A multiple sclerosis diagnosis more than a decade ago has not kept Blaine artist David James Carlson from making music.
He released his ninth album, “From the Forest Floor,” this May.
His style is eclectic with a blues, country and folk foundation and some jazz and rock influences.
Carlson wrote and recorded all 13 tracks on the album, inspired by his life experiences and loved ones.
Several songs recall travels he has taken to Arizona and Los Angeles, California.
Others pay tribute to artists who have inspired him – some still living, many no longer here on earth.
“Morning Sky of Blue” was written after Carlson’s friend and fellow artist Strider Wayne Hammer and his mother, Alice Carlson, died.
David James Carlson went to school with Jan Kuehnemund, who founded the rock band Vixen in the 1980s. The all-girl group sold more than 1 million albums and had four songs crack the Billboard Top 100. When Kuehnemund died of cancer in 2013, Carlson was moved to write “The Girl With Golden Hands.”
When Prince died last year, Carlson penned “The Purple Prince” and recorded it that same week. The song has no bass track, modeled after Prince’s hit “When Doves Cry.”
Working at Paisley Park several times, Carlson felt a special connection to Prince, though he never interacted with the artist himself.
“He hit the world, and he was from right here,” Carlson said.
“Pickin’ Gold” speaks to Carlson’s influences more broadly, naming 86 country artists.
The last track on the album is the longest, running for more than 16 minutes. Carlson describes “Bohemia” as “an epic song all about the history of Bohemia.” Carlson sings from his great-grandfather’s perspective for the majority of the ballad, incorporating his own thoughts on Bohemia in the last verse.
“Blood in Desert Sands” appears on another of Carlson’s albums, the cast recording of “Ishmael & Isaac: Sons of Abraham.” It’s one of two musicals Carlson has written.
His Civil War musical, “First Minnesota,” was released in 2013 for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg when the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment ran into the line of fire to save the Union’s position, a pivotal moment in the battle and the war.
“Ishmael & Isaac: Sons of Abraham” was released two years later.
Carlson hopes the Biblical story inspires “world peace and world cooperativeness,” he said. “We all come from the same place. There was no one that told us to be enemies.”
Carlson has written full scripts for both musicals and hopes someday to see them staged.
He is a thespian at heart, joining the International Thespian Society in high school and pursuing a degree in theater from Hamline University. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from Ohio University.
Carlson has performed and done technical work in many Twin Cities theaters. He was an original company member of the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.
Songwriting is his other passion.
“I have never stopped trying to push myself as a writer,” Carlson said. “It’s a hard nut to crack. Vincent van Gogh never sold a single painting, but he didn’t stop.”
Carlson started writing at 13 on his uncle’s advice to “write what you’re thinking, and write what’s true for you,” he said.
Carlson had 40 songs written before graduating from St. Paul’s Washington High School in 1971, and today, at age 64, he has drafted more than 500.
His songwriting process varies – some songs are born in an hour, others are mulled over for years.
He released his first album, “Set Me Free,” in 1990 and released a best-of collection in 2010.
Carlson’s MS has made the producing and recording side of things tricky, but Carlson’s creativity is still flowing.
He has a musical about Thomas Edison half written.
Before MS made it impossible to get through the school day, Carlson was a music media teacher for Anoka-Hennepin’s Secondary Technical Education Program at Anoka Technical College.
Carlson will perform at the upcoming Minnesota Sokol Camp Booya Picnic in Pine City Aug. 13, but he has no other gigs on the calendar at this point.
Carlson’s new album is available locally at Cheapo Discs in Blaine, 170 89th Ave. NE.