Colin James is not one to be derailed by current musical trends, year after year, this Regina native knocks off a new recording followed by a national tour. With the release of Hearts On Fire, his 14th studio recording to match one live record and two compilation packages, this blues-guitar rocker will be heading out on a 21-date tour, starting in late February in the Maritimes and travelling through Ontario (Toronto Massey Hall date March 11th) and the prairies before wrapping things up at the Edmonton Winspear Auditorium March 24th.
“I didn’t listen to the new record for months because I was so burned out during the recording process, I completely got to the point where I said `forget it, “explained James on the phone from Vancouver. “But then I re-listened to it as I started rehearsals for the tour and I realize now I quite like it.”
Recorded in Nashville and Vancouver with co-produced and long-time cohort Colin Linden and featuring such luminaries as Willie Weeks on bass and Bob Dylan’s drummer George Receli, James feels the new album is a little bit more organic and sparsely produced than more recent efforts. “I had a couple of records in a row that were a bit more of what people expected of me, lots of loud guitar and a bit more blues oriented,” James explained. “But working with Colin over the years,, he likes to shake things up occasionally and he wanted me to be a little more risqué.”
“It’s important for me to keep trying something new when I come to record,” continued James. “ For the past couple of years, I have been doing this acoustic duo with Chris Caddell, it’s something I do in between tours, playing to 300 people or so. And when we perform, we do some songs people will recognize but we also try some covers, that’s how I came up with “Stay” on the new album. It’s a Rhianna hit and no one would expect me to be singing a Rhianna song, but it’s such a great song when we do it acoustically so I thought, why not put it on the new record.”
Of the remaining tracks, the only other cover is a version of Bill Withers’ “Heartbreak Road” with the other 10 being James’ originals. “I think the record is nicely balanced between some sparsely produced tracks and a couple of blues rockers like “Honey Bee”,” noted James. “There are at least three or four songs I can perform acoustically when I go out again with Chris (Caddell).”
When asked if he was cognoscente of a current revival in blues music, James acknowledged that the likes of the Black Keys, pushing their music through a distortion pedal was making it popular with a younger crowd and there had been times when the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Los Lobos had made blues fashionable in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Still, he thinks that a younger generation is discovering the classics as they go back to vinyl.
“I can remember as a kid wanting to find a particular John Lee Hooker song that was hard to find and I’d be hunting through record shots trying to find it,” explained James. “Now all you have to do is spend a few seconds on You Tube and there it is.”
When it is mentioned that Toronto’s Philip Sayce had just released a new record on Universal titled ‘Influence’ and had cited James, and his hit song “Voodoo Thing, with inspiring Sayce’s career, James beams his approval. “It’s the same with Chris (Caddell),” enthused James “He’s considerably younger than me and when he performed during his grade 9 school band show, he performed a song off of my `National Steel’ record. Now he’s performing with me.”
James is aware that the industry has changed drastically since debuting with his self-titled record in 1989 which featured hits like “Voodoo Thing” “Five Long Years” and “Why’d You Lie” and won him a 1989 Juno Award as “Most Promising New Artist”. His 1990 follow up “Sudden Stop” featured another major hit; “Just Came Back” which scored him two more Junos at the 1991 Junos in his adopted home town of Vancouver (Top Male Vocalist, Top Single) but it’s been tough sledding since although has racked up a total of six Junos and 17 Maple Leaf Awards over his career.
“I’m not alone, music in general is at a funny place right now,” he allowed. “I’ve never received much airplay, I did get some recognition on soft rock when I performed “Into The Mystic” but even that has gone away now. It’s frustrating but it’s a reality and you’ve got to find a way around it. I find that you record some of your best music when you’re not trying too hard and when radio has been pulled out of the equation.”
James is thankful that he’s not trying to break into the music industry right now. “If I was 15 or 16 years old trying to get as many hits on You Tube as I can, I’m so glad I didn’t have to go through that,” acknowledged James. “Now everyone is trying to get their 15 minutes of fame which seems to be a shallow way of doing things if you ask me.”
James biggest concern right now is staying healthy as he contemplates a national tour at the back end of what has been a horrific winter. “The one thing I am most concerned about is losing my voice,” he confessed. “We have to jam a lot of dates into a very short time and that’s what freaks me out. Meeting people after shows, doing interviews, there’s always a danger of catching a cold. It’s my personal hell that I don’t want to get sick and cancel shows.”
As for his future, James claims there are still millions of things he’s yet to achieve. “I was prepared from the beginning for things not to work out but something always fell in my lap,” he concludes. “Fortune has helped me along the way and I still bring the same love I have always had for music”.
Photos by Charles Hope.
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