Music has been singer/songwriter James Vincent Carroll’s primary source of income since 2013.
He likes to use the word “entertainer” to describe what he does.
“I’ve played live shows at hundreds of venues — wineries, breweries, restaurants, private parties at people’s houses,” Carroll said.
He also writes songs for other people, which he typically does at his home in Advance.
That work helped him get through financially at the height of the COVOD-19 pandemic.
“Getting shut down for four-and-a-half months, I actually lost 66 shows,” he said. “If it weren’t for being able to write songs and do some things from home that would have been bad.”
Often people will hire him to write songs about their lives and stories.
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“A husband might have a song written for his wife or vice versa,” he said. “Most recently, I had a couple who lost their son in an accident, and they had me write a song called ‘Until We Meet Again’ about his life.”
Carroll said his customers give him a lot of information for what he calls Life Songs. Then he tends to fight with himself over the lyrics until he comes up with a song that he thinks will work and his customers will like.
“Then I record a version of it in my studio and also make a YouTube video for them that has a slideshow of pictures of the person they love and music in the background,” he said.
A number of those songs can be found on his “Custom Songs Written for Others” YouTube channel.
Born in Greensboro, Carroll was raised in Wilkes County. After he graduated from high school in 1993, he worked in a lot of sales jobs.
“I tried college a few times, but it just wasn’t for me,” Carroll said. “College is a great thing for some people, but I was definitely meant to go into the work world. That’s how I found my happiness.”
He started playing the guitar at a young age. By the time he was in his 20s, he was playing gigs at night and especially on the weekends, both as a soloist and with bands. Triad venues Carroll has performed at include Quiet Pint Tavern and Old Homeplace Vineyard, both in Winston-Salem, and Westbend Winery and Brewery, as well as Old Nick Williams Co. Farm & Distillery, both in Lewisville.
Last year, he released the singles “We Will Rise” and “This Boat” that were both inspired by the pandemic.
“They’re just both songs of hope and people coming together, finding the light at the end of the storm,” he said.
He wants his music to bring people together.
“Just all kinds of people,” Carroll said. “We are all different. We all believe different. We are all influenced different. I’m like, ‘Music is supposed to be that thing where all these different people can come together and not really worry about all the differences but focus in on what we have in common for those little moments of just the music in general.’”
He also said it is important to him to help young artists who are starting out in the music industry and to support local businesses.
“I feel like, as a musician, I wouldn’t have my job if it wasn’t for these places hiring me,” Carroll said. “Because of that, that’s why I tend to work so much with local places to help try to grow their businesses.”
Q: How would you describe your art?
Answer: I am a full-time musician who uses original songs and classic cover songs to bring people together and support local businesses. My music style is definitely “classic rock/blues/acoustic.”
I’ve been writing songs since I was 15 years old and began like many in church. I always said I would “never be a cover song artist until I realized I could make a living playing cover songs in my own style. I re-compose classic songs into my own vine. I began writing songs about my own life and the stories of people around me. I play guitar mainly, but can also play a little bass, drums and piano.
Q: How have you evolved as an artist?
Answer: At age 46, I have no desire or interest in “making it big.” When I was much younger musician, it was a dream to become famous, but I’d rather be my own boss, manage and promote myself.
My dad and his dad were both musicians. As a child, when I could visit my dad, he would play guitar and make mix tapes for me of classic rock music. I would take those tapes back home after the weekend visit and listen to Pink Floyd, Heart, Hendrix, The Eagles and many more over and over. One day, I decided it was time to learn to play it all. I was 15 when I started. I spent a little time in Nashville in my 20s — long enough to realize that’s not where I wanted to be, or who I wanted to be.
After years of working full time every day and playing gigs every night, I decided to become a full-time musician in 2013 and have been doing 240 to 300 events per year ever since.
Q: Who has influenced your art?
Answer: My dad, grandfather and many other local artists who preceded me. I lived in Wilkes County for about 18 years with my mom. Sometime around 2006, I met a full-time musician named Jerry Chapman in Mount Airy who became a friend and began referring me to play at many venues in the Triad.
Jerry introduced me to Doug Davis, and he became the producer of much of my original music when I moved to Winston in 2007. I’ve never been officially or professionally taught. I’ve always played by ear, however, I’m highly inspired by Jerry, Doug and several other local musicians who musically blow my mind, such as Aaron Burkey, Daniel Serriff and Matt Sickels.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
Answer: Being self-employed is a daily challenge in general. If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. If I don’t hustle, I don’t find the work.
Q: What does art do for you?
Answer: It provides my main source of income, takes care of my family and rewards me mentally and spiritually.
Q: Any advice for other artists?
Answer: Find who you are. Realize what you do best and focus on that. If you want to make it “big,” go for it, but if you’d rather be in charge of your own life, schedule and decisions, focus on local venues and help them grow their business by adding your music to what they already have going on. Never stop promoting yourself, your friends and your venues, even when you’re not performing there.
Fran Daniel writes about artists — visual, musical, literary and more — weekly in Relish. Send your story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 336-727-7366.