How one street guitarist deals with pain

Matthew Lane • Jul 19, 2018 at 7:56 AM

KINGSPORT — Everybody hurts. And everybody deals with the pain in their own way.

For 39-year-old Ronnie James of Kingsport, the way he deals with the pain is by strumming the guitar on the sidewalk in front of Shades of Grace United Methodist Church. He’s not got a guitar case or hat out accepting tips. He’s just playing for himself.

“It’s therapy for me, playing music,” he said. “It’s always been therapy for me. It helps me a lot when I have a lot on my mind, and it helps me focus about things I need to progress on.”

Right now, James has quite a bit on his mind. His wife is incarcerated, and after he visited her on a recent Thursday morning, he went over to the church to borrow a guitar, spending the next hour or so just picking. Mostly his own material, just freestyling as he goes along.

“I’ve been playing since I was 9 years old. My foster mom taught me. She was a big country music fanatic,” James said. “She passed away a few years ago, but she had guitars and she’s the one who got me interested as a kid.”

In the past, James played with a local heavy metal group, but eventually he grew weary of the hatefulness and anger of the music. Today, he prefers the classical Spanish sound of the guitar.

“If it wasn’t for music, I probably would have got into a lot more trouble than I did as a kid,” James said. “I’m grateful I’m musically inclined. I couldn’t imagine not being able to play music, to be honest.”

Tell Me A Story is a new series by the Kingsport Times News, where local people are asked to tell their stories. What types of story should we ask for? Email vlick@timesnews.net with your ideas.