BARSTOW • James Oliver is a Barstow family man like many others. He has a wife and four teenaged kids. At his day job as a materials handler at the Marine Corps Logistics Base, he operates a forklift.
But after work, Oliver heads over to a makeshift studio on the side of a nondescipt house in Barstow and transforms into his stage persona "Jay-O," crooning R&B songs into a microphone as producer Jason "Cutta" Gates lays down beats.
Oliver has been singing since he joined chorus as a fifth-grader in Virginia. Now, with a CD in the works and a record label contract on his horizon, he is hoping his music can become a full-time career.
He performed with 52 other artists in Henderson, Nev., Saturday at the kick-off of the Rock the Economy tour, a year-long, 132-city tour being put on by the Independent Entertainers Association, a holding company put together to promote independent music.
IEA President/CEO C.D. Palmer said he envisioned the tour it as part concert, part trade show, giving exposure to independent artists while encouraging consumers to come out and spend by putting on free concerts.
Oliver is now in discussions with World Movement Records, the independent record label affiliated with the IEA, for a recording contract. World Movement CEO Lamont Patterson, who has been in the music industry for 40 years and worked with well-known artists like Prince, Herbie Hancock and Chaka Khan, first saw Oliver when he auditioned for the tour several weeks ago and said he was immediately impressed.
"I was looking for the next soulful, pretty, heartthrob-type guy who can actually sing and perform," Patterson said. "... I consider myself a pretty good judge of talent from the grass roots up. I thought he had good potential."
The developments have the potential to change Oliver's life and that of his wife of 14 years, Jessica Luna-Oliver, who is currently in school to be a registered nurse.
"They say you only get one shot, and I think this might possibly be that shot," Oliver said.
Luna-Oliver said, "We don't want to make any mistakes at this point, because this is his passion. If he could do this all day, every day, 24-7, he would."
The couple's youngest child, 13-year-old James Anthony Oliver III, said he is also excited to see his father's career take off. The Barstow Junior High School student has his father's songs on his iPod playlist, and his friends think that his father's music career is cool, James III said.
Family has always been important to Oliver, who lists artists like John Legend, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye as some of his biggest influences, but traces his love of music to his mother, who encouraged him to sing from a young age, and his stepfather, who played in a soul band when he was growing up.
The family connection is also bittersweet for Oliver. His biological father drowned in Lake Mohave when Oliver was 12 years old, and his mother died of a heart attack in 2007. Although Oliver has not written directly about either of those experiences, he said it has become part of his motivation to perform.
If Oliver succeeds in making music a full-time gig, the family realizes that their lives will change. Luna-Oliver said the couple has talked about how they would handle the stress of having him away on tour for significant periods of time.
"The trust is there, everything is there — to not be around him on a daily basis would hurt my heart," Luna-Oliver said."... But this is not just his dream — it's mine for him."
Oliver said, "I love her unconditionally, and we're going to ride it until the wheels fall off."
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