Colin James coming back to Qualicum

Renowned musician feels he’s a better singer now at 49 than he was in his twenties

Colin James is performing in Qualicum Beach on November 18.

Colin James is performing in Qualicum Beach on November 18.


When Colin James decided to come out with a swing-style album years ago, he was told it was career suicide.

He had a thing, he was told, and he would be crazy to blow that. Those people were wrong.

“Now when I look back on the 80-some-songs I’ve recorded with the Little Big Band I’m like, man am I glad I did that,” said the Canadian music icon from his home in North Vancouver.

Similarly, when he embraced another course and made an acoustic album with his buddy Colin Linden some years later, his record company didn’t want anything to do with it.

James convinced those in charge that it was important to show that side of him and that he didn’t want to retread the same territory. It was probably the least expensive album he made, he said, and it was very well received, snagging James his fifth Juno award. Those same people at the record company later admitted that that was their favourite album of his.

“I find the times in my life when I’ve made that step, although sometimes it doesn’t seem like the smartest idea at the time or you get some flack, in retrospect they’ve been amazing things {to have} in my tool kit.”

James is playing an Up Close and Personal Acoustic Tour at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre Monday, November 18.

James started devoting his time to music at the age of 11. By 18 he was invited by guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan to open for him in Saskatoon and later in the United States.

His debut self-titled album in 1988, featuring the hits Voodoo Thing and Five Long Years, was the fastest-selling album in Canadian history. It won him his first Juno and had him opening for Keith Richards.

Over his 30-year career he has won six Juno awards (as well as 16 Maple Blues awards), performed for the Queen, appeared on David Letterman, and sold a number of multi-platinum albums.

James was credited with launching the swing revival with his Little Big Band in 1993, and he has now released four successful albums with that group to date.

Last year he released the album 15, (aptly named as it was his fifteenth album) which features a mix of rock, blues, gospel and pop. On the album he co-wrote a couple of soulful ballads with Ron Sexsmith, along with some more upbeat rock and blues tracks with other renowned music professionals.

He said collaborating is something he’s always made a habit of doing.

“One thing that never came super easy to me was writing songs, and I’ve always collaborated with others when writing songs. Occasionally I’ve written my own,” he said, bringing up his collaboration with Sexsmith.

“He’s very talented and it’s fun to get together with others especially when you share common interests and love of certain styles.”

This year James released his first ever live album, Twenty Five Live, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame.

James said for a long time he was known as a guitar player who sang a little. Now 49, he said he has really fallen in love with singing and feels he knows what he’s doing with his voice now more than ever.

“If I listen to stuff when I was in my twenties, I didn’t know how to sing yet…that was just a fact,” he said. “{If I} listen to Why’d You Lie? All I hear is a guy trying to find his voice, you know? I can barely listen to that stuff personally,” he laughed.

For the majority of his career James also thought of himself as an electric guitar player rather than an acoustic one, so when his manager suggested he try doing some acoustic shows he didn’t think it was such a great idea.

“And then I went out and did it and I realized there is a certain beauty to having all that space,” he said. “As a live show with a band you’re always trying to rock and rock and rock and it’s just so nice to realize you don’t have to do that all the time.”

James is touring across Canada with his friend and Toronto-based musician Chris Caddell, known for his raw soulful voice and masterful guitar skills.

On his last cross-Canada tour, James took his bike and peddled through Quebec City, Montreal and Toronto, among other places.

“It was fall and some places were a little cold but I tend ride through the year so I’ve got all the gear.”

He rides about 25 km a day if he can in North Vancouver, he said.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre. Tickets are $45, available at Mulberry Bush book stores in Parksville and Qualicum Beach.

Colin James curates his own blues stream on CBC Music featuring his favourite blues music. Find a link to it on his website


Contest: Win two tickets to see Colin James. Email with “Send me to Colin James” in the subject line. Include your name and phone number. Draw will be done November 6.



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