Stevie James started studying the blues after hearing Nirvana cover Lead Belly’s “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” on MTV Unplugged. The leap from grunge to blues exemplifies James’ restless thought process, and from there he went to study the history of American music. During regular sets at The Freeman Cafe, Twilite Lounge, The Underpass, and various other Dallas clubs, he covers legendary blues artists and American songs that are hundreds of years old.
James’ passion for music is matched by his Libertarian political convictions. Whenever there is a cause that gets his attention, he turns his profession into a platform for activism, using music as a hook to draw people to fundraising events and political rallies. It all started when he came across a No One Here Gets Out Alive, the Jim Morrison biography. Morrison appreciated the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, which led James to Beyond Good and Evil and on to Aristotle and Plato, and, well, you get the idea.
In 2007, James’ political awakening occurred when the words of Ron Paul started to resonate with him. “There was an alternative voice coming from the most unlikely of parties,” he says. “You’d never think to hear this anti-war, no drug law, open immigration, gay marriage platform from a Republican.” James visited Ron Paul’s website, browsed a huge list of recommended books, and ended up reading them all. He cites Economics in One Lesson as particularly important. When James finds himself in arguments with “people who just don’t get it,” he’ll often ask for their address and send them a copy of the book.
In 2011, The Free Man opened up in Deep Ellum and James recalls joking that it would be funny if the owner was Libertarian. As it turned out, he was. After James met Free Man owner John Jay Myers, the two quickly realized they shared many beliefs. Myers, who had also taken an interest in politics because of Ron Paul, was then running for the Senate seat taken by Ted Cruz. James ended up joining Myers on the campaign trail along with Gary Johnson, a presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party.
During this time, James also interacted with other third party groups like Green Party, the Constitution Party, the Social Justice Party, as well as advocacy organizations for marijuana, immigration, women’s rights, gay rights, and environmentalists. “When you get down to the core issues we all believe the same things,” he says. “We all basically want the same things, but disagree on how we are going to do it.”
Now The Free Man is a place where all sorts of different groups regularly hold meetings. In 2013, when the prospect of U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war was being hotly debated at a national level, James performed at an event at The Free Man to protest military action and encourage people to reach out to congressmen. The event drew hundreds of people.
When his close friend Javier Valadez, co-founder of the Dallas arts and culture zine THRWD, was detained and later deported, James organized a “Free Javi” benefit. Instead of sending out emails and social media blasts to people all over the city, James’ started with Valadez’s social circle, with people who knew and cared about him. From there it grew organically.
James frequently enjoys debating with others in person and online. At one point, he got into it with Adam Kokesh, the controversial activist, talk show host, and author. James was surprised to eventually receive a phone call from Kokesh, who was on the road and wanted to make a stop in Dallas. Although he didn’t necessarily agree with Kokesh’s ideas, James helped set up an event at The Free Man and it drew hundreds of people.
James was recently collaborating with former Ishi drummer James Mudd. But a car hit Mudd weeks ago. With back problems that are getting worse, he does not have insurance or money to cover medical expenses. James is standing by, ready to do another benefit much like the “Free Javi” event.
Moving forward, James says his goal is to increase awareness of political and economic issues.
“If you’re trying to reach a mass audience, you should speak from the heart in the best terms you know and people will listen,” James says.