“I’m opening doors for you –walk through them.”
From the prairies of Saskatchewan to sharing the stage with arguably the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time, Colin James still remembers those words of advice given to him by the late, great, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
For every young guitar player growing up in a small town, Colin James’ story is their story – one of drive, passion, ambition and a strong sense that their destiny lay beyond the safe confines of home.
Looking back on a career that now spans two decades, Colin has walked through more than just a few doors to reach the level of success that he enjoys today. He continues to record the music that he loves (having just released his 12th CD, Rooftops and Satellites) has sold multi-platinum many times over, and his concert tours continue to sell out coast to coast.
So how did this prairie boy find his way?
During his early years Colin was introduced to all kinds of music by his parents who loved to go to coffee houses and music festivals. It wasn’t long before he picked up a guitar and by his early teens he’d hooked up with groups that were considerably older than his 15 years. They were however, the ones that were serious about their music and he lived for the late night gigs.
By the age of fifteen he realized he was becoming more and more removed from his own peer group. While most would consider this a positive step in the right direction, it had just the opposite effect on Colin. From traditional roots music, he briefly migrated to punk but soon realized this was not going to be his destiny and after a brief flirtation with the idiom, he came to the rather swift realization that he needed to get out of town and start again.
From Regina he moved to Winnipeg and for the next several years he played the festivals before returning to Regina, forming his first band The Hoodoo Men and snagging the opening slot for George Thorogood and John Lee Hooker.
The blues, it seems, was in his blood – he studied the greats – Ry Cooder, Otis Rush, Albert King, Junior Wells and Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan to mention just a few – the only thing Colin knew for certain was this was his music.
It would take just a couple of favorable reviews before Colin was to get what would become his most significant career defining moment – opening for his hero, Stevie Ray Vaughan and his band Double Trouble. Stevie took Colin under his wing, and after several shows over the course of 18 months, the kid from Regina with no manager, one guitar, and a different band for every show – became a much sought after talent.
The record labels started to call.
In 1988, Colin signed with Virgin America who a year later released his debut self-titled album worldwide that spawned two hit singles, “Voodoo Thing” and “Five Long Years”. Recorded with legendary producer Tom Dowd and finished with Danny Kortchmar, the album won Colin a Juno Award for “Most Promising Artist” and led to opening slots for Steve Winwood and Keith Richards on the “Take it So Hard” tour.
In 1990, Colin’s all important sophomore album Sudden Stop would take him to even greater heights. With Joe Hardy (ZZ Top) in the producer’s chair, the album included guest artists Bobby Whitlock, The Memphis Horns and Bonnie Raitt. The single “Just Came Back” caught the attention of American rock radio, landing in the #3 position and the disc received a rave review in Rolling Stone. Colin took to the road opening for ZZ Top, made an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman and toured overseas where he performed sold out shows in Sweden, Germany and France. The song went on to win a Juno Award for “Single of the Year” and Colin picked up the “Male Vocalist” award.
Three years would pass before he would release his third record, flexing his creativity and delivering an album of early rock and roll chestnuts and jump blues, thus creating Colin James and the Little Big Band. The critically acclaimed disc led to an appearance that year on Late Night with Conan O’Brian and Colin was picked to open for a number of Rolling Stones tour dates. The release was also met with favourable reviews in Rolling Stone, Billboard Magazine and The New York Times.
In 1995 Colin would release his last recording for Virgin – a ‘best of’ with several new songs including “Stay,” which went to the top of the charts on rock radio in Canada.
Bad Habits in 1995 became the bluesman’s first recording for Warner Music Canada. Returning to his first love – a mix of modern and traditional blues, the album won Colin another Juno for “Male Vocalist of the Year”.
His next release – National Steel would be a labour of love, pairing with longtime friend and renowned blues guitarist Colin Linden to record a disc of predominantly acoustic songs. The two Colins met as teenagers when the young prodigies shared stages on Canada’s folk festival circuit. The album would go on to win them the Juno for Best Blues Album.
This was followed in 1998 by The Little Big Band II, which would earn Colin and Joe Hardy a Juno Award for “Producer of the Year.” Two years later after teaming up with singer/songwriter/musician Craig Northey (The Odds), Colin churned out Fuse. A serious departure from releases in past years, Fuse had a harder sound and gave Colin an opportunity to stretch creatively.
In 2003 came Traveler, a CD of largely original material, primarily recorded ‘live off the floor’ with producer/engineer Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams), and a few years later he would once again pair with Colin Linden for Limelight, a blend of soul, rhythm and roots featuring a who’s who of players. On drums was Jim Keltner (Dylan, Stones, Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder), on bass, Reggie McBride (Aretha Franklin, Van Morrison, James Brown, Stevie Wonder) and also on bass Hutch Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt, Neville Brothers, Elton John, Al Green and B.B. King.) Limelight would be Colin’s first album for MapleMusic Recordings and would earn him a Gold record for sales in Canada.
In 2005 Colin was chosen to give a command performance for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to his home province of Saskatchewan.
2006 would see the reemergence of the Little Big Band and the third album of that genre. Once again a cast of noted musicians, jump blues and hard rock and blues chestnuts would prove to be a winning combination. Colin would go on to receive three Toronto Blues Society Maple Blues Awards – “Entertainer of the Year,” “Electric Act of the Year” and “Recording of the Year.” The following Christmas he would take the Little Big Band concept back into the studio for a Christmas album before once again returning to his roots and the 2009 release of Rooftops and Satellites.
Already four singles deep, “Man’s Gotta Be A Stone”, “Lost Again”, “Wavelength” and “Johnny Coolman,” Colin continues to cross the country and play to sold out rooms.
Over the years he was worked with a who’s who in the music scene– Bonnie Raitt, Albert Collins, Pops Staples, Robert Cray, Luther Allison, Albert King, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, ZZ Top, Mavis Staples, Roomful Of Blues, Bobby King and Terry Evans, John Hammond Jr., The Chieftains, Carlos Santana, Little Feat, Johnny Hallyday, and Buddy Guy. In addition to writing his own material, his music has been recorded by the likes of Maria Muldaur, Johnny Halliday and Lucinda Williams.
A consummate professional and a superb guitarist, Colin is a musician’s, musician. The confidence that comes with maturity can be heard in his voice and seen in his electrifying stage performance. He does what comes naturally – he always has – he knows no other way and no other life.