James Leva and Purgatory Mountain

James Leva and Purgatory Mountain


Solidly rooted in traditional Appalachian, country and bluegrass but with world beat awareness, Purgatory Mountain knows the center, explores the boundaries and links with other traditions. Great traditional and original songs, vocal harmonies, instrumentals and a world class dancer.


James Leva is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, and songwriter whose music is deeply rooted in Appalachian tradition. He learned much of his fiddle, banjo and vocal repertoire from great traditional masters such as Tommy Jarrell and Doug Wallin. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s he performed with seminal traditionally focused groups that were exploring the boundaries of Appalachian music. Bands such at Plank Road (with Al Tharp and Michael James Kott), Ace Weems and the Fat Meat Boys (with David Winston and Chad Crumm), and the Hellbenders.(with Bruce Molsky and Dave Grant) performed throughout the US and Europe and their recordings were widely influential. In the 90’s James formed the Free Will Savages with Dave Grant, Al Tharp and Dirk Powell. The Savages made two classic recordings, performed at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival where Jerry Douglas pronounced them “the perfect marriage between Ralph Stanley and the Sex Pistols.” Spin magazine writer, the late Renee Crist, dubbed the Savages’ radical new sound as the vanguard of “Appalachian World Beat”.
James also recorded two albums with the Renegades in the mid-90s. The Renegades, with Richie Stearns (of the Horse Flies), June Drucker (of the Heart Beats), and Carol Elizbeth Jones (of the Wildcats), combined traditional fiddle tunes and ballads with original songs from all four members. The Renegades toured nationally, playing major festivals throughout the US (including Alaska).
In the late 90s James and Carol Elizabeth Jones, as Jones and Leva, made two widely acclaimed albums of original songs with the focus on traditional style vocal harmonies, for the Rounder label. Jones and Leva played major festivals in the US, Mexico, Canada and Great Britain. They were the subject of feature articles in a number of magazines, including Acoustic Guitar, Sing Out! And Dirty Linen.
In 2001 James recorded an album, “Memory Theatre”, with the collaboration of Irish guitar wizard John Doyle. Memory Theatre was widely praised by critics for it blend of traditional and original material in the context of exploring the Celtic roots of Appalachian music. In 2003 his album “Til I Know” was produced by renowned Cajun stars David Greely and Sam Broussard, who also played and sang on the record.
Since then James has also performed with Malian ngoni , banjo and guitar player Cheick Hamala Diabate. Together they have performed for the Black Music Conference (Columbia College), Chicago’s Old Towne School, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and the University of North Carolina. James exploration of the African roots of Appalachian music further led him to work with Professor Cecelia Conway and traditional African-American fiddler Joe Thompson.

More recently James has been part of Stephen Wade’s performance piece, “In Sacred Trust”, a tribute to the music and life of Hobart Smith, a great traditional musician from Saltville, Virginia, who died in 1967. “In Sacred Trust” was performed at Chicago’s Old Towne School, at the Birchemere in Alexandria, in Hobart’s hometown, and mainstage Saturday night at the Philadelphia Folk Festival in 2007.

James is currently performing with Purgatory Mountain, with whom he recorded an album in 2007. Al Tharp (longtime veteran of Beausoleil), Danny Knicely (a brilliant young musician who has toured with Tony Rice and Vassar Clements among many others) and dancer/percussionist Matthew Olwell (a veteran of Footworks Dance Ensemble and the London production of River Dance) recently toured in France, including performances for the Aulnay All Blues festival in Paris where they performed with Bassekou Kouyate and Corey Harris.

James has also taught at numerous music camps including Fiddle Tunes, Augusta, Swannannoa, Ashokan, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop among many others. Courses he has taught include fiddle, vocals, harmony, banjo, songwriting, music of the Carter Family, the Louvin Brothers, the Stanley Brothers, and a course he devised, “The Old Time / Country Connection”.

He is currently performing with Purgatory Mountain, and as a duet with Nora Jane Struthers. He will also be performing several times this year with Carol Elizabeth Jones.

James, who has a PhD in French Literature, was a Fulbright Scholar to France. He has composed and performed music for a variety of plays and theatrical productions in Europe (where he performed in several of France’s National Theatres, at the Avignon Festival and the Taormina Festival in Italy.) and in the US (including the Barter Theatre, Lime Kiln Theater, and Arkansas Repertory Theatre). In 1995 James won an NEH grant for the production of his original play “Visitations” which was performed at Lime Kiln Arts in Lexington, Virginia.


"Winkin' Eye" James Leva and Purgatory Mountain (Copper Creek, 2007)
"Til I Know" James Leva with David Greely and Sam Broussard (Copper Creek, 2003)
"Memory Theatre" James Leva with John Doyle (Copper Creek, 2001)
"Vertie's Dream" James Leva and Carol Elizabeth Jones (Copper Creek, 2000)
"Journey Home" Jones & Leva (Rounder, 1998)
"Light Enough to Find My Way" (Rounder, 1997)
"I Need to Find" Renegades (w/Richie Stearns) (Carryon, 1995)
Renegades (1993)
Hellbenders (with Bruce Molsky) 1991)
James' music with Renegades and Plank Road has been re-released by the Field Music Cooperative

Set List

Mix of original and traditional tunes, vocals (three part Appalachian harmony) and dance tunes (Matty does Appalachian flatfoot and clogging, Irish and African dance)