Doug “DJ” James was so fanatical about drumming, he camped outside a recent Ringo Starr gig to get his cymbal signed by the Beatles legend. And he was such a skilled drummer himself, he was able to make his living as a full-time musician for decades playing with a wide range of veteran Minnesota acts, including the Rockin’ Hollywoods, Willie Murphy, Steve Millar, Jody Hanks and the Del Counts.
“He lived behind the drums, and he died by the drums,” said Steve Ghizoni, bandleader of the Rockin’ Hollywoods, with whom James was performing Jan. 25 when the drummer died of a heart attack on stage at Mancini’s.
James, 65, will be remembered by family, friends and bandmates with a memorial service Tuesday, 6 p.m., at Mueller-Bies Funeral Home, 2130 N. Dale St., Roseville. A musical tribute to him is also planned for March 10 at Minnesota Music Café in St. Paul.
He had been playing with the Hollywoods for 18 years and often showed off his singing skills with them, too. The blues classic “Tore Down” was among his staple.
“He loved music in general, and was such a great partner to have as a bandmate because he was both hard-working and passionate about it,” said Ghizoni.
Nearing their 50th year as a band, the Hollywoods were just about to start their third set of the night at the St. Paul supper club, where they play an annual Winter Carnival concert. James slumped over his drum kit after he sat down. An audience member tried to resuscitate him, as did paramedics. He was clutching his drum sticks when he passed.
“Not only did he die doing what he loved, but it also happened in his hometown, which he loved,” Ghizoni added.
James was a graduate of St. Paul’s Mechanic Arts High School and lived in the capital city throughout his life. He is survived by his wife, Colleen, three sons and a granddaughter.
The Rockin’ Hollywoods will carry on “but will never be the same,” Ghizoni said. Former drummer Garr Johnson will fill in at the group’s upcoming shows, starting with the Valentine’s dance at Braemar Golf Club in Edina on Saturday.