James Intveld sings probably the world's most rousing version of Rodney Crowell's “Standing on a Rock,” and to all outward appearances he is that steadying rock. In aid of other musicians, he's the guy who plays more benefit shows than most guys do paying gigs; who drives friends to their chemo treatments; who can fill in for any of your band members if you're in a pinch; who, if you don't notice you accidentally over-paid him for a gig, will send you a check back in the mail.
Intveld's the guy who strides on stage with the confidence of a rising star, with three albums to his credit, packed with songs that can go toe-to-toe with the best of contemporary country/Americana, while also sounding right at home on a jukebox alongside Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, Ricky Nelson and your choice of honky-tonk kings. But when he sings the inspirational title song of his 2008 album, Have Faith, the Garden Grove-raised Intveld says he's singing to himself as much as to anyone else.
“I was really down when I was making that album, and needed to hear that, to try to turn myself around. I'm not much of a complainer, but my whole life has been rough, with a lot of sadness and bad things in it. If I write a sad song, it's because I've been there. If it's happy, it's because, having been sad, I certainly enjoy myself when I can, and really appreciate the beauty and good in things.”
After over two decades of banging his head against the music industry's door in LA, he moved to Nashville nearly ten years ago, where it's been same head, new door. His personal life, he says, has been good for his song material but bad for his relationships. Then there's the rockin' shadow that always follows him. Intveld was born in Holland, to a father who so loved early American rock and roll that he moved the family to California with dreams of joining the music scene. His record collection soon infected his kids with their own dreams.
When Intveld started his rockabilly band, the Rockin' Shadows, in Garden Grove in the early '80s, his brother/best friend Rick joined on drums. In 1983, they opened for one of their heroes, Rick Nelson, at a Long Beach show. Nelson was so taken with the band's verve and authenticity that soon after, with Intveld's blessing, Nelson hired Rick and bassist Pat Woodward for his own band. They were with Nelson when his plane caught fire on Dec. 31, 1985, killing them all.
“That was a huge loss for me,” Intveld said. “It completely changed my life. It just seemed impossible to me that he was gone. It was like living with something that couldn't have happened.”
You hear it in his music, both in the haunting ballads like his “Remember Me” and the uptempo numbers whose joys seem all the more deeply felt due to their measured distance from the abyss.
One of the ways he's dealt with loss was to not waste a moment of his own life. For decades he was one of the most constant forces on the Southern California music scene. Most any week, you'd find him headlining here, opening there, or backing up friends. He played bass behind Dwight Yoakam, lead guitar in the Blasters, sang in Harry Dean Stanton's band, and wrote Rosie Flores hit “Cryin' Over You.”
Intveld had a concurrent acting career. He's got a bit of that lanky James Dean thing going, and takes his craft seriously, whether in Sean Penn's The Indian Runner, Billy Crystal's 61*, Monk episodes or in The Curse of El Charro , 7 Mummies and other films in search of a drive-in.
He directed a film—2005's David Carradine starrer Miracle at Sage Creek, but has yet to star in one himself. Sometime's he doesn't even make it on camera: whenever Johnny Depp sang in John Waters' Cry Baby, it was Intveld's uncredited voice coming out of his mouth.
Ten years ago, he decided to try his luck in Nashville, where he also figured he could meet his remaining musical idols. Though he did get to play the Opry and Ernest Tubb's Midnight Jamboree, he found himself attending his idols' funerals and that “the town I wanted to move to hasn't been there for 20 years or more.” He'll probably move back to California when he figures out how.
One other reason why he hasn't been on the local scene much is that for the past five years he's been on the road playing guitar and singing with John Fogerty. It proved an awkward balance for him: He made needed money to support his own career, but then didn't have time to pursue that career.
He hung that up earlier this year, and is now concentrating on getting his fourth album done and hitting the road on his own.
As far back as 1990, other critics and I were bemoaning how long an artist of Intveld's caliber had gone without getting a record contract or other big breaks. That never changed, but he has.
“I have an acceptance of things I didn't have before. People are always saying, 'Man, you're just about to make it. Things are really going to turn around.' I don't believe in that anymore. When Have Faith came out, I hired a publicist, made sure I was seen hanging out with the right people and did all that. And I realized none of that's why I got into music. I didn't dream about the music business. I dreamed about music.
“I'm at the age now where I know I'm not going to be the next big thing. Being out of the rat race makes it easier to just concentrate on the music. I just want to go out and play for the people who want to hear me play.”
He's fresh back from a short European tour. The only recent OC gig he's played was in May, at a benefit, of course, one for his cancer-stricken friend Kid Ramos.
This New Year's Eve, he's playing a full-blown show of his own at HB's spacious Polynesian palace, Don the Beachcomber. It's probably been too long since you've heard Intveld's plaintive voice or loss-tinged, joy-flecked songs, so go get reacquainted with one of the county's musical treasures.
James Intveld, Thursday, Dec. 31 at 9 p.m. at Don the Beachcomber, 16278 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach. (714) 434-2579 for reservations, or (562) 592-1321 for the venue. For full details, click here.