In case you’re just joining the conversation, songwriter and all-around-talented-guy, James Winningham, has declared himself The Wheat Belly Bluesman, having created the song and video, Wheat Belly Blues.
People have asked why and how Mr. Winningham came to write this song. So here’s his story.
WB: Whenever I listen to Wheat Belly Blues, I marvel at the fact that you did everything: wrote the lyrics and the music, and provided all the instrumental parts, including the vocal. How did you acquire so many talents?
JW: Well, I started singing before I could talk, listening to my little record player and singing along. I sang in choir at church, and I eventually had “that” moment, the pivotal epiphany that told me what I wanted to be.
I saw the Beatles live on the Ed Sullivan Show. I never would have seen them but my parents always watched his show, and they Blew. Me. Away. Not as instrumentalists, but with a vocal structure at once playful, yet deeply structured, with perfect harmonizing. I instantly abandoned my pro football dreams and started bugging my dad for a guitar.
I played drums in grade school and I later had the privilege of playing lead guitar with some of the most sought-after studio drummers in the business.
I started playing the guitar at age 17, then started playing in clubs at 19, then played the guitar for a living until I became too dysfunctional from drugs and the club life to be part of a band. My transition to composing my own songs with instruments I could control was a godsend and a technical challenge at the same time. Imagine a distinct process for each note of “Wheat Belly Blues.” I chose the time signature, then started a click track, then used my keyboard to play the drums, and then added the bass, etc. Since I’ve played with so many bands, I know what the “feel” is supposed to be, and I ask… “Hmmmm, how would Jack have played this drum part, etc.”
The move to solo composer actually saved my life. At the time I started trying to create my own songs, I was at the lowest point in my life. The songs led me through the pain and the darkness to a better place, and now I honor that gift by creating more songs.
WB: You also mentioned to me that you feel you wrote Wheat Belly Blues in record time, compared to your previous work. Could you explain?
JW: My process is a meticulous editing of each beat and each note in the song, until all the instruments work together like a “real” band. It took me 15 years to produce my first CD. (A lot of that time spent in a drug-induced fog.) It was taking me a year or more to get ready for the second CD, and I didn’t have any songs ready to release.
I asked you about the idea on October 8. And within two weeks I’d created and mixed and mastered “Wheat Belly Blues.” AND, during that two weeks I conceived and blocked out the video for the song, and by the time the audio engineer finished his work, the video was done, using techniques I had to learn on the fly while I was doing it!
The interesting part about this project is that kicking wheat seems to have swept away my dithering and doubt about my talent, as well as letting me have a huge blast of creativity. And it’s still happening.
WB:You clearly have incredible talent across a number of areas. Where do you see your future work heading?
JW: I have just released a new song, and the accompanying video. It’s the most radical shift in genre for me ever. It’s a lush cloud of strings and voices, with my guitar floating over it, and the video is a sort of “coming out” celebration for me.
I have been working on a book for 25 years. It’s an autobiographical look at bipolar disorder. I’ve seen this experience through every possible lens: 100% medical, 100% spiritual, and various blends of the two. As a result of kicking wheat, I was able to develop a brand new approach to the Spiritual Initiation embedded in this experience called “mania.” The book will put into words the striking coherence of my recent Energy Blast, and most importantly, I did not devolve into delusions and disaster.
So the cycle of independence, creativity, and spiritual growth continues, and I am loving this new emotional address.
So does my wife, I might add.
WB: Thanks, James. I hope that, among your many accomplishments, you also go down as the man who brought culture and class to the Wheat Belly movement!
Here’s a sample of what James is referring to in his “shift in genre.” I found it breathtaking.