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Volume 90, Issue 82

Thursday, February 20, 1997

juice


ENTERTAINMENT
 

B.B. would be proud


©Randy Gladman/Gazette
THE BLUES WILL NEVER DIE. Colin James performing last Thursday at The Other Side.


By Paul Fruitman
Gazette Staff

When Colin James smiles – and he smiles almost constantly – his forehead perks up and his eyes become illuminated with a youthful enthusiasm. It is the day before Valentine's and James has just finished an intimate engagement at The Other Side. As we talk, little beads of perspiration get stuck in what must be four days of facial growth, yet when he grins, James' boyish features and enthusiasm shine through.

Much of the music James pours out on stage is gutbucket blues, full of heartache and despair. So why is Colin James so happy?

For starters, he is now the proud father of an 18-month-old baby girl and a decade-and-a-half into his career, Colin James feels very lucky to be where he is.

"When I quit school at 16-years old and decided to do this for a living, it was no ticket to ride," says James with a chuckle. "But thankfully there were people who wanted to hear what I was doing and it's still going."

James also had some help along the way, namely from blues-great Stevie Ray Vaughan. Vaughan took a young Colin James under his wing in the early '80s, and consequently, Vaughan's passing in 1990 had a large effect on the way James looks at his own music.

"You're talking about a guy who used to buy me plane tickets and fly me around when I was 17," James says and, for the first time, the smile disappears from his face. "I knew him real well. He was the guy who took Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Freddie King and Sonny Boy Williamson and put them all together. And all of a sudden, it was like 'The king is dead.'"

Some would say Colin James should have been born in a different time. A time when blues and swing ruled the airwaves, a time when techno was a term solely used to describe those who messed around with binary code and grunge was something you scraped off the bottom of your shoe.

James' fame peaked in the late '80s when his brand of high-energy blues-rock fit nicely alongside the classic rock which ruled the radio at the time. And as Seattle became the centre of the music universe in the early '90s, James reverted more into his blues and swing roots, sounds he claims will always have a place in the musical sphere.

"Trends come and trends go but this music will be here forever," he says. Then he pauses with a smile, pats me on the back and gives a knowing wink. "This is folk music."

Last Thursday at The Other Side, Colin James played to a crowd of just 250, though the next night he was scheduled to play Lulu's in Kitchener in front of 10 times that amount. James seemed at once familiar and challenged with the smaller audience.

"When you play a big room, there's more room to screw up," he would tell me later that night. "In a small place everyone's right up there and it pushes you to go harder."

James worked the small room – itself decorated with pictures of John Lee Hooker and B.B. King wearing an all-knowing grin – with Jackie Wilson's soul, the blues of Muddy Waters and Otis Rush and his own charges of blues and swing.

The crowd of 20 and 30-somethings, whose hockey hair was too long and clothes too tight, came to dancing life when James pulled out "Cadillac Baby" and "Be a Bay."

James prefaced his encore with fluid licks from the adjacent hall before returning to the stage to pay homage to the late Johnny "Guitar" Watson. I glanced at James as he poured his heart into those bluesy lines and then looked back at the picture of B.B. King on the side wall. And at that moment, I could have sworn Mr. King's grin got a little bit wider.


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Copyright © The Gazette 1997