A&E

James Durbin Returns to Live Music With Acoustic Show

The local singer-songwriter picks up where the pandemic had cut him off

Santa Cruz favorite James Durbin is working on what may be his ultimate solo album.

Every musician in town has a story about their sudden string of canceled shows amid the pandemic. But local singer-songwriter James Durbin had one of his shows shut down just hours before he was scheduled to take the stage.

He was booked to play Michael’s on Main on St. Patrick’s Day with his rock band Lost Boys. A few weeks earlier, his band members—who are all older than he, and at a higher risk for the coronavirus—decided to back out. Durbin still wanted to play, and changed it to “an acoustic night with James Durbin” event. But then the venue shut it down on the day of the show.

“We had a ‘Rockin’ Saint Patty’s’ party planned,” Durbin says. “That’s when all the venues were closing, and Michael’s was among them. It started with that and then the rest of my bookings. It looked like it was going to be a really good spring and summer of touring. It all just went to shit.”

Now Durbin’s getting a second chance to have his acoustic evening, as Michael’s recently started curating socially distanced “dinner and a show” events. Durbin, who will be accompanied by Mark Putnam on guitar, will be performing at the venue on Friday, July 3. It’ll be his first show in front of an audience since March.

“I cannot wait to perform in front of an actual audience,” Durbin says. “The livestreams are great, but I’m having to look at a little thin hole of a camera on an iPhone. I’m definitely looking forward to just getting back to being on stage and seeing people smile or cry or dance or whatever.”  

The show is the only event Durbin has in the books at the moment. Like many other local musicians, he’s watching very closely how the loosening restrictions affect the scene. Prior to the pandemic, he was gigging nonstop with the Lost Boys, as a solo artist, and occasionally with local musician Nick Gallant and their joint Americana project Homeland Revival.

His steady strings of local gigs came after quitting Quiet Riot back in September last year due to creative difference, and an overall desire to gig more and devote more time to his own projects.

“I don’t feel like I could be pinned down to just playing with one group, especially if that group isn’t completely filling my calendar. I’ve got to do other things. Music is the job. Music pays the bills. If the calendar is not full, you got to fill it up in other places,” Durbin says.

Durbin is in the process of making the album he’s wanted to make his entire career: a solo album that goes deep into his ’80s power-metal influences and doesn’t hold back. His backing band includes such metal heavyweights as Barry Sparks (Dokken, Ted Nugent, Scorpions) and Mike Vanderhule (Y&T).

“It’s inspired by the works of Tolkien and J.K. Rowling,” Durbin says. “I got really into Roman and Greek mythology. And of course, the works of Ronnie James Dio, Judas Priest and Mötley Crüe.”  

The pandemic has slowed down progress on the record, though he’s hoping to have the recording finished next month. He doesn’t yet want to give away too many details, but he does want it known that he wrote every piece of music.

“No co-writes. No outside writers. I’ve written every riff, which I’m also very proud of because I didn’t believe that I was a riff writer,” Durbin says. “I really wrote some fucking heavy kick-ass riffs.”  

Ever since he started this album, he’s had big plans for an epic, over-the-top theatrical release show that recalls the most grandiose metal productions of yesteryear. It’s unclear what he will be able to do as the pandemic continues, but he knows he wants to do something.

“If I have to do it on private property and rent my own stage and sound equipment and inflatable dinosaurs and dragons, then so be it. We will do it,” Durbin says. “Everybody will get handed a turkey leg and a cup of mead and a bull horn. It’ll be great.”

James Durbin performs at 6:30pm on Friday, July 3, at Michael’s on Main, 2591 Main St., Soquel. $45 (includes dinner). 831-479-9777.

Contributor at Good Times |

Aaron is a hard-working freelance writer with a focus on music, art, food, culture and travel. In addition to Good Times, he's a regular contributor to Sacramento News & Review, VIA Magazine and Playboy. When he's not working, he's either backpacking, arguing about music or working on his book about ska. One thing's for sure—he knows more about ska than you.

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