Preston James building his career the old-fashioned way with stop at Wilbert’s

July 30, 2018

Preston James building his career the old-fashioned way with stop at Wilbert’s

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Road trips with your mom are not that uncommon. So what’s the big deal about Preston James and his mom driving all over the country?

Well, for one thing, Preston’s mom is famed former Nashville publicist Kathy Stephens Best, who used to handle Martina McBride, the Dixie Chicks and George Strait, among others. And the other thing is that Best is playing Mother Hen to her 17-year-old son and his band on their first national tour. It stops at Wilbert’s on Monday, Aug. 6.

“It’s a job now,″ said James, reached by phone during the middle of a two-night stop to play a gig in New York City. But he acknowledged that some might look at him a little askance when he says that. “I’m 17, so it’s hard for me to say this is my job and have people take me seriously.″

But they should. Stunning performances on a reality shows like “The Voice″ – Miley Cyrus, Adam Levin and Blake Shelton are James fans – and “American Idol″ prove this is a “kid” who’s right where he needs to be.

“I barely made it through high school,″ said James. “I barely opened a book in four years.″

That’s because he’s known forever that music is where his future lies. But he’s learning some real lessons now, books or no. And so is mom.

“It’s definitely hard at times, traveling around in a van for the last few weeks,″ he said. “When you’re starting out like me, you don’t have tour bus, so you can’t go into the bedroom to watch TV while going down the road.

“My mom is on the road with us, too, which is kind of fun for us,″ James said. “She’s in a room full of teenaged boys, farting and burping and swearing.″

By the time the tour is over, James said his mom will following suit. Keeping up with the Jameses, so to speak.

In the meantime, he’s paying his dues . . . and happily doing so.

“This is as real a tour as I’ve been on,″ said James, who is not signed to a label . . . yet. He won neither “The Voice″ nor “American Idol,″ and looks at that as a blessing, since it means he’s not locked into a contract that benefits someone else over him and his band.

“I’m not a major recording artist,″ he said. “I’m an independent artist whose mom drives him around in a van and who books these shoes himself with his mother by googling venues and calling them.″

It’s not been easy, but it’s definitely worth the effort. James is one of the most talented performers to come down the pike in a long, LONG time. His bluesy voice carries hints of the country he grew up with, but tinged with a rockabilly-flavored nastiness.

“I’ve always called myself a music nerd,″ said James. “I listen to everything, and I listen to what I think is good.

“Yesterday, I was listening to the Wu-Tang Clan and George Jones,″ he said. “Both are great in their own right.″

James is using his diversity to build a career, and he’s building it on his own terms.

“My definition of success comes in many shapes, sizes and forms,″ James said. “What success is not is me in a bus, touring arenas, me with my name on billboards and crap like that.

“If you’re trying to do something and do what you want to do, and you end up doing what somebody else wants you to do [and] you become wildly famous for it, are you even mildly successful?″ he asked.

“You’re not,″ James said. “You’re doing something because it sells. Success is not money.

“Success is getting to do what you love to do, sing the songs you want to sing,″ he said. “It doesn’t matter I you’re playing theaters or arenas, you’re successful if you’re doing what you’re happy doing.″

And, of course, not ticking off your mom.

Preston James When: 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6. Where: Wilbert’s, 812 Huron Avenue, in the Caxton Building, Cleveland. Tickets: Free. Contact: 216-375-5966 or wilberts812@sbcglobal.net.

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