Samuel James: Lewisburg’s ‘singer/songrocker’ sets sights on Charleston’s music scene

By Matthew Young, RealWV

“There’s a picture of me with a baritone ukulele, sitting on my dad’s bed when I was like four-years-old. My dad’s a musician, so that’s been a big influence on me. He’s the one who put the guitar in my hand.” 

That’s what Samuel James, known to his parents as Sam James Snyder, told RealWV last week about the earliest days of his musical journey. Now 23, the Lewisburg-native and WVU graduate has grown into a well-traveled troubadour, bringing his melodic harmonies to music lovers far and wide. 

“My mom, she put me in theatre,” Samuel said. “That got me singing in front of people. Then I really got into guitar sometime in middle school. I spent an entire summer behind my dad’s laptop on Youtube. I was learning all these songs, like James Taylor and John Mayer – big influences on me.”

At the tender age of 16, James began to experiment with writing his own songs.

“The first one (that I wrote), no one will ever hear,” Samuel added, laughingly. “The second song I wrote was about a girl – my first heartbreak, my true love. That one I put out. It’s called ‘Home is Where the Heart is.’”

For the better part of the last decade, Samuel has developed his musical chops with several different bands, and played shows everywhere from Orlando, Florida, to Asheville, North Carolina. Samuel’s “have guitar – will travel” mindset afforded him the opportunity to experience the touring lifestyle, and play music at some very impressive locations. In West Virginia alone, Samuel has played Morgantown’s Metropolitan Theater, Clarksburg’s historic Robinson Grand, and Charleston’s “Live on the Levee” summer concert series, just to name a few.

“One of my favorite places I’ve played – it probably made me feel the most accomplished as an artist – was a writer’s round called ‘Songs and Stories,’ at Music on Main,” Samuel said, referring to the Bridgeport venue. “That was cool. It was just four songwriters on stage, and I felt so vulnerable because it was just me and my songs.”

“My songs were received very well by everyone that was there,” Samuel added. “Even by the other writers.”

The reaction at the writer’s round, Samuel explained, left him feeling optimistic about his musical future. Still as a relative newcomer to the business, Samuel doesn’t often have the opportunity to exclusively play his own original songs. 

“Occasionally I’ll still play the college-party venues, because it pays well and it’s fun,” Samuel said. “When I do any of my solo shows, I’ll play probably 50/50 (original songs/cover songs). I want to keep the audience engaged with songs that they’re familiar with, but then at the same time, it’s like, ‘Hey, this is what I’m trying to do.’”

“Guys like Charles Wesley Godwin, Zach Bryan, and Tyler Childers – even Brad Paisley – they were playing in these little holes in the wall, and playing their own songs,” Samuel said. “They’d cover songs here and there, but they stayed true to themselves. That’s what I try to do.”

“I think the best artists out there are the ones who are the most vulnerable on stage and write their own songs,” Samuel added. “It’s hard to do and be extremely successful with it.”

With regard to that success, Samuel says he is most impressed with the work of the late John Prine, as well as Jason Isbell, John Mayer, and Chris Stapleton. 

“They’ve got the package – an artist like Stapleton, they only come around once in a generation,” Samuel noted, adding, “It’s all about serving the song when you get into that writing situation.”

Samuel describes his music as having a “country-influence, but not country.” He incorporates elements of blues and acoustic rock to complement the country-influence, and emotional lyrics. 

“There’s a reason I call myself a ‘singer/songrocker,’” Samuel said. “The acoustic guitar feels like it was meant for me, and I was meant for it. I feel like I can bring energy to songs that others can’t, whether they be my songs, or songs that other people have written.”

Music lovers will have the opportunity to experience the “singer/songrocker” this coming Friday, when Samuel joins fellow West Virginia musician Kate Boytek for Mountain State Music on the Folklore Stage – a live concert series sponsored by Daily 304 and Charleston’s Folklore Music Exchange. The concert is free to attend, and will also be livestreamed for those outside of the Charleston-area. 

“It feels so good to have people listen to what comes out of you,” Samuel said. “I’m really excited for this. I feel like this will be a ‘listening’ crowd.” 

For more information about Friday’s Mountain State Music on the Folklore Stage concert event, visit folkloremusicexchange.com. To learn more about Samuel James, or to explore his catalog of music, visit his YouTube channel, or find him on Instagram, @SamuelJamesWV. 

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