James Blood Ulmer

James "Blood" Ulmer (born February 8, 1940) is an American jazz, free funk and blues guitarist and singer. Ulmer plays a Gibson Byrdland guitar. His guitar sound has been described as "jagged" and "stinging". His singing has been called "raggedly soulful".[1]

James Blood Ulmer
Ulmer performing at the Moers Festival, 2012
Background information
Birth nameWillie James Ulmer
Also known asDamu Mustafa Abdul Musawwir
Born (1940-02-08) February 8, 1940
St. Matthews, South Carolina, U.S.
GenresJazz, harmolodics, free funk, blues, electric blues
InstrumentsGuitar, vocals


Willie James Ulmer[2] was born in St. Matthews, South Carolina. He began his career playing with soul jazz ensembles, first in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from 1959–1964, and then in the Columbus, Ohio from 1964–1967. He recorded with organist Hank Marr in 1964 (released 1967). After moving to New York in 1971, Ulmer played with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Joe Henderson, Paul Bley, Rashied Ali, and Larry Young.

In the early 1970s, Ulmer joined Ornette Coleman; he was the first electric guitarist to record and tour extensively with Coleman. He has credited Coleman as a major influence. Coleman's reliance on electric guitar in his fusion-oriented recordings owes a debt to Ulmer.

His appearance on Arthur Blythe's two consecutive Columbia albums, Lenox Avenue Breakdown (1979) and Illusions (1980), was followed by Ulmer's signing to that label. That resulted in three albums: Free Lancing, Black Rock, and Odyssey, which was the inaugural release of Odyssey The Band with drummer Warren Benbow and violinist Charles Burnham. The trio was called "avant-gutbucket" by music critic Bill Milkowski to describe the music as "conjuring images of Skip James and Albert Ayler jamming on the Mississippi Delta."

Ulmer formed Music Revelation Ensemble around 1980, co-led with David Murray for the first decade and lasting into the 1990s. Later versions of the band included Arthur Blythe, Sam Rivers, Pharoah Sanders, and John Zorn. In the 1980s he co-led the quartet Phalanx with saxophonist George Adams. Ulmer has recorded as a leader, including blues-oriented albums produced by Vernon Reid: Memphis Blood, No Escape from the Blues, Bad Blood in the City, and Birthright.

He was a judge for the 8th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent musicians.[3][4]

In a 2005 Down Beat interview, he said guitar technique stagnated after the death of Jimi Hendrix.[5] He stated technique could advance "if the guitar would stop following the piano" and indicated he tunes his guitar strings to A.[5]

In 2009, Ulmer started the label American Revelation. In spring 2011, he joined James Carter's organ trio as a special guest with Nicholas Payton on trumpet for a six-night stand of performances at Blue Note New York.


As leader

With Music Revelation Ensemble

With New Jazz Art Quartet with John Hicks, Reggie Workman, Rashied Ali

  • Live at Birdland 2000 (American Revelation, 2009)

With Odyssey the Band

With Phalanx

With members of Rip Rig + Panic

  • James Blood Ulmer: "Eye Level" / "Blues Don't Fail Me Now" (12" single, Rough Trade, 1984)

With Rodolphe Burger

  • Blood & Burger: Guitar Music (Wagram/Dernière Bande, 2003)

With Third Rail

As sideman

As guest

TV appearances


  1. "James Blood Ulmer". TrouserPress.com. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
  2. Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger. p. 129. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  3. "Boston's Own Debbie And Friends Among The 8th Annual Independent Music Awards Vox Populi Winners". PRLog. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
  4. Archived April 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  5. Micallef, Ken (December 2005). "James 'Blood' Ulmer: Blues Album of the Year (Birthright)". Down Beat. Elmhurst, IL: Maher. 72 (12): 62. ISSN 0012-5768.
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