DJ fills home and the airwaves with love of musical genre
The ties that bind many musicians and music lovers to the blues are deep, spiritual and mysterious. Not everyone is as ensconced in the art form’s historical and global significance as James “The Blues Hound” Nagel.
Nagel, 62, is a disc jockey for 90.1 FM KPFT (89.5 FM in Galveston) and host of the Sunday afternoon program, “Howlin’ The Blues.”
His commitment to the blues goes far beyond volunteering his time at KPFT week after week for the past 25 years. Every room in his home room (except the master bedroom, upon the kind advice of his wife) is adorned floor to ceiling with signed concert posters, CDs and vinyl albums collected over the past 30 years.
There’s also his own artwork, including paintings, sculptures and photographs that display his appreciation for the blues, mounted on everything from rocks and candles to scrap pieces of wood.
Nagel shares his intense interest in the blues with his wife of 38 years, Colleen. She’s the co-host of “Howlin’ The Blues.” Affectionately known on the air as “Baby Girl,” Colleen Nagel delivers information about events and concert listings while James spins the tunes. It’s a match made in music heaven or at least on the radio and in their Texas City home.
James Nagel grew up in Texas City, the third of four children raised by a single mother. He took to art at an early age. Nagel focused on drawing and painting until one weekend in the 1970s, when a road trip to Austin led him to what he refers to as his life-changing “blues epiphany.”
That epiphany occurred at the legendary Austin club Antone’s, during a concert headlined by Houston’s Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and supported by The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Nagel was moved like never before, he said.
“I was a few feet away from the stage watching The Fabulous Thunderbirds,” Nagel said. “I’ve been a blues fanatic ever since.”
Nagel’s fanaticism led to freelance writing and photography work for some local and national blues magazines. In the early 1990s, he volunteered to work at KPFT on Joe Montes’ show, “Joe’s Roadhouse.” Bringing in the latest in blues music was part of the job and Nagel was given a few moments on the air to introduce songs and artists.
“Sniffing out” new talent on the blues scene inspired Nagel’s self-appointed moniker, “The Blues Hound.” After nearly six years of interning under Montes, Nagel was offered a time slot on Sunday afternoons for a program of his own. Working for the U.S. Postal Service at the time, Sundays were the only day the Nagels could spend together, and within two weeks of the show’s launch, “Baby Girl” debuted on the air as co-host of “Howlin’ The Blues.”
Nagel reserves political topics for private conversations, but he doesn’t waver in his convictions, or within the expression of some of his art, about the significance of blues music as an important root to understanding and remembering the history of slavery in the United States.
“Political discussion without honest discourse is nothing more than howling at the moon,” he said. “Blues music was created from the pain and suffering of the black experience in America.”
In addition to his KPFT show, Nagel works as the music booker and promoter for The Shakespeare Club, one of Houston’s most popular blues music venues. The Nagels also are members of various organizations dedicated to blues preservation, including the Houston Blues Society, Austin Blues Society and the Memphis Blues Foundation, among others. Such involvement help the couple stay focused on keeping blues music — new and old — alive and thriving for the good of the people in the Houston/Galveston area and beyond with worldwide listenership at KPFT.org.
“Blues is one music that speaks to every demographic of human being on Earth,” Nagel said. “Sooner or later, the blues experience is going to come upon everybody’s soul. You’re going to lose someone you love, you’re going to have a heartbreak. Then you hear the blues and you realize other people have had this same experience. They wrote this pain down and put it to music. At that point, it becomes therapy — cathartic. You realize you’re not alone in the world.”
“Howlin’ The Blues” airs from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays on KPFT 90.1 FM (89.5 FM in Galveston).