Since arriving on the music scene in 2013 with the EP trilogy, “Coke, Jack & Cadillacs” and working with artists like Snoop Dogg and Brenmar, Ronnie “Ro” James has been on a mission to make his mark in the music industry.
With the release of his debut CD, “Eldorado,” James appears to have done just that. Released, May 27, 2016, “Eldorado” entered the Billboard R&B Albums Chart at No. 3 and also No.8 on the Top Hip-Hop/R&B Albums Chart.
“Eldorado’s” sultry, lead single, “Permission” topped the Billboard Adult R&B Songs chart for nine weeks and earned James his first ever Grammy nomination for “Best R&B Performance.” The talented singer/songwriter, who lives in New York, is also currently nominated for “Outstanding New Artist” at the 2017 NAACP Image Awards (Airing Feb 11 on TV One) and “Best New R&B Artist” at the iHeart Radio Music Awards.
As if that weren’t enough, James is embarking on his 23-city headlining “XIX” tour. It kicks off Feb. 3 in Portland Oregon and arrives at Harlow’s in Sacramento on Feb. 8.
Sacramento Observer Correspondent, Lana K. Wilson-Combs caught up with the very busy James by phone to talk about his upcoming show at Harlow’s, his critically acclaimed debut album “Eldorado” and what life is like for him now that he’s in the spot.
She also discussed James’ musical influences and his connection to the late, great singer, Prince.
Here’s what else James had to share.
Lana K. Wilson-Combs: Your “XIX” tour kicked off in Portland, Oregon on Feb. 3 and now is headed to Harlow’s in Sacramento. Is this your first visit to Sacramento?
Ro James: First time performing at Harlow’s, but not my first time in Sacramento. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Sac, or enough to check it out anyway. On this trip I have a bit more time, so I’m really looking forward to getting out a bit. I’m hearing a lot of good things about that new rib place called “Sauced.” Definitely plan to check it out.
LKWC: Congratulations on the Grammy nomination for “Eldorado.” What was your reaction when you found out it was nominated?
RJ: I was really in a daze. I mean I was sleeping hard and I kept hearing my phone blow up with texts and it was real early like 5:30 or 6 a.m. Then the phone started ringing. When I finally answered it was a close of friend of mine and she was saying, ‘hey congratulations on the Grammy nod.’ That’s when I definitely woke up. It was just an amazing day. I’m so humbled by the nomination and my fans that helped make this all possible.
LKWC: How would you describe “Eldorado” and can you talk about how it came about, what the title means and your musical style in general?
RJ: “Eldorado” really was a journey. To a certain extent it showcases me as an artist and just coming into my own as a man and particularly my ups and downs in life. I made this album with just enough old school soul and a contemporary sort of swagger and sexiness that both women and guys would feel. Here’s where the Eldorado part comes in. My first car was a 1992 Eldorado. It opened new worlds for me and gave me a sense of freedom. I kind of took that approach with my music. I wanted to blaze my own trail and just go with my feelings toward the music.
LKWC: How would you describe your overall musical style?
RJ: I think it’s pretty eclectic. It encompasses a variety of styles, yet has a unique sound. I think too, that my upbringing contributed to my varied musical styles. I was born in Stuttgart, Germany. My mother is from Queens, New York and my father is from Indianapolis, Indiana and was in the Army. So I lived pretty much everywhere. Being around so many different cultures exposes you to a lot and particularly different types of music.
LKWC: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
RJ: Jodeci, Prince, Johnny Cash, Babyface and Stevie Wonder to name a few.
LKWC: When I tell people I like Johnny Cash, they look at me crazy. Do you get that reaction too?
RJ: Oh yeah. All the time (Lots of laughter). But I bet we like Johnny Cash for the same reasons. He’s a great storyteller, his lyrics are haunting and his voice, that smoky, deep resonating voice just stands out and is one of a kind.
LKWC: We lost so many musical giants last year. Among them was Prince. You have a connection with the prolific singer. Can you talk about that?
RJ: Yeah. My Aunt, Rosie G (Gaines) was a member of Prince’s band The New Power Generation. She joined in 1990 and was the vocalist and keyboardist on the “Nude Tour.” She performed on his album “Graffiti Bridge” as well as a member of NPG in the “Graffiti Bridge” movie. Rosie also contributed singing and songwriting to the “Diamonds and Pearls” album. That was her on the live version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” (“The Hits/The B-Sides”) album.
LKWC: Are you close to Rosie G and have you ever considered doing any collaboration with her?
RJ: Yeah, she lives in Oakland. We definitely stay in touch and actually have talked about working together. We might do something soon. You never know.
LKWC: Did you ever meet Prince?
RJ: I met him once. I saw him perform a couple of times in Oakland. It was a show unlike anything I had seen before. It’s still hard to believe he’s no longer with us. What a loss. What a legend.
LKWC: What singers from the 1960s/1970s, past or present, do you admire most and maybe wish you could be reincarnated as?
RJ: That’s a very good question. I would say Jimi Hendrix, Al Green and David Bowie. But there are tons more. (He laughs).
LKWC: You completed the “King + Queen of Hearts” World Tour with Mary J. Blige and Maxwell this past fall. What was that like?
RJ: Totally amazing. I really learned about performing from two of the best musicians. They are real pros. Mary poured her soul on stage and had the audience just in awe. Maxwell, who is such a soulful crooner, certainly knows how to work his magic on stage too. You can’t help but be inspired by all that greatness.
LKWC: So how did Detroit get so lucky and get a special Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) concert with you, Joe, Chrisette Michele and Vivian Greene? That’s some bill and seems unfair that they aren’t on your other stops.
RJ: I know right. (Lots of laughter). I’ve been hearing that from a few other people too. I’m not sure how that was scheduled, but Detroit fans are definitely getting a little something extra.
LKWC: After the “XIX” tour what’s next for you? What do you do when you’re not performing?
RJ: It seems like I’m always performing which is a good thing. No complaints ever because I love what I do. This is my calling. I’m always working on my next song, next album and just really savoring the spot I’m in right now thanks to the success of “Eldorado.” I’m happy to be able to connect with so many music lovers and fans. I just want to continue to share my artistry with them.
Ronnie “Ro” James brings his “XIX” headlining tour to Harlow’s on Wednesday, February 8, 2017. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $19-$23. Harlow’s is located at 2708 J. Street Sacrament, California 95816. For more information call (916) 441-4693 or log on to www.harlow’s.com.
By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Sacramento Observer CorrespondentLana K. Wilson-Combs is an entertainment writer and movie critic. In addition to contributing feature stories to the Sacramento Observer, she has her own Website, www.N2Entertainment.net and is the on-air movie critic for KFBK Radio Station (93.1 FM and 1530 AM). You can hear her reviews every Friday at 6:40 p.m. on the Kitty O’Neal Show.