James Stanley Howen -
                                       Where Mighty Rivers Meet

James Stanley Howen is an artist who has been on our site for a long time. but I don't think anybody has dominated our play charts like his Mighty Rivers Project did for several months in 2016.   It takes a special kind of songwriter to have so many artists open to cover your music and that's what James did with the MRP.  I listened to his solo page as well and found it to be very warm music in a genre I don't listen to that much.   You basically get a dose of authentic classic country and a dose of Americana in his songs, they seem to come directly out of a natural place, and I was glad to be able to ask him about them in a little more detail.

James Stanley Howen
  (in case you want to listen while you read)


Scott:   Ok, I've been listening to your page and there is this authenticity.  Saw the picture of your tractor trailer and it occurred to me this is one guy who truly has lived the life we hear about when we hear country music.   So, how much country would you say is in your blood?  :)

JSH:   When I was very young I was exposed to a lot of Hank Williams. My mom would sing Hank songs with the radio. My Uncle Ed Howen Jr was a very good performer and did great country music in the 1950’ into the the 1960’s. I was just mesmerized watching him.

Scott:   You've been making music for a long time.  Do you remember what song first turned you on to music in your youth and do you remember writing your first song, how that came about?

JSH;   My mom says that when I was barely walking I would jump up and dance when “I Walk The Line” by Johnny Cash would come on the radio.

Scott:    Do you currently take out a band on live shows?  What's the most memorable show you've played?

JSH;   I very rarely play out live anymore.  I had done a few shows with singer/songwriter Steve Young (passed away last March). My last official show was with my trio “Big River”. Our bass player passed on with cancer and we hung it up.

Scott:   Your Mighty Rivers Project has dominated the IMP playcharts.  Tell us how that came about.  Some pretty good performers on there, have you considered taking that show on the road?

JSH:   I am so lucky to have so many talented musician friends who like my songwriting to donate their time and effort to doing this Project with me. It was only a dream for so many years.

Scott:    I like your song Trailer Trash.   Do your songs come from real experiences?

JSH:   Trailer Trash is unique since I recorded it at home with local friends and former band mates. I had a band called “All About JImmy” for a few years. We did this song live and we recorded it in my Trailer (Mobile Home) where I still live. Harry Hamm wrote the Lyrics and I made a song from his words. Loosely based on a true story about me at the time when I moved to the Trailer Park and then divorced. I was not out with my wifes friend lol!

Scott:   I see you're from Wisconsin, what's the vibe for country music up there?  

JSH:   Country music is very popular here in Wisconsin.

Scott:   You work with Harry Hamm as a lyricist.  How does your process work, does he give you lyrics to a series of songs all at once or one at a time?   Do you ever write the music first, before any lyrics?

JSH:    Harry Hamm is not a musician per say. He loves music. We are both big fans of John Prine and Steve Young along with many of the original greats. Harry is a master storyteller and most of our songs we wrote together were songs that I would start with story ideas and Harry would actually write the stories that I would put together as a song. I would come up with chord progression with a melody.

Scott:   You say your song Side By Side is about family and the hopes and dreams.  What's the current status of your musical dream, have you achieved it already or do you have bigger plans for the future, if so tell us about them.

JSH:   The “Side By Side” song is a song Idea I had about another subject matter. When I told Harry Hamm about my idea he transformed the story to fit is story that is a true one about his car and buggy! I came up with the music to his story. I would have to do some editing since Harry wrote much longer versions that a song would allow. You might say I wrote the Reader’s Digest version with music.

Scott:    I read your story about the song The Has-Been (That Never Was).  First thing that came to mind is that I'd like to see my own music on a 45 someday.   How do you feel about the contemporary music industry, based on songfiles, compared to the days when records were king?  

JSH:  “The Has-Been (That Never Was) is one of my personal favorites from the “Side By Side” CD Album. In 1986 I recorded a 45-rpm record locally here. The song was my first version of “Dreams Of A Boy” on the “A” side and “My Grandfather’s Home” on the “B” side. Both songs I wrote and both songs very near and dear to my heart. My friend Mike Dennis called me around 2002 to tell me that he found a 45 of this song in a bargain bin in an Antique Shop in Junction City, Wisconsin. I asked him how much was it and he said 50 cents. I asked him if he bought it and he said no that I had given him two of them in the past. I replied on the phone “What the hell Mike am I the has been that never was? Well Harry and I were writing songs for what would become the “Side By Side” album and I told him this story and we wrote this one together lyrically and I wrote the music.

Scott:    Another song I love of yours is Slow To Change.  Great vocals on that and an interesting production as well.   It must be tricky for someone who is slow to change livin' in this world today, I'd imagine?

JSH:   I am not sure which version of this song you are referring to. The one I sang on my “Side By Side” released in 2005 or the new version I did on the Project with Ruthy Christy on vocal. I wrote this song sometime around 1987 and it is very unique to what I usually write. It is deep and dark. It could have several listener meanings. Thank you!

Scott:   I ask this to all Spotlight artists.  Have you ever had any experiences of high strangeness like UFOs or the supernatural (ghosts, etc)?

JSH:   Well I have been driving eighteen wheeler's for a good part of 37 years now. I still do work at that local here. I have seen many strange things in the sky over the years. I do recall have a very lifelike visit with my grandpa Ben Meyer who had long passed on. He seemed so real and the words he spoke to me in my dream were very inspiring. I was at a very low point in my life when this occurred. I woke up and for a moment I really believe he was sitting there across from me just like when we were fishing in his boat so many years ago.  I wrote “My Grandfather’s Home” about him and his very religious way of living.

Scott:   Have you ever performed any impromptu concerts around the campfire?

JSH:   Sometimes I think I get invited to these kind of gatherings because I am at my best in these settings. I love to tell stories and strum and hum in a live little group. I also enjoy that I have a few others to swap and play songs with. My friend I call Cowboy (Neil w Young) along with Roy Muniz and Leslie Boyko all met on MySpace years ago and became best of friends there. I have met and jammed with Roy in person, but not Neil and Les. We call ourselves the Fireside Boys. We always talk about doing that together someday. We have a very special Mutual Admiration Society between us.

James Stanley Howen