James "Slim" Hand • July 7, 1952-June 8, 2020
“Folks, like I said before and it’s still true... James Hand is the real deal!”
– Willie Nelson
James Hand sang like nobody but himself, his phrasing drawing out the pain and humor of his lyrics with an unpredictable yet soulful series of tiny inflections. His songs are equally mysterious and unclassifiable. While they are noticeably rich with the influences of his heroes -- classic country architects like Hank, Lefty, and Ernest -- Hand's songs are uniquely his, imbued with equal parts gallows humor and the ability to stare unflinchingly into life's darkest corners.
At the unlikely age of 55, Hand just started to receive the attention he deserved. Hand released his first nationally-distributed album in 2006, The Truth Will Set You Free, produced by Asleep at the Wheel front man Ray Benson and legendary Texas producer and multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines. The album features confident, definitive versions of twelve of Hand's original compositions -- songs that are at once refreshingly unique and classically timeless. “The people around me really came through for me,” he said, with not a trace of affectation, “The record company, my producers, and my band. In fact, sometimes I think the only person who hasn’t been kind to me is me…”
“In over 30 years of playing, I have never, absolutely never seen anyone as unique as James Hand. There is no one like this artist – complex, yet simple. James Hand is country music, and he has no equivalent.”
– Bob Cole, Country Music Hall Of Fame ’03, Hill’s Café, Austin, Texas
Born in Waco, TX, rodeos and country music surrounded James from an early age, and quickly became part of his daily life. The classic strains of Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams made their mark on him, but a more substantial influence on his performing and songwriting was life itself. “I’ve been writing songs since I was kid – since I was ten or eleven. Just the other day I found some songs in a little bitty envelope that my grandmother had tucked away into China cabinet. And with the life I’ve lived, there’s no shortage of songs. They’ll run out of typewriter ribbon before I run out of songs.”
“James Hand music uses no smoke or mirrors. There is no glossing over of any aspect of this CD… James writes lyrics that haven’t been written before and I suspect that he’s lived every word in these songs.”
– Lloyd Maines
When it comes to writing and recording songs, Hand learned valuable lessons from his long nights playing endless sets for dancers in honky-tonks. “You see,” he said, “there are a lot of songs, the ones you feel like you’ve put your heart and soul into, that go unnoticed out on the dance floor. Ninety-nine percent of people want to hear something they can dance to and sing along with. If it’s too complicated, they can’t do that. Even when listening to records like this one I’ve made, people don’t want to be overwhelmed – it’s just got to be understood.” With no artifice – just his songs, his voice, and his life – James Hand made himself understood very easily. When he explained it, it sounded so simple: “A song and an album are absolutely worthless if people can’t go home, learn the song themselves, sing it, and know that they’ve felt that way some time or another.”
“You probably won’t hear James on your country music station these days, but if you’re one of the folks out there who loves true, honest, down-to-earth country music songs, based on hard life lessons and affairs of the heart, then James Hand is your man.”
– Ray Benson
Now after the last year of touring the US, UK, and Europe, and fulfilling his lifelong dream of appearing on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, James Hand is now preparing to record his follow up CD on Rounder Records. Ray Benson and Lloyd Maines will again co-produce the project which will only include all new James Hand original songs. Plans for 2008 include the release of the new CD, the release of the James Hand Documentary, and extensive US and international touring in support of the new CD.
“The first time I saw James Hand I was shocked. He looked and sounded so much like Hank that I was frozen in my chair as I listened. His songwriting and performance style are real throwbacks to the sounds and times I truly love. He’s a perfect gentleman and true Texas troubadour.”
– Darrell K. Royal
One of Hand’s fan favorites and most requested songs, "Here Lies a Good Old Boy", was featured on season 4 of AMC's Breaking Bad, and he had two songs, "In the Corner, At the Table, By the Jukebox" and "Baby, Baby, Don't Tell Me That" in the 2019 Netflix film Between Two Ferns: The Movie starring Zach Galifianakis, and the 2015 movie Mississippi Grind featured Hand's song "Floor To Crawl."
"It's very humbling, just like being here is very humbling," Hand said during a live interview with KWTX in Dec. 2019. "I don't take this very lightly; it means a lot to me." While many felt Hand was under appreciated and should have--and could have--been as famous as his friends including Nelson, with whom he opened for several times in 2005 and played at Nelson's 2006 Fourth of July Picnic in addition to a fundraiser Nelson hosted for the Hill County Courthouse which burned down in 1993. As a teen, Hand was offered a record deal after winning a state talent competition in 1969, however, his grandparents made him turn it down because they said he was too young to go out on his own. "It never was a blinding ambition, it just happened," Hand said of his musical talent. "I just started playing the guitar a little bit and it just went on from there." After high school, Hand tried to get the deal back but was told it was 'too little too late' and, as a result, entered the workforce. At one time, Hand was in the rodeo and worked as a trucker and a bouncer before making another go at music. After the release of Hand’s first album, “Shadows Where the Magic Was" in 1999, Hand went on to record five additional albums, the most recent of which, “Stormclouds in Heaven,” was released in 2015. Some say Hand is one of America's best-kept, secret musical treasures.