Juno Award-winning guitarist, singer-songwriter and producer, Colin James, needs no introduction. At 52 years of age, Colin is the “King of the Blues” in Canada. Celebrating a 30-year career, a Juno nomination and his latest album, Blue Highways, Colin James performed in Montreal at Place-des-Arts on February 16. I caught up with Mr. James in British Columbia via telephone the week before his Montreal concert.
BD: Mr. James, it’s a great pleasure to speak to you. You have had a prolific career starting at age 18, when you opened for Stevie Ray Vaughan. You now have 18 albums to your credit. The latest, Blue Highways, pays tribute to your longtime Blues idols such as Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Robert Johnson, to name a few. In 2016 you were inducted to the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame. How did it all begin?
CJ: My parents were folk music fans. There was always music in the home. We were big fans of Pete Seeger. I remember when I was 8 years old sitting on the floor listening to a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee concert with my parents. I was very impressed with the music. By age 13 I was playing the mandolin, fiddle tunes, blue grass and Celtic music. In 1982, I went to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. At the time, I was 18 and you can imagine what I felt as I saw James Cotton, Johnny Lee Hooker and George Thorogood. It had a big impact on me.
BD: What is the continued appeal of Blues music?
CJ: The heavy personalities...the larger-than-life players. People like Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Little Walter, Slim Harpo and Howlin’ Wolf influenced me a lot. They reflected on their feelings; they dug down deep. I am glad that Blues is getting more international play. I opened for Beth Hart in England. It’s great that the Blues is appreciated around the world today.
BD: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
CJ: Someone once told me, “What are you still doing in Regina? Get your life going; get out and see the world.” That advice really helped me get out of my comfort zone. Although I still visit and perform in my hometown of Regina (Saskatchewan), it was worth it to get out there and see what the world had to offer.
BD: What are your future projects?
CJ: Performing before Beth Hart in England opened a lot of doors. I’d like to get a career going in England and hopefully get into the States. I’ve paid tribute to my R&B/Blues heroes; I’ve emulated them, but new material is important to me; I want to be a better songwriter. We’re really pleased with the success of the album, Blue Highways. It’s really taken off in ways we never dreamed.
BD: What do we not know about you?
CJ: I’m a real history buff; I love reading true-to-life stories. I also ride 30km every day on my bike and I love motorcycles, too. I’ve been married for 25 years and we have two grown children, a boy, 20 and a girl, 18. When the kids were little, my wife stayed home to raise them, but now she can accompany me on the road. I get to do what I love and I’ve had a pretty good life.
BD: Thank you and congratulations on your Juno nomination and your 30-year career! Much continued success!