For the past few weeks Canadian blues guitar virtuoso Colin James has been very busy; visiting Canadian cities and performing live shows and promoting his most recent CD release “Traveler.” Colin James has performed with numerous renowned musicians including: Keith Richards, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lenny Kravitz and Bonnie Raitt. I recently had a chance to talk with Colin, while he was in Montreal. We covered several aspects of his life, ranging from his new CD to Montreal and even a glimpse into Colin’s private life.
What attracted you to the Paramour Studios in L.A. when there are so many studios in North America and more specifically in Canada to choose from?
Well, Mark Howard, the producer, works out of this place and it’s a vibe that you can’t replicate anywhere else. It’s a 1923 mansion in East Hollywood, on top of a plateau, so you are literally looking over downtown L.A., not Hollywood. This is East L.A.. It’s really trippy. There are hawks and even butterflies that mate in the canopy. It’s a huge acreage. There are pictures of this place in 1923 where there are no houses anywhere near. So it’s fascinating. It’s like being in Tuscany.
So, it’s not exactly what you would call a real work environment?
No, but there are people working there all the time. When I was there, Fiona Apple was in the other wing, so occasionally we would run into each other at two or three in the morning creating in the halls of this massive mansion. The room we recorded in had a high ceiling so it afforded us the luxury of recording in a circle. Usually you’d get too much bleed from that, but with this kind of place, you could record all together, in a circle, so it was almost like a live record.
Did you go to L.A. alone or did you bring anyone else with you?
I came down with Craig Northey, my song writing buddy from the Odds. It was cool. However, I did go down there by myself at first to meet Mark. Lucinda Williams was just finishing up her record there and so, that had a lot of bearing on me choosing that place too. She had nothing but great things to say about Mark. I got to hear her record and meet her which was cool because I’m such a big fan. We lived there for about a month and a bit. I had a really good time down there. We had some great players and I hadn’t recorded in L.A. for ten years.
Did you prearrange to collaborate with Daryl Johnson, Victor Indrizzo and Dean Butterworth, for the CD or was it more of a spur of the moment thing?
Victor Indrizzo has become one of the main studio guys. He plays on Avril Lavigne’s record and he plays with Depeche Mode. He’s just a killer drummer. Daryl Johnson, has worked a lot with Mark Howard over the years. He worked with Emmylou Harris and with Daniel Lanois who he’s touring with now. He’s a really thoughtful bass player. He’s really quirky. He did do ten years with the Neville Brothers so he has lots of soul. He’s great. Dean Butterworth happened to be the drummer who played on “Make A Mistake.” He only played on one or two songs but the songs he played on, he really laid it down. “Make A Mistake” has a really cool slow R&B vibe and he just drummed on it so well.
Have you stayed friends with the people you recorded with such as Lenny Kravitz and Bonnie Raitt ?
I haven’t seen Lenny Kravitz in a long time. The last time I saw him was in Paris and it was about a year after I recorded with him. Bonnie Raitt was in Vancouver a few months ago. I’ve stayed friends with Bonnie. She’s awesome. When she came to town, she wrapped up my ticket (to her show) and got me to join her up on stage. My heart started pounding. I’m such a big fan!
How did Stevie Ray Vaughan influence your life?
He put together playing the guitar like nobody ever will again. He took the influences from all these great people and put them in a package that was just undeniably astounding. He was a genius, really a genius. The more distance I get from what he was really about, the more I realize what an amazing talent he was. It was phenomenal. I guess what I’m struck with about Stevie is that what people forget when someone becomes so famous is that he was a human, a really nice guy. He personally bought three plane tickets to fly me to Austin, to Cleveland and back from Denver to Vancouver from his own money. It was ridiculous! Absolutely astounding in generosity.
Why is the CD called “Traveler”?
We did the photo session in France and in Italy so I had just finished traveling. I like the sound of it. I like the way it relates to traveling through life and changing musical forms as well as doing different stuff. It had a sound of movement.
Are you the traveler?
In this case I am!
I read in your bio that you started touring at the age of 16. Were you touring on your own or with a band and what cities did you visit?
Well, I quit school when I was sixteen. I moved to Winnipeg from Regina with somebody and started trying to make a living there as a musician. I played the Winnipeg Folk Festival. I also opened up for George Thorougood that year. Sixteen was a big year for me. I was in a car accident when I was fifteen, I flipped three times and crawled out the back window of the car. At that moment I said that’s it. I’m going to appreciate life and try to make the most of my time. That’s when I quit school. In this particular case I knew I wanted to play and I was itching to get out into the world. So I’d play Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Regina and once in a while I’d play Edmonton. I just started playing clubs until they’d fire me, when they’d find out I was underage. (laughs)
Do you ever regret quitting school?
Never! Never! No! I read a lot. I find it kind of ironic in a way. You aren’t ready to learn at that age. I think you are ready to take stuff in, in your 20’s and 30’s, as well as the rest of your life. No, I don’t regret it; however, it could have gone the other way. I mean, I lived here in Montreal. I was broke and I played the Berri metro, I was playing for change and then going to the dépanneur and plunking my change down. I remember the cashier would go “here’s the change boy” Those were rough times. Not particularly great memories.
What are your fondest memories of Montreal?
I remember fall here, all the beautiful trees, the leaves falling down, looking up at the cross on the mountain and feeling like I was really far away from home. I loved it! I saw James Brown here. one of the best James Brown concerts I’ve ever seen. I saw him at The Rising Sun. I would go catch Willy Dixon, I remember I auditioned for his band here. I was young, out in the world and enjoying myself. I’ve had a lot of great memories here. Now when I come to Montreal, I usually jog up the mountain, to the cross and jog back down. It’s a romantic city. I remember going to the Musée Des Beaux Arts a few times. It’s beautiful. It’s a great town. I live in Vancouver and I love it, but I think this is the second best.
If you weren’t a musician what would you be doing today?
I wish I could tell you. I have no idea. I don’t know how to do much else. I love history; I read a lot of history, but being a Professor? I don’t think so. Can I fish for a living? I don’t know what I would do. I love anthropology; I love history, I love running. I jog and love being out in the outdoors. I don’t know if you can make a living out of that…
There must be so many aspects of being a celebrity that are cool and enjoyable, however, what makes it difficult to be Colin James?
It’s a lot of work, but I’m really grateful to still be playing music and making records. I’m on my ninth record. I don’t think there is a big downside. I love traveling, so I love getting up every day, hitting the plane and getting to a new city. I love being here. I miss my kids while I’m gone but they’re used to me coming and going since they were little. They’re now eight and five. I don’t find it’s hard on my relationship. In fact, if anything, it’s a saving grace because absence makes the heart grow fonder and really keeps it alive. The business is tough at times. It’s hard to stay current, interested and interesting. All you want to do is make better music, but that’s not a downside.
What recently released music are you listening to now?
Lucinda Williams’ new record; I listen to that a fair amount. I’m a Van Morrison fanatic so I listen a lot to him. I think I’ve got every record he’s ever put out. I love Shelby Lynn. Her second record had some great stuff on it. As well the Stereophonics, I listen to them once in a while. I like Son Volt, Wilco and a wide variety of stuff. I love India Arie and Angie Stone. I listen to her a lot. Macy Gray is amazing.
Do you have any plans to come back to Montreal and perform?
Maybe in October in a smaller venue; I find that when you do an album release and come to town, you split right away. It comes and goes so fast. We might come, set up camp and try to settle in for a week.
Following the interview 2 shows at Le Lion D’Or were confirmed for Oct. 25&27, 2003
Le Lion D’Or, 1676 ontario East, Montreal, Phone: 514-598-0709