James Bryan was born in Mentone, AL. A fiddler almost since birth, Bryan won his first competition at 12, apprenticed with bluegrass master Kenny Baker, and took the title of Tennessee Valley Fiddle King at 17. Bryan eventually joined Norman Blake's Rising Fawn String Ensemble, where his mastery of the fiddle and repertoire of old-timey songs was honed. He made his solo debut on Rounder with Lookout Blues in 1983; The First of May followed two years later. Both albums featured a mix of old-timey Southern tunes, many with twinges of their English and Scottish heritage intact. Bryan continued to perform throughout the 1980s, both solo and with Norman and Nancy Blake. In 1995, he released Two Pictures, a collaboration with guitarist Carl Jones. He continued to make regular appearances at bluegrass and folk festivals, often accompanied by his daughter Rachel Bryan on guitar.