JULIAN James tried the safe option, the soft option – that one with a regular pay cheque, the suit, the conformity and the emotional anonymity.
He knew it was wrong, but the man (pictured) who first picked up a guitar as a 12-year-old had yet to break the societal shackles to which he had surrendered five years earlier.
But in the end fate – and one phone call – saved him.
Catfish Voodoo, the band he had abandoned for a career in real estate, came calling.
And wanted him back.
For Julian it was as though he had been thrown a lifeline.
His former bandmates were suggesting a reunion, asking him to drop it all and return to the stage.
He just dropped the phone, quit the ‘career’ and hit the road, literally, in his van.
That was 15 months ago and he hasn’t missed a beat – or missed his old life for a heartbeat.
“It had been a long time coming, too long,” Julian reflected.
“I heard this amazing quote from the Art of War by Sun Tzu. It was essentially ‘if you want to take the island, you’ve got to burn the boats’.
“I just wanted to burn all the boats and give my music the full-time focus it deserved.”
It’s a leap of faith that has certainly paid off.
Julian is already booked in to play almost 200 shows – and that’s just this year.
His traditional blues sound, like the old-time strummers of the past, is in high demand at venues across Australia.
Including this weekend’s Echuca-Moama Winter Blues Festival.
He’s already a Winter Blues veteran, having played several times in a band and the past couple of years as a solo act.
And while Catfish Voodoo was the launching pad for his music career, the seeds were first planted in childhood.
“My mum was a massive country fan. And we’d always have Van Morrison and that kind of stuff playing. Essentially the Gold 104.3FM playlist,” he said.
“I was never very good at school so my guitar was my escape. I’d just sit there and play it for hours and hours.”
From his parents’ vinyls to his own CDs of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Eminem, Julian’s musical taste slowly evolved – although it took a little while for him to discover blues.
“I wasn’t as culturally, musically versed as I would have liked when I was young,” Julian said.
“I think music is kind of like your taste palate. Sometimes you’re not ready to hear things, not ready to taste them. You have to grow and mature that palate.”
But it wasn’t long before Julian immersed himself in the wide world of blues and, in 2009, joined Catfish Voodoo as its front man.
In addition to playing with Catfish, he also notched a six-month stint in Edinburgh, accompanying his cabaret-performer sister at Edinburgh Festival Fringe before travelling through Europe for six months.
“I then went on a year hiatus and moved to London, took a bit of a step back from music and became a sales rep and a real estate agent,” he said.
Then, like a scene from the Blues Brothers, Catfish Voodoo called and said ‘We want to put the band back together’.
Two weeks later Julian had relocated from his London office to an Australian rehearsal studio.
He was home; in more ways than one.
“I’ve always had an urge to travel. I’ve done it maybe three or four times; picked up and left, changed countries or just changed everything,” he said.
“The loneliness is probably the hardest thing.
“But I almost sadistically seek that. Because I find when I’m challenged, that’s where I thrive.”
He has already clocked 16,000km since releasing his first album Whiskey and the Devil in April; pounding it at every venue he can.
This life on the road has also become a major theme of his music.
“Living in a van, I’ve had to spend a lot of time with myself, so I get a lot of time to write,” Julian said.
“The road, romance, girls and whiskey are usually my go-to themes, because they seem to be what I know most about, which slots in really nicely with the blues feel.”
With a second album – Silver Spade – already under his belt, Julian is not showing any signs of slowing down.
He’ll be back in the studio this week to record a single, set to be released in September.
Plus countless shows and thousands more kilometres of driving to be covered.
“I just love what I do,” Julian said.
“The playing is the easy part.”
Julian James will play on:
■Saturday, July 27, 3-3.45 pm at Echuca Distillery
■Saturday, July 27, 4.15-5pm at Echuca Distillery
■Sunday, July 28, 3.30-5pm at 1895 The Royal