Raised in Dallas, James got his first guitar at age six and grew up on steady helpings of T-Bone Walker, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
He was also raised in a musical family. His father earned a master's degree in religious music and ran a music program at the local Southern Baptist church. His mom gave piano lessons at home and in district schools.
"We had a 6-foot grand piano in the living room," James said. "My parents picked the house primarily because it had space for it."
James soaked up inspiration for his guitar playing from Dallas radio stations KZEW and Q102 and routine trips to record stores.
"I used to not eat at shool and take my lunch money to go buy records," James said. "Growing up playing piano, singing at church, and playing guitar just made me gravitate to music."
He left Dallas at 18 to pursue graphic design and illustration in college. After living around the Southwest and the East coast, he moved to Durango in the mid-'80s for good.
"My parents took us camping in this area, so I always had an affinity for the mountains and this region," he said.
James always felt his musical home was the blues, a genre he has been committed to playing for over two decades. Moving to the Four Corners area proved to be a gamble for a blues musician, but James has been the supporting act for many notable legends when they have performed in the area.
He has supported Elvin Bishop, Richie Havens, and "Gatemouth" Brown, who, like James, lived in the Four Corners area in the early 70s.
"Despite what people may think, there's some blues roots here," he said. "So when I got to know the history I said, Why can't I, too?' So I dug in and have had some great times."
Besides solo performances using his hollow-body 55 Gibson guitar, he plays and records in a band of Durango musicians.
In the summer he and drummer Steve Dejka run a blues camp for aspiring teens at the Stillwater Foundation in Durango.
One of the more interesting venues is in May each year at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival. James and his band play two nights on a coal-fired, steam-powered train that is part of the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge line.
"One act per car as we bump and rock our way up to Silverton and back," he said. "The microphone hits me in the face a lot, but it's a fun gig to play."
James is in the process of recording a new album of material with his band. Set for release later this year, the album will feature his group's originals with some old blues favorites.
James' approach melds Texas and Delta blues, folk, and rock influences with the Piedmont — or East Coast — fingerpicking method in which an alternating-thumb bass pattern supports the melody.
George Rowe, owner of Crash Music, has been a fan of James' playing for years.
"What I love about Kirk's music is the excitement he brings to the song, especially his ability to evoke folk and blues," Rowe said. "He plays within the tradition and adds something new to it. I can't wait to see what he'll do."
Kirk James performs solo Friday at Crash Music, 108 S. Main Ave., 7:30 p.m. Admission is $10 and refreshments will be served by Wine of the San Juans. For more information, call (505) 427-6748.