Unlike most of the "American Idol" audience, Danny Ross has had a front-row seat to the Casey James show for years now. As owner of the Fort Worth, Texas, blues club the Keys Lounge, Ross has seen the "Idol" finalist grow from a fresh-faced kid to a full-fledged guitar ace, and no, he's not surprised that James now stands on the brink of big-time fame. In fact, Ross always thought James was destined for greatness.
"I've known him for a while, and I always knew there was something about him," Ross told MTV News on Tuesday.
"His mom is a singer, and he'd come sit in when he was a baby-faced kid; we'd have these blues jams. And as he got more proficient, he started booking his own acoustic gigs, then with an electric band. At first, his mother used to have to come with him," Ross explained. "Then me and him hit it off and we started playing together ... he's just got it. A lot of people in other places — New York, Dallas — they're in it for the money and the women ... they're 'scene players,' and then there are those who are in it for the music, and Casey is definitely one of those."
Ross has been playing with James on and off for more than two years now, most recently jamming with him at the Keys during his "Idol" hometown visit. He said that in all his years as a musician, he's never met someone as dedicated and in love with playing music as Casey. To the point where, sometimes, he'd have to forcibly remove the guitar from James' hands.
"I'd have parties at my house, and Casey would play ... and he'd just keep playing," Ross laughed. "It would be 3, 4 in the morning, and I'd have gone to bed, and he'd still be playing. If there was one person still at the party, he'd keep playing for them. He's that dedicated."
To that end, Ross said James reminds him of a bygone era of bluesmen — the kind who would travel from town to town, playing gigs until the sun came up. To be honest, that's not all that far from the truth — James truly doesn't belong to these times.
"He had no cell phone, no computer, no TV ... I remember telling him he needed to get his e-mail address out there, to get some publicity for his gigs at Keys, and he told me, 'Man, I'm just not into that.' He's a real traditional guy, and I think that's why he gets along with us older musicians," Ross said. "He's a throwback — he's got a house, and he's got these two basset hounds and, you know, I think he'd be happy just living there, with them, playing gigs. He's honestly in it just for the music."
Which is why, Ross said, James almost didn't try out for "American Idol." ("His mother let him borrow her truck and told him to get his butt up to Denver and audition," Ross chuckled.) But now that he has, it would appear that the sky really is the limit. And Ross, as he always has, sees nothing but big things in Casey's future.
"I think America likes him ... I think, overall, because of his playing — he's played to all kinds of crowds, big and small and now national, and he has the poise to do anything," he said. "He's a far better guitar player than he's shown on the show. ... I really think he could be the next John Mayer, only without the attitude."
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