Jammin’ with Mark James

Mark James is like a human jukebox, chock full of Hawaiian tunes and oldies from the 1950s through ‘80s.

“And it’s all by request,” he said of his live performances. 

The 66-year-old has been playing and performing for more than 50 years and has written more than 200 songs. In eighth grade, he bought his first guitar and taught himself to play. The rest, as they say, is history.

For years, James played in either a duo or as a solo act in his hometown of Phoenix. Then, in the 1980s, he started visiting Hawaii, specifically Kauai.

“It’s the only island I like,” he chuckled.

In 2001, he made the move to the island and immediately began playing backup guitar for the legendary Larry Rivera. Eventually, he landed enough of his own gigs and ventured off. 

For the last five years, James has been playing three times a week at Lemongrass Grill in Kapaa. This weekend he performs from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Above all, James says he enjoys the variety of people who come in, as well as the array of requests. 

“We get everybody from all different countries,” he said. “We get people of all ages. We sometimes get movie stars, rock stars. It’s really a varied crowd.”

Early in his career, James said he was critical of his music. Over the years, however, he learned to accept his sound. 

When asked if he still has the motivation he had as a younger man, James said, “More so. I’m enjoying it more. I think I’ve progressed to the point where I’m happier with what I do.”

And the reward is having people commend him for his music, often telling him he has the best variety they’ve ever heard. 

“Any time you can make people smile, and sometimes make people cry, you’re touching them emotionally,” he said. “It’s a really cool thing to do.” 

James is working on his 14th album. He has also authored eight children books and recently completed a Kauai guide book, which he hopes to have published soon. 

The Lemongrass Grill is at 4-885 B Kuhio Hwy in Kapaa and can be reached at 821-2888.

For more information about Mark James or to sample his music, visit www.tunecore.com/music/markjames.

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