About Konner James
Konner James: An authentic Louisiana voice bringing classic new songs to life.
Growing up in the heart of Louisiana, near Baton Rouge, you hear a lot of great music. Especially if your father collects records and guitars, exposing you to the greatest songs ever written from an early age. Konner James grew up that way: hearing all the classic country songs, drinking deep from the well, internalizing them.
Nowadays, every note of those classic tunes comes out when he sings, and that makes all the difference. With a voice so honest and natural that even a casually tweeted video of him singing can garner over 25,000 views, Konner James is now letting out all the music that's been welling up inside him for years. And in so doing, he may be the best kept secret in country music today.
It didn't hurt that one of the world's most renowned songwriters, who's written for, played for, and collaborated with the likes of Jimmy Buffet and John Prine, visited his family home when Konner was just a teen. “My dad went to watch John Prine in Lafayette,” Konner recalls. “And Keith Sykes was with him, and was selling his record at the end of the show. My dad is a big Keith Sykes fan, and went to talk to him, and they've known each other ever since. He even got him to come play at our house a few times. I was probably 12 or 13 then, and that's probably the first time I thought about writing songs.”
But Konner's not one to rush things. He let all that experience and music percolate inside him for some time. And then, when he was attending Louisiana College in Pineville, something clicked. “I always wanted to learn how to play guitar. And then a friend of mine learned how to play, and I figured, 'If he can learn it, I can learn it.' So I went out and bought a little $60 guitar, and I've been sticking with it ever since.”
Now he can play any tune he sets his mind to, all the better to let his voice ring out. It's a voice at once youthful and timeless, both fresh and classic, and, most importantly, it's a voice that turns heads. That's the only way to explain the momentum he's gained from only a handful of performances, partly due to the power of social media, where footage of him singing a Drake White tune in his kitchen, or singing a Chris Stapleton song at a friend's wedding, rapidly went viral.
That online response, starting in 2018, was all Konner James needed to run with his gut feeling. He knew he needed to be making music. Today, he's set aside all plans to run the family business in order to keep running with that desire.
The feeling he put into his online video performances was all Keith Sykes needed to hear as well. Living in his hometown of Memphis, now running the legendary Ardent Studios there, he little realized that the teenager he knew from visits to Louisiana had blossomed into a world-class vocalist. So when Sykes heard the first videos Konner posted, he knew what he had to do.
Gathering together two dozen of his finest unreleased songs, Sykes set the wheels in motion. “I talked to Mr. Keith and we recorded two demos in September, 2018,” recalls Konner. “We recorded some more that December, and then, in the summer of 2019, I just moved to Memphis for June and July and we did twenty demos at Ardent.”
The stars were aligning in other ways, too. “A guy had a music festival and he called me and said he'd fly me in there to come sing. I said, 'Man, I only know a couple songs.' So I started learning. And I went down there and did a two hour gig. It was the Lakeapalooza Festival in False River, Louisiana. That was my first performance.”
The large crowd responded immediately to his voice, inspiring Konner to wrap up his demo sessions shortly thereafter. “They loved it. A lot of my friends were there. It was a really good crowd. That was on July 4, 2019. Then I went back to Memphis to finish up the demos. I also finished my last semester of school in the fall of 2019, and then played a couple gigs.”
It wasn't long before Konner and Sykes picked the best demos and prepared to make the album proper. “Right after the coronavirus happened,” Konner says, “I moved to Memphis and we started recording the album. I was there for probably a month, then we had to shut everything down; and then I went back there for another month in June and we finished it.”
Konner's excitement at having a chance to make a dozen Keith Sykes songs his own is palpable. “The entire album was written by Mr. Keith,” Konner points out. “And he really has some pretty ones in there. One is called 'The Bracelet and the Charm,' and that's one of my favorites. I like good, stripped down, pretty songs. And that song's just me on the guitar and singing. That's it.”
For others, Sykes assembled a crack band of Memphis' finest, and experience Konner says he won't forget. “There we were at Ardent, in the same room where Billy Gibbons and ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughn recorded. There was no better place to be, right? And we had a great band.”
The players were versatile, covering the same breadth of style that has always motivated Konner. “I like classic rock, folk, and old country,” he says, before pointing out the full range of material on the album. “'Drive Myself to Drinkin'. That's a country song. It's gonna be a big song because it just brings back the old country feeling. It's got slide guitar on it and that old rolling, barroom piano. And 'Lavender Blue' is kind of an upbeat love song.
“There's a real emotional one called 'The End of May,' about Memorial Day — a ballad about some soldiers that didn't come back from a war. It's actually a true story about two guys Mr. Keith knew. The one we just released, 'Give It To Me,' that's a big rocking one. We've got some other rocking ones in there, like 'A Woman Like That.' And one of my favorites is about Louisiana, 'Louisiana Summer Nights.'”
He takes a deep breath, as if mentioning his home state has led him to measure the incredible distance he's come in such a short time. “This album's gonna be great, I believe.” And, whether he's speaking or singing, when Konner James believes it, you believe it too.