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NASHVILLE, TN – McKinley James is thrilled to announce the forthcoming release of his debut album entitled, Working Class Blues on June 7th.The first single / video for “She Moved On” is out now. Pre-save it here.


McKinley James is equal parts old soul and modern man. Armed with an electric guitar and sharp songwriting chops, he breathes new life into classic sounds. His new long player introduces his mix of American rock and roll, amplified soul, and raw rhythm and blues.

A sound powered by groove and guitar and sharpened by countless shows — from dive bar residencies in Nashville to headlining gigs across Europe — all rooted in the shared bloodline of McKinley and his longtime bandmate: drummer & father Jason Smay.) Not unlike the White Stripes, they rewrite the rulebook for blues-inspired rock duos, creating a lean, honest version of American roots music that makes room for everything from Motown hooks to roadhouse boogie-woogie. 

“We’re not trying to sound old-school,” says McKinley, who grew up watching his father play drums for acts like Los Straitjackets and JD McPherson. “We love traditional blues and soul, but this isn’t a retro act. The topics, themes, and songs are always fresh.”

To capture those songs as genuinely as possible, McKinley and Jason spent three days in the home studio they’d constructed inside their family barn, recording a series of live performances with analog gear and minimal microphones. Jason played a vintage Ludwig drum set from 1970. McKinley played a vintage ’54 Stratocaster through a Peavey Pacer without headphones or studio gimmicks.

That goal began taking shape in upstate New York, where McKinley was raised in a music-filled household. Inspired by everything from Stax to disco to ’80s R&B, he became a guitar prodigy at a young age. “I showed him an old video of Booker T. & the M.G.’s playing Norway in 1967,” Jason remembers, “and McKinley saw Steve Cropper ripping it and thought, ‘Ok, that’s what I want to do, too.’ He must’ve been ten years old.” McKinley quickly learned not only to play guitar but to sing and write his own material, too. Along the way, Jason pushed him to expand his horizons.

“Dad always said, ‘If you play guitar but don’t sing, it will limit you,'” McKinley says. “Learning to sing helped me get into songwriting, and Dad pushed me there, too. He thought it was cool that I liked this older style of music, but I needed to make it my own. You must write songs about who you are. You’ve gotta live it; otherwise, it just becomes an act.”

“She Moved On”‘s music video

By the time McKinley relocated to Nashville as a teenager in 2017, he’d already appeared on the cover of Eric Church’s platinum-selling album Mr. Misunderstood and kickstarted his performance career. He even missed his high school graduation for a gig. During the following years, he introduced himself to international audiences by hitting the road — where he initially performed as a trio, backed by Jason and a Hammond organist — and releasing a handful of recordings. 2021’s critically acclaimed Still Standing By found him working alongside producer Dan Auerbach of the Grammy-winning band The Black Keyes, while 2022’s LIVE! captured McKinley and company onstage, tearing their way through songs to a packed house.


This isn’t a boxed-in version of the blues. It’s an eclectic mix of American music featuring songs co-written with Auerbach, Pat McLaughlin, and Dylan Altman. McKinley sings about universal struggles — heartbreak, frustration, love, infatuation — with the voice of a 20-something adult who’s been cutting his teeth onstage since childhood. Like its creator, Working Class Blues exists somewhere out of time, blending the contemporary with the classic, erasing the lines between genre and generation. It’s something fresh, created out of something familiar. And for McKinley James, it’s just the beginning.

Photograph by Alejandro Menéndez Vega

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