My Story – Senior Airman Guy James

Senior Airman Guy James • America's MusiciansOctober 2023 • October 15, 2023

I don’t come from a musical family, but I believe fate will have its way no matter what we’re born into. My earliest memories of connecting with music go back to my childhood climbing up on a relative’s piano bench and being mesmerized by the sound when I touched the piano keys. It wasn’t until I was fifteen that the guitar came into my life. I find the best things often happen when we aren’t seeking them out and this was exactly my experience with the guitar.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was at a friend’s house after school when I noticed a guitar sitting in the corner. I felt drawn to it like the piano experience from my childhood. Growing up, I didn’t have any other friends who played instruments, so this was the first time I had been in the same room with a guitar in my life. When he showed me a 12-bar blues and introduced me to BB King it was love at first sound! I was instantly smitten with everything about the guitar and the new world that blues opened for me.

A blessing in disguise that shaped my resilience early on was when I suffered a torn ACL injury at the end of my freshman year and subsequent knee surgery that put me on the couch all summer. While recovering, I spent that summer listening to music and getting closer to the guitar. I felt a newfound sense of purpose heading to my sophomore year. Sports were no longer on my mind, I wanted to be a musician.

Over the next two years, I took private guitar lessons funded by my late grandmother. I remember riding my bicycle with my guitar on my back to guitar lessons. She really supported my love for guitar and always encouraged me. This was crucial since I didn’t have a strong support system at home. I had an intrinsic drive and passion, so I turned to music for guidance.

The more I listened and played along with recordings the more grounded I felt. When I decided music was what I wanted to study in college, I joined the jazz band in my senior year which introduced me to the fundamentals of jazz guitar chords and sight reading which at the time I had no experience in. Along with the formal approach to guitar studies, I played in bands with friends and enjoyed what felt like the most electric time in my musical youth. I wanted to push myself to perform so at 17 years old I drove myself to dive bars to sit in with blues band musicians three times my age. This experience was formative in honing my improvisational skills, something a lot of players my age just didn’t have.

Once in college, I was studying jazz guitar much more intensely and getting humbled in music theory classes, but I embraced the challenges. I viewed these challenges as opportunities to become a better musician and reach my goal of being a professional musician. Just when the reality of college ending and the beginning of developing a music career was around the corner something I had never considered before came to my attention, an audition for an Air Force band.

I was intrigued and with the encouragement from all my mentors thus far I decided I had to give it a shot. I realized the worst that could happen would be a little money spent and some hurt feelings. Nothing that I feel can’t be remedied and all experiences are things that help us grow.

This was my first audition and I felt immense pressure. I practiced endlessly, 15 jazz standards and 15 pop/rock tunes all in a matter of a few months. I got a weekly gig at a coffee shop where I could bring a band in and practice the songs live which I found to be critical to my success. When I won the audition, I felt the shift in my life and for the first time felt like my work had really paid off.

However, it was just the next chapter in what have been the most rewarding years of my life. I have been able to live out my dreams of supporting myself with the guitar, traveling the world, and continuing my lifelong education as both a student and teacher. The challenges and opportunities I’ve had in the United States Air Force band have been unique and formative, to say the least. Being entrusted with the responsibility of communicating the Air Force’s messages through a universal language of music is a privilege and honor. I hope to continue serving for years to come.

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