Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, Jimmy James was the most celebrated Marilyn Monroe impersonator on the planet. As Marilyn, James appeared in iconic ad campaigns for L.A. Eyeworks (photographed by Greg Gorman in 1991) and Kenar (starring supermodel Linda Evangelista — flanked by James disguised as Bette Davis and Judy Garland as well as Ms. Monroe), and on the talk shows of Phil Donahue, Geraldo Rivera, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Joan Rivers. In 1997, James put Marilyn to rest and started focusing on his music career. In addition to developing uncanny vocal impressions of Cher, Neil Diamond, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, and Diana Ross, James has written and recorded two hit dance tracks: 1998’s “Who Wants to Be Your Lover” and 2006’s “Fashionista,” which readers may have heard on shows such as America’s Got Talent and So You Think You Can Dance. Of the song, Billboard wrote, “Once in a great while, a camp anthem squirms its way out of the gay ghetto into the pop-culture world at large,” citing the rhyme sequence “Sean John, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan’s fashion line/Valentino, YSL, Ferragamo and Chanel/Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci, don’t forget my Pucci,” as an example of why “Fashionista” is more than just a “bitchy dance ditty.”
Before jetting back to L.A., where he’s scheduled to audition for a new play based on The Golden Girls, the SA native will present The One & Many Voices of Jimmy James. The Current was fortunate enough to get one of James’ many voices on the phone.
Other than the usual suspects, whose voices will we be hearing on Thursday?
Macy Gray, a little Madonna, Stevie Nicks, and Elvis. You know, I never really got Elvis until I heard a recording he made while touring Texas when he was only 19 years old. When I played it, it was like I was hearing his voice for the first time.
Are you doing any Christmas carols?
Yes, but not many. I’m doing “Feliz Navidad” as Bette Davis, which is something I hardly ever do live. You know, I come home to see family and friends, so I don’t think of San Antonio as a work place. So this is probably the last time I’ll perform here in a very long time.
I was in a club in Mexico City a few years ago, and “Fashionista” came on. I wish you could’ve seen the queens running for the dance floor. They love you over there.
The song was huge in Mexico. It’s so shitty what Mexico’s going through right now.
Why do you think it was such a big hit there?
Well, “Fashionista” sort of sounds like a Latin word, and all the brands I mention like Prada and Gucci don’t need to be translated — so they got it. And they got it in Southeast Asia, too. And it’s got a good beat.
When I lived in New York, you had a weekly gig at a bar called Pieces that was like your rehearsal space. Have you found anything like that in L.A.?
Not yet, but I am looking for a place to try out new material. It keeps you well-oiled, especially with comedy timing — you have to keep practicing. You know, when I left New York, all the nightclubs were closing or having to try really hard to make things work. So I thought, if there’s going to be a depression, I’d rather be in sunny Los Angeles.
$20 in advance, $25 at the door, 9pm, the Bonham Exchange, 411 Bonham, (210) 271-3811, bonhamexchange.net, jimmyjames.com.