The following story I’m sharing is about Tampa music legend, James Marvell: his background and his upcoming Christmas Special:
Story by Our Generation’s Raymond Napolitano <email@example.com> permission granted to re-print article-see photos
James Marvell to feature Branson in his Christmas Special
Florida: Ybor City’s own James Marvell has been spelling his name wrong all these years. He should have dropped the last ‘L” and paraded himself around as the marvel that he is. I spent a fair amount of time listening to this smooth talking musician/promoter/salesman, watching all the YouTube videos of him from across the decades, looking at the photos and clippings he has sent me and continues to send me, and have bubbled over with fermenting thoughts about this enigmatic local legend.
He doesn’t tell anyone his age, but he likes telling the story about how he was on The Mike Douglas Show with the group Mercy. You remember them don’t you, they had that iconic hit Love Can Make You Happy, the one that was in the Top 10 at the same time along with Elvis, The Beatles, Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra. Here’s how James told it: “I was on The Mike Douglas Show with Don Rickles. There I am, down in the cellar getting ready for the show, as a 19-year old kid. There’s Don Rickles and in my mind I didn’t really quite understand that he was this insult guy. So there I am and they’re fixing me up and all that and he hands me a ball with a lot of bumps on it—you gotta remember I’m a young guy—and he says: ‘Here man, this reminds me of your face.’ I’m thinking, what a downer state of mind this guy has put me in you know, but because I didn’t know any better, little did I know, he liked me.”
I get the feeling that James Marvell has spent a lifetime of people liking him, whether he was aware of it or not, throughout the various sectors of a career that went from garage bands to country music to pop stardom, then back to country music with a stint as a jewelry designer for country stars, to gospel show promoter and eventual gospel music singer and songwriter.
When Marvell gets going on a subject, he comes at you with a steady barrage of ideas. He even wrote a jingle for Our Generation Magazine, recorded it and sent the music file to myself and publisher Bryan Gilchrist. It’s that tenacious determination to keep you thinking about what he’s telling you or showing you that makes him both endearing and eternally youthful in spirit.
And why not. His father Sal, a local barber, lived to be 103, cutting hair almost to the very end. In fact, YouTube the video of Sal at 100 years old joining his son to perform James’ song Tampa, the Perfect City produced by Mike Baluja and you’ll feel the loving respect and genuine gratitude they have for family and the city they both love. Sal & Marvell even made it into Music Tampa Bay’s 96.7 FM Hall Of Fame Museum in 2016 as the first inductees ever.
James Marvell’s story starts out like many other musicians’ stories. His mother Emily got him a guitar at about age 12 and encouraged him to play. Along the way he got guitar guidance from various talented adults, then, “because I also enjoyed country music,” James would hang out at The Deep South, a honky tonk on the corner of Armenia and Rome, listening to Johnny Bare, who happened to be the uncle of country music icon Bobby Bare. By that time, James and his pal Buddy Good had grown their hair way down, as was customary for young people back in the day. They’d wear cowboy hats and whenever Bobby Bare came to visit his uncle he’d see these two long-haired cowboys and tell them how cool they looked. So James and Buddy moved up to Nashville and became country music’s first real outlaws, at least in image. While part of Mercy, they figured they’d do their own thing and went off as a duet, The Country Cavaleers managed by John Centinaro who also managed Mercy. They were out on the road with folks like Ernest Tubbs and early Hank Williams Jr, drawing young crowds with their looks while simultaneously preaching an anti-drug message. Tampa radio legend Tedd Webb recalls “Long Hair & Country didn’t sound like this until then.”
Well, you know how the music business goes. Sometimes you have to get a day job to keep yourself afloat. Somehow this marvel, Marvell, started designing jewelry. Before long it caught the attention of some of country’s greatest stars, including Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe and Willie Nelson. That took him to Branson, Missouri. Here’s another turning point story from James: “I was being blessed abundantly, selling jewelry left and right. So there I am in Branson with the Willie Nelson Ozark Theater, it’s like a 1500-seater. The Johnny Minick Family, a gospel group, they were kinda just gettin started, would drive in from Arkansas on the weekend and they’d get like 20 people. Something moved on me to try to help them with that work. I pushed and promoted and before long that created theater worship, filling the house. Branson gave me the idea that maybe that was the kind of music that was coming. I loved it so much I recorded a song around ‘93 titled, Only Christian Country. It became the theme song of the International Country Gospel Music Association.”
And it’s been pretty much gospel ever since. Go on YouTube and track down Marvell’s versions of Best Thing God Ever Made, Prophecy or any of the other gospel and country hits he’s had and your ears will thank you, as will your soul. Spend some time online with the marvelous James Marvell, a homespun gentle man with a legendary history and visions of a brilliant future.
Top stars including Branson favorites are joining James Marvell on his Christmas TV Special. Artists include The Blackwoods, Terry Wayne Sanders as Barney Fife & Grandma Beulah, Johnny Cash’s sister Joanne, Jerry Presley, Kevin Shorey, Heart To Heart, Donna Cunningham, Russ Loniello with a Dean Martin Tribute, America’s Got Talent Top five finalists Voices Of Glory are back by popular demand and others will appear on A Marvelous Christmas directed by Roy Young. Search it out in early December for a most enjoyable viewing experience.