Many of you might not know who David James was, but I’ll try to sum up his amazing life in a blog post.
David James was well-known in the South Bend / Mishawaka (“Michiana”) area as a legend in the Irish music scene. He pretty much put South Bend on the map as a hotspot for Irish music, and he wasn’t even Irish. He loved the music, promoting it, and most of all playing it. He played banjo, fiddle, bass, harmonica, and probably half a dozen other instruments I’ve forgotten about as I write this. He was best known, however, for his mastery of the hammer dulcimer. David won multiple prestigious awards at Irish music festivals for his dulcimer skills.
He was a Notre Dame graduate with a degree in political science and he remained an avid advocate for social justice all through his life. He championed workers’ rights, LGBTQ and racial equality measures, education reform, and many other causes that sought to help the underdog.
The way David affected my life was that he co-founded Nocturne – the WSND program for which I DJ in the summer and winter – in 1968. David worked at WSND as the host of “Celtic Traditions” for many years, broadcasting Celtic music all over the world. He would often be there when I showed up for my Nocturne shows and tell me stories of playing grimy blues clubs with blues legends, Irish music festivals with hardcore hippies, and being in the middle of the politically charged 1960’s.
He was a lover of all kinds of music and often asked me about the music I spun on my show. He’d hang out for the first couple tunes I’d play while we chatted and sometimes stop in mid-conversation and ask, “Who is this?” I introduced him to Ancient River when I played one of their tunes and he said, “Sounds like someone’s been listening to a lot of Doors.” I also turned him on to Gary Wilson and Earthless one of the last times I saw him over the summer of 2017.
I’ll always think of him when I spin at WSND now, and I wish he could’ve seen the new station once the construction is done. I’m sure his spirit will slide into the booth now and then when he’s not kicking back a ghostly pint at the Fiddler’s Hearth in South Bend. I plan to play a tribute to him this summer on WSND with lots of psychedelic rock, blues, and his own music.
Oh yeah, as if his local legacy, national tours with multiple bands, and international awards weren’t enough, he released two albums – Tiompan Alley in 1992 and The Lone Man’s Path a decade later.
Good rest to you, sir.
Keep your mind open.