Joshua James is Leader of the Theatre Bizarre Orchestra and The Heavy Petters, house band of Willis Show Bar. The recently opened and renovated nightclub has a legendary history that spans back to 1930’s Detroit. There’s a lot more to say about Willis, but right now all you need to know is that it’s one of the few remaining venues in the country with a stage—it has more than one—located behind the bar and a house band that exerts as much creative control over the atmosphere as the Beverage Director. And AMEN! Because someone needed to take cocktail culture next level.
Thanks to James and his Heavy Petters, and a robust itinerary of visiting artists, every night at Willis is a good one. Good as in thoughtful, composed, and new. These are serious af musicians who bring it to every. Single. Performance.
We sat down with James to learn more about the man behind the music.
Detroitisit: What’s the last album you’ve listened to in its entirety?
Joshua James: It’s not one, but three in quick succession: “Old Fashioned Gal” by Kat Edmonson; “Awaken, My Love!” by Childish Gambino, and “Coming Home” by Leon Bridges.”
DII: How do you listen to music at home?
JJ: There’s no one way. Often I’m researching music for a project or show, which necessitates me listening at my computer with the internet at my disposal. I’ll simply say this: weekends are for records. The turntable is constantly spinning Friday-Sunday. I rarely listen to music in the car; it’s too distracting. But when I need to listen critically, I don my headphones, a pair of Grados by Alessandro. They provide the best listening experience.
DII: Name one song that’s changed you.
JJ: This is impossible. One song? I don’t think so. REM’s “Automatic For People” threw me as a kid (that’s more than one song), as did DJ Shadow’s “Entroducing.” I’d say most of Bjork’s work ruined me for life—in the best possible way. Music of her’s that’s changed me would include “Isobel,” “Hidden Place,” and “Venus As A Boy.” As for jazz…boy howdy! Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” is right up there. As is Dexter Gordon’s “Tanya.”
DII: Sun sign?
JJ: I’m a Leo (obvi).
DII: Inner avatar?
JJ: Inner avatar? No, I am what I am from the inside out.
DII: What’s the characteristic you like most in people?
JJ: The ability to actualize mere ideas into tangible reality.
DII: Dislike the most?
DII: Last book you’ve read about music?
JJ: Read or reread? I’m currently rereading Miles Davis’ autobiography. (It’s so fucking hysterical!) I would say the last book I read about music is the Quincy Jones autobiography.
DII: Best Live Show?
JJ: Hands down, bar none, the best live show(s) I’ve ever seen have been Sharon Jones and the Dapkings (God rest her soul). I was fortunate enough to have opened for her when she debuted at the Magic Bag all those years ago. Was it spring of ’04? Every show she ever put on was dynamite, absolutely dynamite. I was also fortunate enough to see Yasmin Bay (as Mos Def) do a show the eve of MLK day at Hill Auditorium some eight years ago, featuring a nascent Ropert Glasper and his band from “Black Radio.”
The Gorillaz at the Fox Theater this past fall was pretty damn good.
DII: Artist You Most Wish You Saw Live, in their prime?
JJ: Though still in her prime, I wish I had seen Bjork when we were both younger.
DII: Best Musical?
JJ: Oh my gosh, this is so obvious. Wait, maybe not. I mean, West Side Story reigns supreme, but “Into the Woods,” “The Book of Mormon,” and “Pippin” are all bad as hell.
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