By Traci Bridges
MULLINS, S.C. – They say in show biz, timing is everything. And for James Scott Bullard, it’s been a long time coming.
The Mullins native has been biding his time, waiting for things to fall in place for quite some time now. Decades, as a matter of fact. And finally, it looks as if his time has come.
“I think it really boils down to fate,” Bullard said. “Everything happens when it’s supposed to. Had it happened when I was younger, I’d be dead by now.”
Though some people might consider it a late start, now in his early 40s, Bullard is getting ready to embark on the biggest venture of his musical career: a brand-new album that he and others consider his best work and a cross-country tour. But make no mistake, this is not his first rodeo.
Bullard has been on the music scene in various capacities since he was a young teen. It all started with a hard rock band by the name of Crane. The band had some success across the Southeast but eventually broke up. Suddenly, Bullard found himself without a band or any real direction in life.
He thought about college, even applied, but never went. He worked in a video store for a while. Even did a stint in an auditor’s office. But nothing fit, so when a family friend who owned a home in Wilmington offered to let Bullard live there, he grabbed the opportunity and the chance to go find himself.
A new James Scott Bullard – a little bit rock, a little Americana and a whole lot outlaw – emerged. Bullard stayed in the Triangle area for a while, writing and playing gigs with his band, The Late Night Sweethearts. He was even deemed the next Gram Parsons, but things eventually kind of fizzled out, and Bullard found himself back in Mullins.
Little did he know, that timing thing was about to make a whole lot of sense.
“I was playing a show at Francis Marion University, and I met a lady named Missy Davis Jones,” he said. “She and her husband (Ken) had just moved to Florence from Los Angeles and were opening a recording studio. Missy said she was even toying with the idea of starting her own record label.”
From that simple conversation, the perfect partnership was born, and within a few weeks, Bullard was recording in Jones’ Southern Harmony Recording Studio, and before long, Missy officially became his manager. It’s the Joneses that Bullard credits for his new album, “Full Tilt Boogie.”
“Ken has your vision on one side and has what he hears you capable of on the other side, and he can put those two together,” Bullard said. “And Missy’s always got your back. She wants everything to be perfect, and she’s very apprehensive about letting people hear the album too soon. She sees the vision and wants it to be perfect before anybody else hears it. Without those two, I don’t think this record would be what it is.”
Davis-Jones praised Bullard’s talent but said she has come to consider the new album her baby, too, but says she knew she and Bullard were meant to work together the moment she met him.
“I thought he reminded me of a cross between Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue and the singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, and I am a huge fan of both musicians. I clearly remember cracking a joke to Sloane that I was probably going to end up working with him one day,” Jones-Davis said, adding that local radio personality Sloane Spencer introduced the two.
“It’s been six years now, and I work with him because I believe in his talent, and think he has the skill and the will to do the work that is necessary to take things to the next level,” Davis-Jones said. “I trust that if I support him, he will do everything he can to deliver the goods. We have a genuine friendship, and I think that he would do whatever it takes in order to not let me down.
“Likewise, if I didn't do everything I could do to make this record a success, I would feel like I let him down. I am also motivated by all the other great people who worked on this record, and by my own work on the project. This is most definitely James Scott Bullard's record. He wrote the songs, and it's his voice and image on it. But running parallel to that is also a shared vision for the project. I am as emotionally connected to it, as if it had my own name on the cover.”
Bullard’s studio band included local musicians Jeff Springs, Kevin Singleton, Mike Knight and Justin Banks. Each brought a special something to the album, and Bullard said he was blown away by the results.
“I heard the record after having put it on the shelf for a long time,” Bullard said. “Missy and Ken did everything without me – the mixing and mastering, all that stuff – because I would tear it apart. So when I finally heard it again, it was really good. I felt like I was listening to somebody else’s record.”
Bullard did a fall tour of the Midwest to introduce the album to the solid fan base he’s developed from social media and Internet radio. He’ll head back out on the road in a few weeks before the album is released on April 27. This time, he has a whole team behind him, including Jones, national publicists and booking agents.
“These are not the venues I’m used to playing,” Bullard said. “These people aren’t just out to drink. They come to a show to hear the music, and they bring others. It’s really cool. In fact, I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘You imposter, you’re not supposed to be here.’ It’s really surreal. I feel like I’ve been biding my time, and now, it’s finally happening.”
The album is mastered and set for release, and tour dates are already booked, but thanks to an online crowding campaign, Bullard’s fans have a special opportunity to support the effort, too. Fans can contribute to support the up-front costs associated with the release of a record in exchange for really cool merchandise, ranging from first dibs copies of the album to handwritten lyrics or a pair of Bullard’s signature boots. At the highest donation level, fans can have their own personal James Scott Bullard performance.
“Many artists, much more established than we, are hosting pledge campaigns,” Jones said. “I fought it for a long time, because I felt like I was too proud to ask for ‘help.’ But I see now, it's not so much asking for a handout as it is an opportunity for the fans to get connected with some special and personalized merchandise in advance of the release.”