Music is Life

From the prairies of Saskatchewan to performing in Europe and North America, artist Colin James’s career has spanned more than 30 years, and he has more than 19 studio albums, 7 Juno Awards, 27 Maple Blues Awards as well as multi-platinum record sales.

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And according to Colin’s website, in 2016, the release Blue Highways blues chart: “the album spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Roots Music Report’s Blues Chart. It also landed him one of his biggest hits: “Riding in the Moonlight,” a Willie Dixon song that garnered millions of streams on Spotify.”

Over the years Colin has had his solo career, but he has worked with some of the world’s most revered artists including, Bonnie Raitt, Albert Collins, Pops Staples, Robert Cray, Albert King, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, ZZ Top, Mavis Staples, Luther Allison, Carlos Santana, and Lucinda Williams, among other artists.

In this interview James talks about his music and what blues music means to him.

JI: Your music has influences from Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Freddie King, Jr. Wells & Buddy Guy, Peter Green, Robert Johnson and William Bell – among others, but what does the Blues mean to you?
CJ: It’s just music (blues) that always spoke to me. Emotive and ever changing ... I guess that’s it. Every time you sing certain songs, you bring an energy that’s unique to that day. I love that.

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JI: What does John Hammond’s music mean to you and talk some on how he helped you focus your energies in blues music?
CJ: When I was starting out and finding who I was going to be, musically speaking around the age 15 or 16 years old, John was someone who I looked up to. I saw him play at a few festivals growing up and just loved the way he played. Everyone my age was playing The Police or The Cars in cover bands and I would play Buddy and Junior or John Hammond and there I found a place for myself. I got to meet him around that time as well and always loved when he played the rack and the National at the same time. A real gentleman.

JI: How do you capture and expand the blues in your tours and with your band after playing the blues for over 30 years and on 19 studio albums?
CJ: The nice thing about having a number of albums is that you have a fair amount of material to draw from for live shows. I suppose you just try and keep an open mind. When it’s a cover, you ask yourself if and what you are bringing to it to justify recording it and as far as writing is concerned you try to stay away from obvious traps and push the envelope a bit.

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JI: Talk about your recent new album Open Road and why you decided to move in a new way with your music? And was there a song that was hard to record? What was “Open Road” track like for you?
CJ: Hmmmm. The last three records of mine are all co-produced with my friend Dave Meszaros and are in a way a trilogy. ‘Blue Highways’ (mostly covers) was a look back at seminal blues songs that I heard in my life that I had always loved. ‘Miles To Go’ had a couple of originals as well as covers and ‘Open Road’ expands a bit further, down a more contemporary road with 4 songs of mine. This record was made long distance with my producer after 3 separate bed sessions made throughout the pandemic. So I suppose all of it was hard to record! Dave lives in London, England and I’m in Vancouver so when we had an 11 a.m. start in Vancouver it was already 8 p.m. in London. It was weird but ultimately manageable.

JI: At the time of this interview you are about to open for a series of concerts with Blues legend Buddy Guy. And in the past Guy has been known to invite the opening artist on stage to perform with him. Do you have any hopes while you are on your 17-city tour, and what you will bring to the blues?
CJ: I have known Buddy for around 30 years now, and we have played a number of shows together, especially over the last few years. I am super grateful to be back out playing live and to play a few songs with a legend like Buddy Guy would be an over the top way to get back on the open road.

by G.M. Burns