Happily singing the blues
by Sara Mitton Cox, photography by Mark Dyrud
“Are there any smoothies in the house?” This is James (JT) Tyler’s signature question when he opens a show, but he’s not talking about frozen fruit drinks. The singer who goes by JT—no first or last name, Madonna style—and his blues band, Smooth Avenue, have gained a number of fans through the years. “We don’t have groupies, we have smoothies,” he explained.
JT started Smooth Avenue six years ago. He’s the lead singer and is joined by his lead guitarist—known as Gator—bass player Sandy Sanford, drummer Rob Wilson, Peter Iverson on keyboard, and Joe Young on saxophone. They regularly perform at venues across the Treasure Valley such as the Sapphire Lounge, located inside the Riverside Hotel. Since the lounge is set up to feature music, it’s one of the band’s favorite venues to play.
“We make sure there is a dance floor too,” said JT. “If you’re sitting still. I’m going to come get you. I’ve also been known to stick a microphone in your face and get you singing.”
JT likes to keep things interactive and make sure the crowd has a good time. Not everything Smooth Avenue plays is the blues. They throw in some Motown, R&B, and light rock. You can even hire Smooth Avenue to play at weddings, corporate events, and private parties.
The grandson of a well-known gospel singer in St. Louis, JT started singing in the choir as a young child. Over the years, he has been part of a wedding singing duo, a five-person a cappella group, and a jazz band. His love for music spans blues, jazz, hip-hop, pop, and even country. In fact, he once won a country-western karaoke competition.
Though he may not look like a typical country singer, JT does own 13 acres in Middleton where he lives with his horses, dogs, and cats. His current home is a dramatic contrast from the bustle of places like St. Louis, San Jose, and Los Angeles, the other cities he’s called home.
Blues has always been an important part of JT’s life—growing up his family lived next to a blues club where greats like B.B. King, Etta James, and the Temptations performed. He remembers opening the windows on weekend nights to let the music drift in. When he started Smooth Avenue six years ago, he felt right at home. Since expanding the band a few months ago, JT is very excited about the future.
“I have some of the best musicians in the Treasure Valley in the band, although I may be a bit biased,” he claimed with a smile, his signature sunglasses perched nonchalantly on his face.
In addition to running the Smooth Avenue band, JT serves on the board for the Boise Blues Society. He is the Events Chairperson and the Scholarship and Awards Chairperson. The society helps promote blues in the area by educating children through school expositions, awarding scholarships, and helping to bring more headline blues artists to Boise.
Catch JT and the Smooth Avenue band at one of these upcoming shows: March 19th at the Sapphire Lounge, March 24th at Playhouse Boise—where they’ll open for Johnny Rawls, or March 25th at the Sockeye Grill & Brewery. For more information, visit the Smooth Avenue Facebook page.