With all of my recent events and travels, I have been struggling to write something about the passing of James Alan Shelton that does the man justice. So here goes.
I first met James in 1999, when Ralph Stanley played the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, NC. Despite being Ralph's right hand man, ace guitar player and road manager, James was also the guy in the band that you could to. He was a good guy, very good with people, and many people gravitated to him after meeting him. As did I. Over the next few years, as I photographed Ralph in several different cities, James was always there. Making introductions (or re-introductions) to Ralph, facilitating the use of my photos in Ralph's songbook, and always being a calming influence on the road.
James later hired to shoot his 2006 album Walking Down The Line, which was a lot of fun. You can still see several of those photos on his website. James also lived and grew up close to the Carter Family, and we also bonded over the music and the history of that family.
James convinced me to come to Ralph's annual festival in 2006, which featured numerous former members of Ralph's band. It was an amazing day to witness and photograph. James then told that I needed to come up to the festival the following year, as Porter Waggoner would be playing, and that I really should be there. Sadly, my schedule at the time did not allow me to make it Virginia for that event, and Waggoner passed away several weeks after the show. Once again, James, you were right.
I did not get the chance to stay in touch with James the last few years as often as I should have, but I still wrote him occasionally. Several weeks ago, I went looking for James backstage at Merlefest. I found the band, and the bus, but not James. A few weeks later, he was gone.
Hi James. You were one of the best, and most fun musicians I ever had the great honor to work with. Thank you for the years of friendship, emails and photos. My best to your family, to Greta, and to all your cats that miss you like I do. As do many others.
Safe travels, and say hello to George Shuffler for me. I know that he's looking forward to seeing you again, as well.
June 14, 2014