his heart is in Nashville but his soul is in Key West

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James Slater    his heart is in Nashville but his soul is in Key West

Born in Durham, North Carolina while his father Vic Slater worked at Duke University. He was a psychiatrist from Michigan with a passion for the mandolin and sailing the ocean. He met James mother Alicia in Galveston, Texas while at the University of Texas, she was from Bolivia and a fantastic singer and wanted to live somewhere warm. They moved to Miami and later to the Panama Canal Zone. Everywhere they lived his father stayed close to the ocean. It seemed Vic always had a sailboat and always hung around the docks where he said “the interesting people hung out.”

James lived in the Panama Canal Zone from the age of 8 to 18 years old, he became fluent in Spanish. His mother insisted he study piano while growing up. Around age 14 he wanted to quit music. He heard Carlos Santana perform Oye Como Va in the Canal Zone and was inspired to continue. A year later he was performing with a band called Viva.

After the Canal Zone was returned to Panama the family moved back to the United States and settled in Miami. James studied jazz graduating from the University of Miami in 1981. He performed with groups in Coconut Grove while attending classes. Bands would frequently break apart so James tried to learn old songs that would allow him to play solo gigs.

His career took off when at 20 years old he wrote a Christmas song titled All I Want From Santa is a Girl From Atlanta. He recorded it in Nashville flew to Atlanta for the promotion with the Atlanta Falcons Cheerleaders. Next it was off to Los Angeles in 1989 to write songs. James got a job playing old jazz standards five days a week at Carroll O’Conner’s Restaurant in Beverly Hills.

After four years in LA he spent six years in Switzerland performing and touring Europe with a Belgian group called Vaya Con Dias. He returned to the US in 2002 settling in Nashville. He heard about the Key West Songwriters Festival and made some inquiries and was invited to attend in 2004.

Almost immediately after arriving in Key West all of his childhood memories in Panama came roaring back. He has been returning often every year since. James was inspired to write a song titled Key West Address in 2008 and then Mayor McPherson signed a Proclamation calling it the Song of the Year.

James has been nominated for two Grammy Awards, and has written songs for many Nashville greats, but to him Key West is special. It’s all about hanging out at Schooner Warf, the Hogs Breath Saloon, chasing Hemingway’s ghost in Sloppy Joes, banana pancakes at Blue Heaven, Mr. Z’s pizza, riding your bike past the graveyard at midnight. He feels most at home when he gets off the airplane in Key West, “it ignites my creative soul.” James Slater returns often and says his heart is in Nashville but his soul is in Key West.

Last Christmas he recorded an album of twelve songs over four days in the famous Shrimpboat Sound Studio on a grand piano that Jimmy Buffett bought from Billy Joel. It’s an album of songs titled Famous In Key West. James will debut the new music at the Key West Theater along with Cuban percussionist Armando Baeza on March 3rd.

One of the songs he recorded is titled “Guys Named Captain” about his two friends Captain Tony and Captain Outrageous and a warm tribute to his father Vic who often Captained his own sail boat and loved the ocean. The song was scheduled to be cut by Kenny Chesney who has recorded several of his songs in the past but they never really spoke. He got a call from Chesney who stated that “dude, you just wrote my life on the water.” He asked was your father really a mandolin playing psychiatrist, and is everything true in the song? James confirmed everything written was true. It’s a very cool song and Captain Vic would be proud.

Another song was inspired by Sandy’s Café on White Street titled Café Con Leche. Key Wester Ken Fradley plays trumpet on a song titled Guaybera. Petronia Blues is about an afternoon stroll down the famous Bahama Village street.

James Slater and Key West musician Howard Livingston have been good friends and musical collaborators for years. Howard visited Nashville last year and recorded a new album of music with several songs written by James. Howard will join with James again on March 3rd at the Key West Theater.

To James the power of music is demonstrated with the touring performances of 90 year old Willie Nelson who just sold out the Coffee Butler Amphitheater for the 3rd time. Glenn Campbell and Tony Bennet seemed to be rejuvenated when walking on stage in their final years. James 91 year old mother Alicia who lives in Fort Pierce, still performs vibrant Latin rhythms with him. Music is simply amazing.


One Comment

  • Jim Copeskey says:

    Good luck James!!
    2024 Festival!
    BHS ‘76 Strong!
    Love ya Brother
    Viva Panama!!
    🎶🎶 🎉🎉🎉 🇵🇦🇵🇦🇵🇦

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