Local musician’s talents came as surprise to acquaintances

James F. Wright likes to say, “There’s no parole from rock ’n’ roll.” Once a person performs musically, the desire never leaves.

“I’m a classic example of that,” the Lebanon musician told a visitor recently. “At 63, I’m still wanting to make music and perform and share it.”

Wright has played, performed and recorded music most of his lifetime, but it’s sort of been on the back burner while he pursued other interests. Yet, it only took a simple “Happy Birthday” song to launch him back into the music scene and draw a following.

James Wright believes he’s coming into a resurgence since moving to Lebanon in March 2017.

After moving from Lyons to Lebanon with his family, Wright began meeting people in the community. On a whim one day, he pulled out his guitar to sing “Happy Birthday” to a community member he’d met, and they streamed it to Facebook.

Julie Miller, who works at the Lebanon School District, saw the video and instantly liked him, she said. She now calls herself his self-appointed No. 1 fan.

“He’s this quiet little guy from Entek, looked like a super nerdy guy, and I said, ‘Whoah! That’s coming out of that guy?’” Miller said about the first time she saw him sing.

Miller asked him to speak to her students at the Teen Center, and was  impressed with his life story, she said. He told them he’s never had a drink of alcohol, touched a cigarette or taken a drug. He survived a life threatening car wreck, went through a couple surgeries, and started a family later in life.

“I loved his back-story and found his life very interesting,” Miller said. “He just had a real storyteller feel to him, you know?”

More people took notice of Wright following his birthday serenade, and he accepted invites to play at Bigfoot Bites, Schmizza Pizza, Conversion Brewing, Barsideous Brewing and Concerts in the Park.

“It was sort of being plopped here in Lebanon that opened that door for me again,” Wright said. “I didn’t see it coming. It just organically happened, and that’s what tells me that it’s the right thing, because it’s taken a life of its own.”

Wright was born and raised in Seattle, and grew up in a musical family. His mother, a vocalist and pianist, still composes music on the piano at 88 years old, he said. His brother dabbled in music, and his sister has written songs and performed with Wright from time to time.

“We harmonize really well. Our voices are similar, that female and male version of the same voice, so to speak,” he said.

Growing up, Wright played baritone horn and tuba in the marching band, and was also in swing choir. Following a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in New Zealand, he worked musical gigs in San Francisco and toured in a few different bands, but eventually decided band life was not for him.

At age 31, following a car accident, he discontinued playing gigs and “pretty much quit music.”

In addition to growing musically, Wright learned video production in high school, and got a job at Brigham Young University as an audio engineer in the motion picture studio. He later attended broadcasting school and landed work in radio.

“I worked in radio for about seven years while I was making music,” he said. “So in my mind, radio, audio and eventually video production is all in the same pot for me, so one of these was gonna gel eventually.”

Something did gel. Wright worked freelance video production and produced hundreds of television commercials and corporate videos, he said. He currently works at Entek as media specialist, producing training videos for the Oregon and Indonesia offices.

His job also entails community relations, which encourages him to engage residents of the Lebanon community.

JAMES WRIGHT has become a popular local musician after friends discovered that his musical talents were vast. (Photo courtesy of James Wright)

 “I love Lebanon. It’s a great little place, and as a musician there’s lots of opportunities to play,” Wright said. “But beyond that, I’ve never met so many community-minded, dedicated people, as here in Lebanon.”

Off the top of his head, Wright lists, as examples, “dedicated Rotarians,” LAFTA and Terri Krebs – because “what she does is just amazing,” and Kris Latimer, a “dedicated person” for the Boys and Girls Club.

“In many ways, the Boys and Girls Club is sort of the center of the Lebanon world,” he said.

He also had a lot to say about the Optimist Club.

“If there’s a club in Lebanon that is sort of the pulse of Lebanon, it’s the Optimist Club,” he said, noting the variety of members from government leaders and business owners, to residents who want to volunteer.

“We all come together in the same room and serve the community,” he said. “Optimists is like this hub where caring, community-minded people gather.”

Since moving to Lebanon and reawakening his musical pursuits, Wright has played with local musicians The Gutones, and met with Donny Thorp of Fate 55. He’s also talked to the founders of Guitars Under the Stars, and believes that festival has great potential to become something big.

“There seems to be a niche for what I do, here in Lebanon. Lebanon is kind of an emerging music scene with lots of talent in town,” he said.

Wright has produced four CDs since 1991: “Legacy of Harmony,” “Familiar Strangers,” “The Captain” and “Turning Point.” The CDs include popular cover songs, as well as many songs written by Wright and his sister.

“‘The Captain’ song is kind of this haunting, sort of Titanic thing about a sea captain that is lost at sea,” he said. “He lost control of his vessel, so he’s calling out to the Master, ‘I’ve lost control. Are you out there? Can you hear me?’”

It is a spiritual analogy that even unbelievers can relate to, he said.

Another of his songs, “Like a Man,” includes a recording of his grandfather from 1979, and is among one of Wright’s favorites. He also prefers “Roses,” a song that asks a beloved not to throw out a rose because of its thorns.

But it’s “Legacy of Harmony” that he claims as his statement song.

In essence, Wright wants to leave a legacy of harmony, but he also would like to have people remember him for more than that.

““I’d like to be remembered for a few things. One, that I was a good husband. Two, that I was a good father. Three, that I was a good member of the community, a contributor, easy to be around and deal with, and honest in my dealing with people.”