Radio Free Charleston’s 158th episode, “The Liquid Canvas,” is devoted to the work of Charleston filmmaker, musician, and artist James Vernon Brown. I first met James back in 2007, when we recorded the band Doctor Senator. James was playing bass and had also made several cool short films and music videos featuring the band.
James ended up leaving Doctor Senator and, at a jam session at The Blue Parrot one night, I heard him play guitar for the first time and was blown away with his David Gilmore meets Jimi Hendrix six-string pyrotechnics. I remember going up to him after hearing him play and asking “why the hell were you wasting your time playing bass?”
On RFC 57, our first “Show Without Words,” James gave me the beautiful instrumental track, “Elemental Devices,” on which he played all instruments himself. I wound up editing it to some of RFC Big Shot Frank Panucci’s computer animation, and the end result is one of the most acclaimed clips in the history of the show.
I’ve been in touch with James ever since about contributing more to the show and we decided that he had so much quality material that he deserved a show of his own. I even had James direct and shoot the host segments for this episode, which is named after his production company, The Liquid Canvas.
Our first clip in this week’s show is a brief trailer for James’ short film, “Blind Date,” starring James, Sierra Ferrell, and Thomas Sigmon. James is currently tinkering with a final edit and once he’s happy with it, you can expect to see the film pop up as a Sunday Evening Video in PopCult.
Next up, we have a bittersweet video which has actually been on Radio Free Charleston before in a different form. When we shot the band Quick and Dirty, featuring James on guitar and Randy Walden on bass and vocals, after running the clip in episode 44, I gave the raw footage to James, who added more footage and animation and embellished it with his own edit. We present that version to you this week. Quick and Dirty was one of the most electrifying bands that we’ve had on Radio Free Charleston, but sadly, their history was cut short by the untimely death of Randy Walden about a month after this video was shot.
After the demise of Quick and Dirty, James began studying the work of ethnobotanist Terrence McKenna. He was so inspired that he took one of McKenna’s speeches, set it to music, and created the short film, “What Are Psychedelics?”
One of the things I enjoy most about James’ work is that he is a filmmaker of opportunity. Much like we do with the Radio Free Charleston style of guerrilla filmmaking, James usually has his camera handy and is not afraid to capture the moment with his unique vision. One such instance of this is the video for Hybrid Soul’s take on the Marvin Gaye classic “What’s Goin’ On?” James was tending bar at Sam’s Uptown Cafe and stepped away just quick enough to grab the footage for this stylish video.
Another film of opportunity is the very short film, “Winter Blues.” Inspired by the first snowfall of 2011, James created this short mood piece while returning from a gig at The Empty Glass with Sierra Ferrell. This film really shows off James’ growth as a cinematographer.
Another collaboration with Sierra Ferrell is James’ music video for her song, “Little Company.” Conceived while listening to Sierra rehearse the song while sitting on a couch outside a recording studio, James shot the footage and dropped in Sierra harmonizing with herself on additional vocal tracks to create a wonderful piece.
Wrapping up the show this week, we have a video commissioned by the legendary Washboard Dave Thomas of Boulevard Tavern fame. Dave asked James if he could come to the Tavern to record Kentucky band, The Bloodroots Barter. The video that plays us out this week is their cover of the Townes Van Zant song, “White Line Freighter,” featuring Washboard Dave sitting in with the band.
This is actually the first time that we have devoted an entire episode of Radio Free Charleston to the work of one filmmaker. The fact is, I’ve been a fan of James’ talent for so long and he has sadly been so overlooked in this town that I felt it was time to shine the spotlight on The Liquid Canvas. You will be seeing more work by James on Radio Free Charleston in the future and we are very lucky and proud to bring it to you.