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Off the Cuff with Claiborne: Gary “Dee Dee” James

Lenny Kravitz, Paula Abdul, Bootsy Collins, Jesse Johnson—these are just a handful of the artists Gary “Dee Dee” James has worked with. The accomplished guitarist is currently putting his years of experience on stage and touring to good use as the leader of his own band, Dirty Muggs.

What’s the story behind the name Dirty Muggs?
I toured with Bootsy Collins for around 15 years. He’s given a lot of people he’s worked with over the years nicknames like Babyface Edmonds. When I first joined his band, he started calling me Dirty Muggs. That’s how he would announce me at shows: “And on guitar, Dirty Muggs.” He told me that if I ever started a new band, that’s what I should call it. It has really stuck with me.

How would you describe your music to someone who’s not seen you play?
We play pretty much everything. We’ll go from The Beatles to Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre to Joe Cocker to James Brown to Al Green. We cover all of the genres because our gigs require us to. We try to give everyone a little something.

How did you get into the music business?
I started in high school. Some of the guys I grew up with had a band. I was an athlete, but I started playing guitar and fell in love with it. I really got my break with a guy named Charles Stone. He was the production and road manager for Kool & the Gang.

Dirty Muggs has a new member.
We had Nikko Smith join the band. Everybody knows he’s Ozzie Smith’s kid, and he was on American Idol. He’s a great addition to the group. We’ve been working harder than ever, and we’ve got some original music coming. The band is looking great, sounding great.

Where do you shop for your on- and off-stage attire?
I’ve had a lot of my clothes for years. I’m a guy who is still wearing bell bottoms. I’ll have things made and get some items at Bespoke. I don’t like stuff that looks like what you see every day on the street. I’ve always been kind of different. I actually buy women’s clothes off the rack when I can find stuff that fits me.

Do you collect anything?
Vintage guitars. I have about 200. I’m left-handed, so they’re rare and can be hard to come by. I never thought I would have so many. I also have a few vintage cars. I like working on them when I’m not doing music.

What’s the toughest and most rewarding thing about having your own band?
You control your own destiny. It goes as you go. Working for a lot of people over the years, I found they come off of tours and sit at home wondering what to do next. I love to work and play. I’m a lifer. I’ll pass on the stage playing guitar. I’m lucky to have a hard working crew that loves to play music.

What’s the largest crowd you’ve played in front of?
When I was on the road with Color Me Badd and Paula Abdul, I played in front of 60,000 to 80,000 people for a whole year on a stadium tour. I’m not really fazed by much, but that really shocked me.

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