and vocals.”
The nine original songs on Guitar Angels are bolstered by the inclusion of two stellar covers: a wonderful re-working of the Eagles hit, “Take It to the Limit,” which he transforms into a bluesy shuffle; and a solid take on Johnny Copeland’s “Blues Ain’t Nothin’.”
“Working with Bob Trenchard of Catfood Records has been a blast,” says James Armstrong about the sessions. “I was delighted after the 2012 release of Blues at the Border that Bob wanted me to do another one so quickly. The songs came from some new ideas, some old ideas and some humorous ones.”
One of the “humorous ones” James refers to is the album’s lead-off track, “Grandma’s Got a New Friend,” a song about how the Baby Boomer approach to aging differs from previous generations. A tune that James has been performing live for many months, it’s become a crowd favorite and was an obvious choice to include on Guitar Angels. Another fan-pleaser is “Saturday Night Women,” which never fails to elicit shouts from club audiences when performed live.
James Armstrong’s approach to the blues and songwriting has always been from a contemporary standpoint that keeps the music relevant without forsaking its roots. To that end, there are several very personal songs that mean a lot to James, but will also resonate with listeners, as well. “Healing Time,” co-written by Armstrong and Michael Ross, deals with the death of Michael’s brother, Norman, who had recently passed away. It’s a moving tribute to a brother who also played guitar with such notables as Ronnie Spector and Irene Cara.
The album’s title track “has been in my head for a few years,” notes Armstrong. Since my injury in 1996, many guitar players, alive and dead, have helped me. I still am unable to bend the third finger on my left hand, or use my little finger, but I attribute some of the reason I’m actually able to play the guitar again to my ‘guitar angels:’ my father, James Armstrong Sr., Mike Ross, Coco Montoya and Joe Louis Walker.”
The incident James refers to was the horrible home invasion attack he suffered in 1996 that left Armstrong without the use of his left hand and arm, including permanent nerve damage. This threatened his career forever, but that thanks to a lot of hard physical rehabilitation, plus the support of friends, fans and the blues community, Armstrong returned to performing and has never looked back.
Born to a jazz guitar-playing father and blues-singing mother, James Armstrong was literally born to play the blues. Raised in Los Angeles, he formed his first band in the seventh grade and by age 17 was already touring the country. He soon became the youngest guitar player ever in Smokey Wilson’s legendary band and was mentored by another legend, Albert Collins. Shortly thereafter he was discovered by HighTone Records co-owner Bruce Bromberg and signed with the label, recording several acclaimed albums for them.