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"Ronnie Milsap is one of my favorite artists of all time. I call him the Godfather of Country Soul," James tells The Boot in an exclusive interview at the Starbucks in Rockefeller Plaza, adjacent to the world famous Christmas tree and ice skating rink. "He mixed classic R&B with country music and to great effect. He had 40 No. 1 hits and sold millions of records. You can't beat that."
James and Ronnie will be performing 'Good Thing's Gone Bad,' their duet on James' current album 'Shake What God Gave Ya.' They will be joined by The Roots, who perform nightly on Fallon. "I wrote that song years and years ago and had done it with the [Muzik] Mafia. In the middle of the song, when we'd play it with the Mafia, I'd break into 'Stranger in My House,' because it fits perfectly," James says, referencing Ronnie's classic '80s hit. "We decided when it came time to cut the album to reach out to Ronnie and see what he thought of the song. He loved the song and decided he wanted to do it. Once it was on the record, everybody started hearing it. It's been a favorite in my live shows for years, but this version of it is the best version we've ever had."
James is excited about doing the song with Ronnie on 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.' "It's time that he's recognized for the pioneer that he is," James says of Milsap. "He did a lot in country music and is, I think, under appreciated. So this is a cool situation to bring him into a modern country soul song cause he's the guy who basically invented the genre and gave it to the world."
James is also excited about performing with legendary hip hop outfit The Roots. "Not only are we playing the show, but The Roots are backing us," he says with a big smile. "It's going to be amazing. They are the greatest band. It's going to be a memory that I'm going to take home. If I can't be with my family, it's the coolest possible thing I could be doing."
Even though doing the show meant missing Thanksgiving dinner with family, James said he had no qualms about heading to New York for the show. "I get a chance to work with Ronnie Milsap and do our song on national television," he says. "And you couldn't have a better audience than on Thanksgiving. Everybody is going to be in their turkey coma, laying on their couch and watching TV, so it's going to be perfect."
As for just where James would be eating his Thanksgiving turkey, he says they hadn't yet decided on a spot. "Ronnie and his wife, Joyce, and Amy and I and Jensen [Sussman, his Warner Music publicist] are going to go hit a restaurant somewhere," he says. "We're trying to find some turkey and dressing and the whole bit."
James says after Thanksgiving with their family in Jackson, Tenn., one of his traditions is to pack up and head to Atlanta with Amy the next day for some Christmas shopping. This year they'll be in the Big Apple on Black Friday, but James admits he's a bit hesitant to battle the crowds. "I'm not sure I want to do it in New York," he says. "I don't know if I want to tackle Fifth Avenue on Black Friday. That sounds like a bit much for me, but it's a pretty cool thing so we may end up over there anyway."
On Saturday, James and Amy will be heading home to Nashville and three-month old daughter Ava. "My mom is at home watching the baby. She's been dying to come down and stay for a couple of days and watch her, so when we had the opportunity to do this, she came down to watch the baby and hang out at our house."
As excited as he is about the Fallon appearance, James confesses he misses being home with Ava. "That's the one thing about being gone for Thanksgiving that's a bummer is not being there for her first Thanksgiving," says James, who is over the moon about being a father. "There's a lot of great things involved in being a dad and you can just never imagine until you are one."
Catch James, Ronnie and the Roots tonight (November 25) on 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' at 12:35 AM ET on NBC.