James Ethington III started collecting guitars long before he could play them.
“I had five guitars and couldn’t play a lick,” he said.
Fascinated by music and liking the way guitars looked, it was not until he was 19 that he picked one up and learned how to play it. Today, his collection has grown to 40 guitars, and he can play them all.
“Alamogordo is a small town, not much to do,” Ethington said. “Through the years I was planting seeds for music. I had fun exploring sounds, and it was positive. I could have gotten into a lot of negative.”
It was the late 90’s and the music Ethington loved was his father’s: Al Green, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and most of all, the Jackson 5.
“I would be mesmerized just watching them,” he said. “I watched Tito playing guitar, watched Jermain playing bass. Then I got into like the Beatles, Eric Clapton, and I knew whatever I can do with music, I have to try, because I’ve got to do something with my life.”
But for Ethington, it was the lyrics that came first. He started out with stories, writing when he was in elementary school.
“I was known for writing stories,” he said. “I was either writing stories or making up stories. I used to get in trouble.”
In his early days he told his teacher he had nine brothers.
“I would come to school every day and tell her elaborate stories about all these brothers – my brother did this to me, my brother did that to me –then one day I told her one of my brothers died, and she believed it.”
When his parents went to the school soon after, the teacher got “all mad because they weren’t sad about it. My dad told her, ‘I’m glad he’s gone, because James always makes up these stories.’”
Soon he got into writing poetry and then, in sixth grade, one of his poems was published in an anthology.
“I was always writing, but never had the music,” he said. “I couldn’t play anything. I just loved to write and create.”
So, the words came first, the playing came after. But there is no doubt today that the music has been mastered, as Ethington sits and plays on the patio of a café, his fingers dancing their ways across the strings as he talks about his dreams.
“At the end of the day, I want to look back where I came from, and I want to talk to kids who, like me, felt hopeless,” he said. “I felt the world is too big to conquer, and there’s not a way out when you feel like that. There’s a lot of things to hold you down. Drugs, alcohol and all these other things are right around the corner everywhere. Hopefully I can be as successful as I can be with music. It’s going to be great for me, but it’s going to be even better if I can leave a lasting impression that is positive – if I can be a trailblazer for kids.”
In addition to performing for area charity events, like Relay for Life, Ethlington has been to Santa Monica Beach, California, Phoenix, Arizona and Austin.
Ethington recently released a new EP, “Rheacycle,” which is an eclectic five song mix reminiscent of the glory days of alternative acoustic music.
Tracks on “Rheacycle, include Ethlington’s signature song, “Becca” and “Sexy, Juicy, Bouncy.”
“Becca” is based on a character in a movie he is writing. And, he said, “’Sexy Juicy Bouncy’ – there is nothing bad in it, but I wouldn’t want my mom to listen to it.”
“The whole EP is just moments,” he said. “Regardless of if the world accepts you, you know it was pure. I didn’t try to impress you, but if you hate it, it’s okay, I did it for me.”