BBDO’s James & friends’ album a tribute to beer fave

Kevin James

BBDO senior producer Kevin James brought together dozens of musicians for the third annual tradition of turning his birthday into a collective binge of musical inspiration named after a beer he enjoys.

James and company spent three days and nights at Eko Studios, recording original songs that will be edited, mixed and released onto a full length album by a band called Frank Guinness.

The tradition began in 2013 when James, who spent most of the ‘80s playing bass in LA with the Modern Day Saints, decided that his birthday was “the best excuse for everyone to get together in a recording studio and bring original songs and have friends play on it.”

All weekend long, groups of various sizes assembled and recorded in Eko’s live room while collaborators worked on ideas throughout the rest of the studio, which was strewn with guitar cases, percussion instruments, ethnic food and cans of Guinness.

Besides James, who got serious about the bass guitar after seeing how cool The Pretenders’ Pete Farndon looked while playing it, an impressive roster of current and former professional players dropped in on the session.

CRC’s Dave Dakich, whose resume includes bass duties for Lucky Jackson and gigs everywhere from Lounge Axe to the Mutiny, laid down a handful of slide guitar leads on Saturday afternoon.

Keyboardist Chris Neville, whose group Tributosaurus is arguably the most talented and disciplined cover band in the country, arrived early in the day and stayed all night.

Idig Music's Ron SteeleManning the controls was Idig Music’s Ron Steele, who James refers to as “the conductor of this train.” In addition to handling the production and engineering responsibilities into the wee hours of every session, he helped arrange and, on at least one track, played drums.

“There was this Grateful Dead kinda thing around four o’clock in the morning that I think sounded pretty good,” he recalled Sunday afternoon.

Then he got back on the board to record the harmony for “My First True Love,” a touching acoustic tune that James wrote in honor of his mother.

Select tracks from the first two jams can be heard on 2013’s “Frank Guinness” and 2014’s “Let It Breathe,” both albums available at The release of this year’s efforts will be announced in a future issue of Reel Chicago.

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