Multi-Juno winner touring province with acoustic show
Colin James has never really considered himself an acoustic player, and that might sound reasonable to you if you’re a longtime fan.
Canadian rocker Colin James plays the St. John’s Arts and Culture Centre Thursday before hitting the road for a provincial tour. — Submitted photo
After a mentorship with Stevie Ray Vaughan, James has been considered something of a rock guitar hero since releasing his self-titled debut record in 1988, baby-faced at the age of 24.
From his solo work to a career in swing with the Little Big Band, James was used to playing high-energy, full band-backed shows.
Five or six years ago, when he started pulling out a few acoustics, someone suggested he take it on the road because he might enjoy it.
“I thought, well, I’ve always had an electric guitar in my hand,” James told The Telegram. “I went and did it. I kind of challenged myself, because it frightened me, the idea of sitting in a smaller, intimate situation with just acoustics, as opposed to having the band. I went and did it and ended up enjoying it. It’s a much different thing from what I’ve gotten used to over the years — which I still love, but where I can literally get away with a whole night without saying a word, you know?”
James is bringing his acoustic show to this province with an Arts and Culture Centre tour starting Thursday night with a sold-out show in St. John’s and ending March 28 in Stephenville. He’ll still have no less than 14 guitars with him, but the gigs will be a little more song-based and talkative.
A Saskatchewan native, James (real name: Colin James Munn, but he dropped the last name after Vaughan told him it would sound like “Mud” when announced in large arenas) is a six-time Juno Award winner, best known for songs like “Just Came Back,” “Five Long Years” and soulful covers of songs like Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” He’s done rock, he’s done blues, he’s done swing, and feels he has come somewhat full circle with his latest record and 15th album, titled simply “Fifteen.”
Released in 2012, “Fifteen” is full-blood rock-based but quite eclectic, though James doesn’t think it’s any more varied than anything he’s done in the past.
“I don’t find it super eclectic. The only time I haven’t been eclectic is when I’ve been doing stuff with the Little Big Band — we’re doing 40s, 50s blues and it’s a real narrow focus. Even inside ‘National Steel’ (1997) there was some movement. I don’t look at it as having huge variances, but it’s hard to look at yourself objectively.”
Material on “Fifteen” spreads from rock, pop, blues and gospel and back again, with co-writes with Big Sugar frontman Gordie Johnson and Ron Sexsmith, among others. The two songs co-written with Sexsmith, love ballad “Finally Wrote a Song for You” and acoustic “Shoulder to Cry On,” show off James’ vocals in a big way.
James said he tries not to think of himself as taking a new direction in his music, but considers himself to be making music he likes, co-ordinating with the times.
“In the business nowadays, everyone’s trying to figure out what the mold is,” he explained. “Where’s radio at? It used to be that rock would be on the FM rock stations. Easy listening would be on the light station or whatever. That’s all gone now, man. Trying to find things that are going to get play is hard.
“Sometimes you just used to do things because you thought you had to. As the model changes out in the real world, as that slowly changes, you start thinking, well, do I have to? Is this really the right thing for me to do, or should I just do music that I like and hope others like as well?”
After 25 years, with a fan base built around a body of work and not just a single hit song, James has got a good handle on what his fans like. In May, he’ll go down to Nashville to begin working on his next record, which will reflect, somewhat, the acoustic, intimate shows he’s been doing. Though it won’t be all acoustic — there’ll be a band — James is looking forward to doing something that’s perhaps a little more folky.
On tour this week, James is planning on playing some old material, some new, and a good few ballads with fellow musician Chris Caddell, making for a personable night. He’s hoping local fans will appreciate a new format.
“I hope they love it. Some people haven’t seen me in quite a long time. I personally think it’s, in a lot of ways, a better way to see me because I think there’s more musicality involved.”
After St. John’s, James will play in Grand Falls-Windsor, Gander, Clarenville, Labrador West and Corner Brook before ending up in Stephenville. Ticket availability varies in each location. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 on the day of the show (including surcharge and HST) and can be bought online at www.artsandculturecentre.com.