Jim Stephens

Yellow River marks the 4th album in 36 months by Jim Stephens on Ropeadope. This offering follows 2016’s Soul debut On our Way To Forever; 2017’s Delta Blues duo album Box Car Blues featuring BoyWonder; and 2018’s Genre-defying 20-song double album Philasippiola Soul.

Yellow River brings some of Stephens’ All-Star New Orleans and Philly collectives together for a 10 song tour-de-force which is deep-rooted in Jazz, Soul, Blues, and Funk. The album was primarily recorded over 2 days at the legendary Esplanade Studios in New Orleans. Stephens wrote 6 of the songs, while personalizing and re-working cover songs and traditional gospel. Once again he delivered on the production and arrangements while playing lap steel, guitar, and harmonica.  

Shaun Martin joins the band as pianist for 5 of the 10 songs, with Deej Roisin accompanying Martin on organ, and taking lead on the other piano tracks. Will Winborne Jr., an integral member of Stephens’ band, as well as performing regularly with BoyWonder, The Village People, and rising hip-hop stars XPresidents, lends his organ and rhodes work to the title track and accompanying Martin on organ on Stephens’ Norah Jones’- inspired take on The Band’s “Bessie Smith.”  

The horn section features a pair of living legends in Big Sam Williams and Jeffrey T. Watkins (James Brown's horn director for the last 12 years of Brown's career, now with the New Orleans Suspects, who on top of his tenor work, stepped in for the intricacies and finalizing the horn direction on the album). They are joined by the elite talents of Lori LaPatka on alto sax, and Ian Smith on trumpet.

The rhythm sections are broke into 3 groups featuring: Jerry JBLAKK Henderson and Milk Williams of Big Sam’s Funky Nation; Sam Price from Honey Island Swamp Band; and Sam Shahin and Noah Young from Naughty Professor and Big Freedia's band.

Stephens’ band featuress 3 amazing vocal talents in Ja-Tun Thomas, Andre “BoyWonder” Coles (who also plays guitar on the album), and Ariel Skye, all of whom shine on duets and solo appearances -  most noticeably on Stephens’ re-working of the Ike and Tina Turner classic “Working Together,” - which employs full horns and Martin on Piano, with Thomas, Skye, and Coles trading lines as a vocal trio, with such inspired passion and soul that one would have to look hard and far to find previously achieved elsewhere. Skye especially shines on Stephens’ composition “Spend My Life,”  with whom she is joined in duet with Shaun Martin, in arguably Martin’s best performance on record to date. The performance is beautifully accompanied by Sam Price and Sam Shahin.

Jim has taught music and ensemble performance in Biloxi, MS; Homestead, FL; Port Au Prince, Haiti; Gonaives, Haiti; and Tamil Nadu India. He has also co-taught in numerous inter-discipline arts programs. Jim has also been a panelist, speaker, and curator in numerous arts, art education, and music business forums. He has also designed and taught a class/ interactive lecture/presentation on the Artist’s Responsibility to Society.

Jim founded and produces Mermaid Rescue Week, a week long music and arts festival in Philadelphia in benefit and support of Domestic Violence and Rape Survivor advocacy, now entering its 5th year in 2019.

In 2014 Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh recruited Jim as one of two consultants/advisors to launch the now annual PHL LIVE, which showcases music as the economic stimulator it is throughout the city, while allowing up and coming musicians to meet, talk with, and learn from the best and most successful musicians, producers, and executives in Philadelphia and surrounding area.

Stephens has been an active and integral part of several major and up and coming artists securing label support, booking opportunities, and as a conduit for countless musicians to land work with top charting artists and in-studio work as session musicians.


Lap Steel- Jim Stephens
Vocals - Ja-Tun Thomas / “Andre BoyWonder” Coles / Ariel Skye
Backing Vocals - Ja-Tun Thomas / “Andre BoyWonder” Coles / Ariel Skye / Deej Roisin
Piano - Shaun Martin
Organ - Deej Roisin
Trombone - Big Sam Williams
Tenor Sax - Jeffrey T. Watkins
Alto Sax - Lori LaPatka
Trumpet- Ian Smith
Bass - Jerry JBLAKK Henderson
Drums - Desmond “Milk” Williams

Recorded at Esplanade Studios, New Orleans, LA
Engineered by Misha Kachkachishvili
Additional Recording by Dave Schonauer at Morning Star Studios, East Norriton PA  
And by Jake Eckert and Jeffrey T. Watkins at Rhythm Shack Studios, New Orleans, LA 
Mixed by Dave Schonauer at Morning Star Studios, East Norriton, PA
Mastered by Glenn Barratt at Morning Star Studios, East Norriton, PA

Yellow River

Release Date: June 28, 2019


Jim Stephens is the kind of guy you can’t size up. Upbeat with a classic Irish smile, with a little bit of mischief and at least as much heartbreak in his eyes. Salt of the earth with a good amount of spice, Jim Stephens is anachronistic, hearkening back to a time of real men and real grit. Or maybe he’s one of the real seeds that we look to when our transparent copies of life are wearing thin.  Or maybe it’s all still real – the heartbreak, the saloons, the gritty life on the street, the dust bowl of humanity that we all miss while we’re busy daydreaming inside the matrix.

After his Ropeadope debut – On Our Way To Forever – and his gritty, stripped down album of salt of the earth tunes – Boxcar Blues – Jim Stephens returns with his opus. Songs Of Healing:Philassippiola Soul  brings Stephens full vision into view, with classics like Down By The Riverside and Baby Please Don’t Go interspersed with his soulful gospel-tinged compositions. The process is one of inclusion, with a solid cast of stellar and inspiring musicians from Chuck Treece (Bad Brains) Doug Grisby (Teena Marie, Michael Jackson), Lucky Thompson (Nina Simone) Stan Davis (Teena Marie, Lauren Hill), Pablo Batista (Phyllis Hyman, Eddie Palmieri), Boy Wonder, and introducing Ja-Tun Thomas and others contributing their unique styles in the arranging and recording process.

Jim Stephens has taught music and ensemble performance in Biloxi, MS; Homestead, FL; Port Au Prince, Haiti; Gonaives, Haiti; and Tamil Nadu India. He has also co-taught in inter-discipline arts programs.

Jim has also been a panelist, speaker, and curator in numerous arts, art education, and music business forums. He has also designed and taught a class/ interactive lecture/presentation on the artist's responsibility to society which will be introduced into classrooms in Philadelphia in 2015. Additionally, Jim was also a judge at the Russell Simmons and HBO Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry competition in July, 2014 in Philadelphia.

Jim is also the founder and presenter of Mermaid Rescue Week. An annual week long festival in benefit and support of domestic violence and rape survivor advocacy. The event is the 3rd week in June every year in Philadelphia, with 2017 being the 3rd year, and the 1st year will be in New Orleans in September 2017.

Jim can regularly, and has been seen around New Orleans sitting in and performing with a who's who of musicians including Big Sam's Funky Nation, The Soul Rebels, Russell Batiste, Mainline, Johnny V, Honey Island Swamp Band, and countless others, as well as pick up shows and jam sessions.


All lyrics and music by Jim Stephens Except:

- Mississippi Flu, Lyrics by Jim Stephens. Music by Jim Stephens, Will Winborne, Jr., Ja-Tun Thomas

- His Eye is On The Sparrow, Down By The Riverside, and Mother Pray - Traditional

- Baby Please Don’t Go - Big Joe Williams

- Picture in a FrameBen Harper/Ward/Nelson/Yates/Charles/Mobley

All Production and Arrangement by Jim Stephens, with additional production, arrangement credits:

- By My Side -  Arranged and Produced by Jim Stephens, Scott Coulter, and Sarah Crowell

- Mother Pray –  Produced by Jim Stephens, Sarah Crowell

- Box Car Blues – Produced by Jim Stephens, Chuck Treece, Stan Davis, Andre “BoyWonder” Coles

- Mississippi Flu - Produced by Jim Stephens, Ja-Tun Thomas, Will Winborne, Jr.

- Baby Please Don’t Go - Produced and Arranged by Jim stephens, Ja-Tun Thomas, and Dave Schonauer

- Mother Mary - Produced and Arranged by Jim Stephens, Ja-Tun Thomas, Dave Schonauer

- Torture Me - Produced and Arranged by Jim Stephens, Andre “BoyWonder” Coles, Eric Bogacz

- Down By The Riverside - Produced and Arranged by Jim Stephens, Ja-Tun Thomas, and Dave Schonauer

- Lost Souls Cavern - Produced by Jim Stephens and Andre “BoyWonder” Coles

- Eye on the Sparrow - Produced by Jim Stephens Ja-Tun Thomas

- Mixed at Morning Star Studios by Dave Shonauer

- Mastered at Morning Star Studios by Glenn Barratt


All songs written by Jim Stephens, Except: 

  • Waiting for You by Ben Harper © 2005 off of Both Sides of the Gun Album: And John The Revelator, Traditional written by Son House

  • All songs produced by Jim Stephens

  • All songs songs arranged by Jim Stephens and Andre Coles

  • Jim Stephens: all harmonica and electric guitars

  • Boy Wonder: vocals and acoustic guitars

  • Mike Tyler: bottleneck slide on Bluebird

  • Tracks 1-8 recorded live by Mike Tyler at the Dungeon

  • Tracks 9-10 recorded live by Boy Wonder at Boy Wonder’s Lair

Cover art by: Toni Cannon: Toni@ToniCannon.com


“Vision, influences, reasons, details"

“The album was recorded live over a couple of nights at Col. Mike Tyler’s “The Dungeon”. (Mike has produced, and performed with and recorded for everyone from LL Cool J’s unplugged, Tribe Called Quest, Billy Joel, Prince, Pearl Jam, G Love, The Fugees, and countless others, and was in house guitarist and producer for RuffHouse Records and Studio 4. 

The vision was simple and easy for me. I have always wanted to record a delta blues and roots record. Raw. Un-pretty. Unsettling. I’ve always been a big blues kid and the influence and those roots come through on songs like “The Yellow” “Drowned Canvas” from On Our Way To Forever, and pretty much all of Philasippiola Soul. From the original full band song “Box Car Blues,” to “Poor Girl,” “Keep On,” “Torture Me,” etc. The opportunity to do an album so raw and acoustic in the manner and my original influences – even pre-jazz and soul influences, is a dream come true. The sounds, quality, every note is as deliberate as it is improved on the spot. There were no rehearsals, everything was live. I brought all of these songs to Boy Wonder as we were recording, and he slayed every one of them. Mike Tyler jumped in on “Bluebird” with some last minute bottleneck, with a High Life bottle. The songs are mostly dark, unsettling, and gritty. The happenstance crackling on “Waiting for you,” the way the sound is on “Death Bed Dreamin,” the way Boy Wonder’s vocals distorted the mic at the end of “Rebel Rouser” and “Loose Lipped Woman,” and just topically, I think I was able to accomplish what I set out to do. 
I feel with the deliberate quality and honesty of this literal art, and in the homage and respect and tradition of all who laid the ground work for all American music, there is something everyone can relate to on the human condition, their own or a loved one’s. Of course nothing was getting by Mike if something wasn’t what it should have been. This album is an offering between the two FTBB records.

I, and we, also know that people don’t make records like this anymore. And we’re okay with that. A lot of people in mainstream audiences won’t understand it. It’s an album for the traditional blues, and roots purists. It’s honest. I’m sure other professional and touring artists will also have a deep appreciation. Hopefully we can open some new ears and educate some folks to this tradition of expressing sorrow and tragedy through storytelling, in this format and art form.”
— Jim Stephens