"Mean Mary" James

by Carolina Bridges

Mary James has literally entertained thousands throughout her lifelong career starting from the age of 6! Born in Geneva, AL, she is one of 6 children from a family of great independence and a sense of adventure. At one time the family lived in a Visqueen tent in the northern Minnesota, cooking on a campfire, getting water from a deep hole they dug and reading by the northern lights through the clear walls of their plastic tent. Knowing that banjos players are, as a whole, folks who march to a different drummer, we can see why Mary, a multi-instrumentalist, chose banjo as her primary instrument today!

When asked what drew her to banjo, she said, “I saw my first banjo in a music store and wanted to learn how to play it. I don't know what inspired me, I guess it was just the folly of youth! I was seven years old at the time and I already had a guitar and violin - the banjo looked like a cool instrument to play.”

Mary gets her nickname from a song she wrote (with the help of her Mom) as a young child called “Mean Mary from Alabam”. The press nicknamed her and she has been known by that name to this day. At age 6 Mary was already juggling instrumental and vocal practice and live performances to the point where finding time for school was an issue. At the end of the second grade, she went into home study and also started appearing daily on the Country Body Eddie Show in Birmingham, AL. Meanwhile her brother, Frank James, joined her on stage with guitar and in the home school program.

Mary’s life took many adventurous turns which finally led her to Hollywood, CA, where TV and movies offered new opportunities for performing. On returning to Tennessee, a tragic car accident almost took her life and did, for a time, cause a paralysis of her right vocal cord. Her fighting spirit is the reason for her recovery and ability to sing again. Fast forward to 2010 when folks started telling Deering about this energetic young woman who played a Goodtime banjo and made these great YouTube videos. Lucky for us!! 

So I asked Mary, why a Goodtime banjo? She said, “I got my first Goodtime open-back because I wanted something to take on the road that was light-weight and that I could afford. I instantly fell in love with that little banjo. There's something about the feel and sound of all the Deering banjo's I've played that suits my style of playing. Some people like just loud and twangy when it comes to banjos but I like mine musical. Deering banjos are very musical, and I can choose when to make them sound loud and twangy.”

We have been very fortunate to be associated with Mary James and she not only has her Goodtime openback but now plays a custom Goodtime Midnight Special and has a black Deering Crossfire electric banjo. Folks around the world have been inspired to play banjo because of the charming, amusing, and well-performed videos of Mean Mary on YouTube. But her story of courage and perseverance is one that should inspire all of us in our everyday lives!

Website: www.meanmary.com


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