Neal “Banjo Man” James passes

Neal James, who appeared on several seasons of the Animal Planet reality program, The Call of the Wildman, passed away on February 1. He was only 55 years of age, and had been dealing with multiple cardiac issues.

The show captured the adventures of a backwoods Kentucky man named Ernie Brown, whose business was catching nuisance animals around people’s homes and releasing them back into the wild. He had the nickname Turtleman because of his fascination with snapping turtles, a habit he developed as a young man.

James worked with Brown, and was called The Banjo Man for his love of old time music and banjo playing. He played the instrument many times on the show.

In one episode, the team was called to the home of banjo luthier Frank Neat to get rid of a snake, and J.D. Crowe showed up while they were filming to pick up a banjo. A jam session ensued and appeared in the episode which aired in 2012.

His popularity from the show led James to record an album of bluegrass favorites in 2016 called Kentucky Son.

Neal was known in his community for his tireless work at Isaiah House in Willisburg, KY assisting local residents dealing with addiction.

A memorial service was held earlier this week at the Lincoln County High School Stuart Underwood Auditorium. A private funeral and burial will be held at a later date.

R.I.P., Neal James.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.