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Written by Walter Pierce
Wednesday, 31 March 2010

When Kyle Lehning and Jerry Douglas co-produce your record, you’ve arrived. When Ellen DeGeneres has you on her show, you’ve arrived in style. While he might not be a household name in Acadiana where he’s from — yet — James Dupré has most definitely arrived. In style.

The 25-year-old Bayou Chicot native was in Los Angeles last week to record a performance on Ellen. That performance airs today, Wednesday, March 31. It’s just one brief stop in what’s turning into a meteoric rise from a YouTube sensation to a national name.

“I’ve never met anyone of that stature before,” Dupré says of meeting DeGeneres. “So it was kind of just pretty amazing to meet her in person and the other guests in person.” Those other guests included Miley Cyrus.

Dupré wasn’t always on a trajectory toward country music stardom. He had a great voice early on but hasn’t long possessed the willingness to use it in front of an audience. Now the rangy kid from Evangeline Parish has more than 4,500 fans on his Facebook page and has generated more than 4 million views among nearly 10,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel. Not bad for a shy boy from the sticks who didn’t embrace his calling in music until he joined a church band while attending UL Monroe from 2002 to 2004.

You can hear, faintly, the lilt of a Cajun waltz in Dupré’s music. But it is also straight-ahead Nashville country music of the highest order: polished but not gilded, honest and unadulterated by that crossover contamination of pop music, straightforward and often plaintive, old-timey. Dupré’s debut album, It’s All Happening, was recorded in Music City with the legendary Lehning and Douglas, a Dobro god in bluegrass and country circles, serving as co-producers. Some of Nashville’s top session players backed Dupré for the record. “I wasn’t really familiar with who he was because I never listened to bluegrass,” Dupré recalls of the recording sessions with Douglas. “After I met him, I actually looked him up and saw all the stuff that he’s done and that he still does and then, that’s when I kind of got intimidated. It’s like, wow, he’s played on music that I grew up listening to. It’s pretty amazing.”

It’s All Happening is available on CD Baby and iTunes, but the record remains an independent release without the backing of a label. So Dupré’s been playing regular duo acoustic gigs with an accompanying guitarist at The Tap Room in River Ranch. And he works as a paramedic for Acadian Ambulance. That can’t last; the kid has top-shelf talent.

He came to the attention of DeGeneres through the persistence of one of his most ardent fans, Kay Powers, who works at the Morgan Keegan brokerage firm down the street from the bar. Powers e-mailed DeGeneres a YouTube video of Dupré performing the LeRoux hit, “New Orleans Ladies.” Then she e-mailed another video. And another. And another. “I just kept bombarding her,” Powers says. “And low and behold, last Tuesday night I went to listen to him and I told him, ‘If you ever get on that show, I want tickets.’ Two days later, [DeGeneres’] producer calls him.”

Dupré literally squeezed in time for the trip to L.A.; in addition to his job as an EMT, he’s also a married father of three young boys with a very important project on the way: “We just found out today we’re having another boy.”

After returning to Acadiana from ULM and settling in his wife’s hometown of Eunice, Dupré followed his dad’s lead and became a paramedic. He still works the graveyard shift for Acadian. So ladies, if you pass out in a swoon at a James Dupré concert, he can revive you.

James Dupré will perform on today’s episode of Ellen, which airs at 9 a.m. on KATC-TV3.

POSTHASTE WITH JAMES DUPRE

1. What kind of guitar do you play?
A six-string Ibanez acoustic/electric. It’s a good guitar; it does what I expect it to do.
2. My electric razor froze up the other day, so I dug into it with a knife, pushing and shoving wires around, when a massive jolt of electricity shot through my body, rattling my brain, frying my haircut, and toasting my dungarees. As a paramedic, what medical procedures would you initiate on me if you were called?
Well, ironically, you could require an additional shock of electricity to get you going again. After that, add a little ointment to the wound, and you’d be good as new. I would suggest, however, that you just go ahead and buy you a new razor.
3. Why country? Why not screamo or some other style?
The screamo committee kindly told me that I was not welcome anymore. I then went to the next best genre I could find, which is country. They seem to like me there.
4. I wear a lot of Aqua Velva as a tribute to the greatness of Sinatra. What is one thing James Dupré does too much of?
I’m obsessed with my iPhone. Really, seriously, obsessed.
5. Your manager mentioned that you had “4 million fans.” Who would you say is the average James Dupré fan?
Anyone who is considered to be “of higher intelligence.” And good-looking, too.
6. You’ve got a great voice. But why does everyone in country sing with that just-got-off-the-horse-at-the-cow-farm country twang? You know all of them don’t talk like that in the everyday world. Please explain the phenomenon.
Great question. I often wonder the same thing. Personally, I’m not sure if I do have a “twang,” but however I sound, is all natural. I believe the phenomenon runs along the same vein as why people think you have to wear a cowboy hat, belt buckle, and cowboy boots to sing country music. It doesn’t make much sense to me. There can only be one George Strait. What does make sense is to be yourself. If you talk or sing or dress a certain way in real life, the best thing is to stay the same no matter what, because people will like who you truly are, and you won’t have to waste all that energy trying to be fake.
7. Best gig ever?
I’d have to say my Album Release Party.
8. Worst gig ever?
My first big show, at The Fish House in Pensacola, Fla. It wasn’t like people threw beer bottles at me or anything, just that I was so nervous and stiff. It looked like I was playing to a crowd of guerrillas waiting to behead me. Fun night, though.
9. The title of your record is It’s All Happening. What does that mean?
It means that it’s all happening. It actually came from one of my favorite movies, Almost Famous. There’s a part where Penny Lane and William Miller are excited about the progress of their favorite band Stillwater, and how they get to be a part of it. They say, “It’s all happening!” And I feel with the release of my album, and the many exciting things happening in my life, that it is all happening.
10. Jerry Douglas co-produced your record. At any point did he pull out the Dobro and start ripping?
Absolutely. Actually when I first met him we went to his house, in his home studio, and I’d played a few originals for him, and he got his Dobro and added some pretty sweet licks. It was incredible.
11. You get nervous at the Ellen Show? What’d they have to eat backstage in the greenroom?
I did feel very nervous until she introduced me. Once I got out there and sat down with her, I actually felt pretty comfortable, which really surprised me. In the greenroom, there was a whole table full of fruits, veggies, chips, etc. The usual party platter-type stuff. There was also a pool table. — Dege Legg

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