Topher James’ Key West story is familiar … while sitting at his nine-to-five job contemplating the next five years of his life, he realized he needed a change.  He heard a co-worker describe a recent vacation to Key West, and the next thing he knew he had a one-way ticket to paradise.

Growing up in Illinois as one of seven children, Topher’s father required them to take piano lessons.  At age 15 Topher picked up his first guitar. He learned over 300 worship songs and was playing with his church group in no time. One day he heard his neighbor play a Gibson SG and soon shifted his interest to electric guitar.  He took jazz lessons and studied with Doug Salokar at Heartland Community College.  But much of Topher’s abilities are self-taught by doing things like playing along with all different people on the radio, and learning to solo and improvise using backing tracks on YouTube.

“For me it’s not about practice, it’s an addiction … it’s joy,” says Topher, of playing guitar.

Soon after moving to Key West, Topher tapped into an opportunity to become a Taylor-certified guitar technician (he continues to work as a guitar tech at The Grateful Guitar.)  In the early days Topher could be seen playing on the streets until he got his first official gig with Key West artist, Jean Paul, at the Little Room Jazz Club.  He’s since branched out and you can hear him playing around town  with Jack Wolf, Brian Roberts and the Prime Movers, The Bahama Village Social Club, and Tony Baltimore.  His latest venture is as lead guitarist for popular local band Patrick & The Swayzees, performing fun “rock-a-billy with a twist of surf” music.  P&TS are working on releasing five new singles and a music video and are also doing some touring – they were just in Miami Beach and they’ll be in NYC at New York University on Nov 8-9.  Topher will also also be playing with Karri Daley every Wednesday at the Lazy Gecko starting November 2nd.  For more info on Topher’s gig schedule, please see his website at

In addition to performing and being a guitar tech, Topher is also an excellent teacher. He has taught at Key West Montessori Charter School, Bahama Village Music Program, and currently teaches private lessons at The Grateful Guitar.  His students are all ages and levels and he teaches guitar, bass, piano, ukulele and drums.  His advice to students is to use the Internet as a learning tool, but to also find a good instructor “who can guide you and keep you on track”.

by Susanne East-Brooke