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Robin James: Singing life to the fullest

Article by Marcia Darnell

Local Artists – April 2007 – Colorado Central Magazine

SINGER ROBIN JAMES is a busy young woman. She just began a new career as a journalist, covering events in Del Norte, South Fork and Creede for their respective weekly newspapers. She’s also promoting her new CD, “People Say,” arranging performance dates, writing songs, learning instruments, and, oh yeah, preparing for her August wedding.

Music is in the background — and foreground — of everything in Robin’s life. Her mother, Dianne James Lockhart, is a singer and songwriter who plays the piano and guitar.

“My mom lined my baby bed with sheet music,” says James. “I started singing at 2. Music’s always been a part of my life.”

Robin James
Robin James

It still is, judging by the electronic keyboard in her living room in Monte Vista. It’s a warm room, filled with sunlight, plants, Indian blankets and rugs, art, movies, CDs, and an orange kitty named Duke. It’s a room that speaks of comfort and creativity.

James spent her childhood migrating all over New Mexico and west Texas, spending a lot of her school years in Grants, N.M. She, her mother, and her brother moved to the San Luis Valley in 1999, during her last year of high school. Her grandparents had lived in Fort Garland, with her aunt.

“I love it,” she says of the Valley. “I consider it home.”

Traditional education didn’t offer much for the young artiste.

“I dabbled with college,” she says. She spent about a year at Adams State College, then finished a cosmetology program at Trinidad State Junior College — Valley Campus, but didn’t work at the trade. Her version of creativity was already set.

James’ exposure to all forms of music began early. Her mother played and sang often, taking a course in classical music when Robin was 4. She took both of her children to school with her, and the kids absorbed baroque music at a tender age.

“That might have had a small part in my career,” Robin James says laughing. “Mom was also a DJ for awhile, and I spent a lot of my childhood in radio stations.”

SHE STARTED TEACHING HERSELF the piano, by ear, at 13. She learned violin via traditional methods in sixth grade, and with her mother’s help, began writing music a couple of years later.

“We yodeled together,” she remembers. James has since learned the keyboard as well.

James began singing in public at 15, after polishing her craft in school performances. She delivered “The Star-Spangled Banner” before high school games, then made a professional debut at 16.

“I had a concert in New Mexico for about 100 people,” she says. “My mom organized it, and people paid to hear me sing.”

That was the start of James’ professional path, and the continuation of her true education.

“I love all types of music,” she says. “I love classical. I love blues. I love rock. I love country. I love bluegrass. I love folk.”

She mostly sings a mix of “alternative folk, with a little rock and a little country. It doesn’t fit into a genre,” she says.

Her CD, “People Say,” richly profiles her range. James’ voice ranges from powerful, pure country to soft, lulling ballads to an aching, bluesy plaint. It’s easy to visualize her performing in a coffeehouse, a blues club, or a big concert venue. A bonus track is a piano recital, showing her virtuosity with that instrument.

Alamosa musician Don Richmond (profiled in the July, 2002, edition of Colorado Central) helped in making her CD at his studio, Howlin’ Dog Recording. Richmond did much of the instrumental work on the album.

“It was a very fun project,” she says, “and it gave me a lot of experience in studio work.”

Richmond calls on James often to supply backup vocals for recording musicians. “She’s been great at harmonizing vocals,” Richmond says. “She’s very quick at picking them up, and has a natural affinity for singing harmony. She’s been a great asset.”

Richmond admires James’ solo talent as well.

“Robin truly has one of the most remarkable voices that I’ve ever heard,” he says. “It’s a world-class voice and I’m very pleased to help her get her music out. I hope it’s just the beginning of her career. She certainly deserves wide exposure. She’s an amazing vocalist. She has a tremendous amount of raw musical talent. She learns instruments very easily. And she’s a very delightful person. I really enjoyed our time working together.”

JAMES SAYS SHE ENJOYS the backup work, and that it’s helped her hone her craft.

“I’ve been doing a lot of work in the studio for other musicians,” she says. “Now I’m ready to get back into live performances.”

She sang live at Alamosa’s Artwalk in March.

James went to Nashville four years ago and worked in session with Tim McGraw’s band. She says it was an eye-opener.

“That was an interesting experience,” she says. “Nashville is so saturated with incredible talent that it’s hard to break through. After that trip I changed my mind about moving there.

“I think my music is best served performing in rural areas, places where there’s not a lot of live music.”

She may perform at her own wedding this summer. Her fiance, Dominic Shaffer, co-wrote some of the songs on her CD. An apprentice plumber, he’s mastering the building trades as she does music. They hope to buy property in the Valley and build their own home someday.

James is also learning writing, photography (“It’s always been a hobby of mine”) and composition for her job with Valley Publishing. All of this while making time for the camping, hiking, fishing and horseback riding that she loves.

The San Luis Valley is perfect for her life, she says, and her art.

“I plan to stay in the Valley,” she says. “Just the incredible art out every window and the creative people here inspire me.”

To schedule a performance or buy a CD, check out

Marcia Darnell lives, writes, and listens to music in Alamosa.