By Traci Bridges
James Scott Bullard walked out of rehab nearly four years ago, clean and sober but a little clueless as to how he was going to handle life and music without the help of Percocet.
An orderly gave him a little piece of advice that struck a chord — “You still got sunsets and cigarettes, baby.”
At first, Bullard was a little confused by the words. But then the meaning hit him.
“It’s the simple things in life that matter,” Bullard said in a recent interview with the Morning News. “Those are the things that count.”
And in typical Bullard fashion, he was back in the studio within days of leaving rehab, doing the one simple thing he knows best — playing music.
“I think the music now is better than it’s ever been,” Bullard said. “I was scared I wouldn’t be able to write or perform without the drugs, but it was never a problem. I got right back to writing, and haven’t stopped since.”
Bullard’s love of music began at an early age. A self-proclaimed outsider in his hometown of Mullins, he never quite got into the traditional hunting, fishing or little league most other boys his age were interested in. The guitar became the outlet he’d always needed.
“I really just never was athletically inclined, but I was playing little league and on the way home, I saw this guitar in a pawn shop window,” Bullard said. “My dad had always been into music and played a little, so when I showed it to him, he said, ‘Sure, you can get it.’ So basically, on Wednesday, I was playing little league. On Thursday, I got the guitar. And on Friday, I didn’t go back to little league practice.”
Despite his father’s love of George Jones, Hank Williams Sr. and other country legends, Bullard spent the majority of his teen years immersed in heavy metal. It all started with Black Sabbath’s “We Sold Our Soul for Rock ‘n’ Roll.” A high school girlfriend gave the album to Bullard as a gift, and he spent every spare minute he had messing around on the guitar and learning the album from start to finish.
“I was brought up around a mix of music. My dad liked old country, and my mom liked Top 40,” Bullard said. “I gravitated toward metal. If you’re a kid starting out in a garage band, the easiest thing to start with is punk or metal.”
Bullard went on to form a hard rock band by the name of Crane. The band was successful throughout the region but eventually broke up. Suddenly, Bullard was bandless and without any real direction in life. He applied to go to college, but never went. A family friend who owned a vacation home in Wilmington offered to let Bullard move there to “find himself.”
“Living up there, all these people were always telling me to check out this alt-country, rock guy named Ryan Adams,” Bullard said. “I didn’t think I would be into it at all, but I bought his album ‘Heartbreaker’ and took it home and listened to it. And it hit me. Suddenly, it all made perfect sense. Why can’t I put two worlds together – rock and country? I started writing, and within a week, I’d written my first solo album.”
The debut was titled “Avenues of Sunshine.” Since then, Bullard has released two other albums and put together a new backup band, the Late Night Sweethearts. Bullard’s latest release is a double album. The first part of the album is “The Star-Crossed Sessions,” which features the full band. The second half of the album is “Sunsets and Cigarettes,” full of stripped, down acoustic cuts.
Tonight, Bullard and the Late Night Sweethearts, with special guest Jebb Mac, will play “Amp’d!” at Francis Marion University. Amp’d is a series showcasing concerts of various styles of music. Performers showcased in the series will be residents, non-residential students and performers who are not students at FMU. The series will be held on the second and fourth Thursday of each month in the Heyward Community Center from 7 to 9 p.m. This musical series will expose residents to diverse genres of music. The atmosphere of “Amp’d!” will resemble that of MTV’s Unplugged 2.0 series. Because of the small, relaxed, and intimate atmosphere, residents will be able to connect and fellowship with other residents from various backgrounds of life.