Teaching Kids How to Rock and Roll
Jim Chambers’ amazing life journey has led him to North Tampa, where he owns and teaches drums at the Jim Chambers Music Box. Creative Pinellas chatted with Chambers recently about his past as a music executive and, of course, his Top 5.
By Stephanie Powers, July 26, 2018
Walking in to the Jim Chambers Music Box is a sensory explosion. Red and orange walls. Giant marquee circus-style lights. The cutest white dog, Stixx, greeting anyone who enters.
But there is also substance with the style. Students learning piano, drums, guitar, bass, banjo, ukulele, even music editing occupy private classrooms. In one section, the Summer Rock and Roll Boot Camp instructs, in a two-week session, beginning students o how to play a show as a fully formed band. They also get to play at real venues — most recently at the Seminole Heights venue/record store Microgroove.
For the more advanced students there is Band Formation, a group of advanced students hand-selected by Chambers, that write original material from the start and end up recording and playing even bigger gigs, like Gasparilla Music Festival.
“We’ve got mad love from GMF,” Chambers said. A few of his bands from the Formation classes have played the local fest including Extra Celestial, an all girl rock band that landed the cover of Creative Loafing.
“I take the band program, and I really do work it like I’m a management consortium group,” he added. “That’s how I think. Let’s get a single. We take them through that whole process.”
So how did he get here?
“I was in New York for 15 years working within the label system. In the final years, I was working as Global director of the A&R Department for Redeye Distribution … I sign Loudon Wainwright…”
Long story short, Wainwright won a Grammy and Chambers got laid off.
“You lay off your Grammy guy? It’s like laying off your top salesperson,” Chambers recalled.
At that point, Chambers decided that he had it with New York. “I’d had it with the music business,” he added. “I’m going to let this go.”
For the record, Chambers has a total of three Grammys under his belt. Two others were for work with the group Maroon 5; you may have heard of them.
After trying out another dream of opening a pizza joint in Costa Rica, Chambers came back to his hometown of Tampa. He said, “All I know how to do is music, that’s it.”
And that’s when the very beginnings of the Music Box began to take shape. He approached the Carrollwood Cultural Center about giving drum lessons. He succeeded. “By the end of the two week session, some kids could hold down a beat. … So I was (living) in my parents home in Carrollwood Village … I had 10 students, then I had 20 then I had 25. After struggling to balance the workload, he opened Jim Chambers Percussion Party.
“I had an open a house,” he recalled, “changed a room into a full-blown drum studio, and churned out 25 drum students for a bit and thought ‘This is great.’ I was living the dream. It was a nice transition for me … working with young people … then investors came knocking.”
What was his goal? “I’d like to open up a full blown shop but not in a strip mall next to a karate shop.”
So with the help of investors, Chambers opened a self-proclaimed Hogwarts for music. In a house. In Carrollwood.
“We did that for about a year and a half until the HOA was like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. and I was like, ‘What’s an HOA?’ I don’t even know.” Not fighting the HOA, he closed down school. His next move was a tough decision, but after 10 days of thought he decided to take a chance on a kickstarter campaign to open a retail spot for his school. And he raised 20,000 and got a spot in a strip mall, next to a karate studio.
“This will be our third year,” he added with enthusiasm. “I’ve re-upped the lease. It was a very difficult decision. This is a tough business, we’re not going to be able to retire anytime soon. But I work within my element so I’m very fortunate like that. I love music, I love children, I love creative, and that’s what we do.”
Currently, JCMB has seven instructors, and 83 students, with much more students during the school year. Students of the school range between 3 and 70, with 15 adult students, but the focus is on kids. In addition to the day-to-day business of keeping the school running, Chambers teaches drums, which he started playing around the age of 6, when a neighbor gave him a drum set.
“I took it home and just beat on it to the Highway to Hell record,” he reminisced. “I didn’t take many lessons … but then, I was in 100 bands. In college, had some label interest. Did some touring. There was a crossroad, there was label interest in my sh*@#y band.”
Chambers had to choose which side of the music industry he wanted to work in. “I wanted to work in the music business proper so bad, my whole life, when I realized there was a business within music,” he shared. “I’m like I can go get paid and do that … So eventually I did get my record job and never wanted to get out of it.”
Throughout his career he worked with wide range of bands such as the Indigo Girls, Drivin’ and Cryin’, Fishbone, Patti Smith, TLC, Outkast, Dave Matthews, Tool, Ace of Base and Whitney Houston. He still has plenty of connections too, which he uses to take his students on concert field trips including the Warped Tour every year.
So what’s the plan now for the Jim Chambers Music Box?
“I don’t make five-year goals, I make three-years. Turn this into a venue … keep churning,” Chambers said. “It’ll turn into a live space and remain educational but with a live component. I want this to be very successful.”
And the last question of the day. What are his top five musical acts, the acts that influenced him to live a life dedicated to music?
“You gotta figure out if you’re a Beatles or Stones (person). I’m a Beatles guy. So The Beatles, Deadbolt, Rocket from the Crypt, AC/DC, and the B-52s early music. It really did, kinda changed things.”
An open house will be held at Jim Chambers Music Box, 4321 Gunn Highway, Tampa, from 1 to 4 p.m. Sat., July 28. For more information, visit jcmusicbox.com