Memphis's James Godwin and the Power of Hog Jowl

You know James Godwin from Memphis’s James and the Ultrasounds, and if you don’t know them – hot damn, check ‘em out. You’ve got some fun in store!

Godwin has just released a new solo EP, Hog Jowl, on his new label, Rainbow Recording Co. The fantastic five-song EP shows a similar rock’n-roll fervor as the Ultrasounds at times, like the fun, slabby title track or the gospelized and groovy “Down to the Valley,” but Godwin ends with a pair of more heartfelt and low-key – but not unnoisy – songs in “I Told You This Would Happen” and “Only I Know.”

Godwin recently checked in with us from Memphis about the new EP and what else he’s been doing since tearing up Circle A (photographic proof below) on the Ultrasounds’ visit to Milwaukee last year.

You’ve recorded two albums and a few singles with your group the Ultrasounds to great acclaim. I read that this solo EP isn’t just a break. What made you decide to move on from the band?

Oh, I haven’t officially put an end to the Ultrasounds or anything like that. I’m just putting that particular musical coat in the closet for the time being, given the circumstances. Right when Covid hit, I was playing and touring with a few different bands, and it had become easier to tell people to just look me up under my name. All that, plus the fact that I no longer feel like the person that’s on those Ultrasounds recordings. I’m just somewhere else in my life and in my mind, and I think certain moments on my new EP reflect that. I’m really just trying to continue to create music during these weird days, and hope that people check it out. I don’t know if the traditional 4-piece rock band that tours is gonna be a thing again anytime soon, but hopefully we'll get to a point soon where a very stripped down, yet energetic duo might be a thing. Maybe me and a cocktail drummer from the back of a U-Haul in a field?? Who knows what it’s all gonna look like a year from now. But still, I’d like to do a third Ultrasounds record someday with weird combinations of all of the different members that never actually played together. That could be fun.

Were these five songs all written and recorded during the pandemic? Any of them have earlier origins?

The songs were pretty much written and recorded between late February and October minus one song. I wrote “Down To The Valley” while driving back and forth from Memphis to Water Valley, MS doing studio work at Dial Back Sound Studio in the early months of 2020. The title “Hog Jowl” comes from having Jimbo Mathus over on New Year’s Day of 2020. We were doing rehearsals for an upcoming string of shows. Since it was New Years Day, Jimbo wanted to cook up some Greens and Black Eyed Peas. He also had a large and mysterious block of meat going in a skillet. I asked him what kind of meat he had going there, to which he enthusiastically replied,“Hog Jowl.” That just stuck with me for some reason. Then when Covid hit full on, with the news, the politics, all of it, ya know.. I just kept thinking about that big chunk of meat sizzlin’ on New Year’s Day, and how my mind was starting to feel the same way.

Do you have any plans for a physical release or will this be digital only? After spending time with Madjack for the two Ultrasounds albums, are you talking to any labels about the EP or any future recordings?

It'll be coming out on CD soon, and then there will be a very small 7" release as well. Both on my own micro label, Rainbow Recording, Co. which is something I was thinking of doing pre-Covid. I'm hoping it’s something I can build up into 2021, and I've already got a few releases lining up with a handful of different artists in Memphis. It’s going to be a very small operation, just funky, small batch stuff and digital, but it’s going to be 100% artist/musician operated. Like farm to table music. I'm also hoping to work with all different kinds of artists, not just “rock and roll” people.

Besides making music, what else have you done to keep your sanity/inspire you during the pandemic?

Hmmm..some painting, the home improvement kind...chopping up branches from fallen trees in the yard and burning them has brought me a great deal of satisfaction. Intense cat observation. I think this year has taken quite a toll on everyone.

How much do you miss performing in front of a crowd? Any particular past performances stick in your mind as you find yourself stuck on pause because of the pandemic?

I do miss it. I miss traveling with other musicians, and that good feeling you get when you’ve got something good going on, and the calendar is filled with work. Maybe my first show ever in London. That was the first stop on the first Ultrasounds European tour. You’re in this room full of strangers in a strange place, and you’re up there with your boys from Memphis and ready to take ‘em for a ride. I miss that shit.

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