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Soul legend and The Vagabonds frontman Jimmy James dies aged 84

Jimmy James and The Vagabonds had a huge following in the UK (Picture: Facebook)

Jimmy James and The Vagabonds had a huge following in the UK (Picture: Facebook)© Provided by Metro

The Vagabonds frontman Jimmy James, who performed alongside Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones, has died aged 84.

Soul legend James was behind the hit ballad Come to Me Softly before being recruited by ska and soul band The Vagabonds.

The group had two hits in the UK in the 70s, I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me and Now Is the Time, and regularly headlined soul and 60s festivals.

His family confirmed his death in the Jamaica Observer. They said he died after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and a heart condition at Northwick Park Hospital in London.

Born in Brown’s Town in Jamaica, James swiftly became involved in music, and recorded songs, including Come to Me Softly, which reached no 44 on the US R&B charts.

He later moved to London in 1964 at the peak of the British music scene, where bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were dominating the global charts. 

James scored a top 10 hit in the UK with The Vagabonds (Picture: Redferns)© Provided by Metro

James’ performances in the UK with The Vagabonds gained them a devoted following, as well as a recording contract and a residency in a Soho club.

They were also the support acts for bands including The Who and The Rolling Stones and performed alongside Rod Stewart and Sonny & Cher among others.

The Vagabonds largely focussed on their live performances but had their first UK top 40 hit with a cover of Neil Diamond’s Red Red Wine. 

The group had supporting slots with the likes of The Rolling Stones (Credits: Getty Images)© Provided by Metro

The Vagabonds split in 1970, with several members including Phil Chen going on to have solo careers.

James replaced them with British musicians and they had a number 5 hit with Now Is the Time, while I’ll Go Where Your Music Takes Me reached number 23.

Over the next few decades, James and The Vagabonds performed at various festivals. 

James moved to London in the 60s at the height of the British invasion (Picture: Michael Ochs Archives)© Provided by Metro

In 2023, he spoke to The Guardian about the contributions made by the Windrush generation.

James said: ‘We brought a hell of a lot: music, fashion, food. Even now the kids try and speak like Jamaicans.

‘At the same time, we had to put up with discrimination: “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs.” How can people be so ignorant?’ 

He is survived by his wife Paula, five sons, two daughters, grandchildren, two sisters, nieces and nephews. 

Story by Ruth Lawes: Metro 

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