By Jane van der Voort
Special to The Toronto Sun
Colin James was a child when he first heard the beat of his own drummer. "I was eight or 10 when I realized I loved to sing and play," said James, 38, from his home in Vancouver. "I finally got lessons at 10 or 11 and I remember the teacher saying, 'You really don't want to be here, do you?' And I didn't want to be there at all."
At work on his ninth album, Canada's premier blues guitarist Colin James is truly living out his dream
"I actually flunked music in grades 9 and 10. It drove my teacher crazy because she knew I had talent and I loved playing music a lot. But there was no way I was going to join in and do the band thing. I'd just go off and do my own thing."
James has parlayed his love for blues into a successful career as one of Canada's best-known guitarists and musicians.
"I play for the sake of playing, so for me, it's about as close to religion as I can get," says the man whose talent in writing, playing and producing has earned him six Juno Awards. His pop/rock albums have gone multi-platinum and his big band CDs were best-sellers.
His performances range from the thronged outdoor show this past New Year's Eve at Queen Victoria Park in Niagara Falls to a half-time show at an Argos game at the SkyDome last summer. He also regularly headlines blues festivals in Europe and Scandinavia, and can be found on frequent U.S. tour circuits.
He's now back in the studio working toward a spring launch for his ninth album -- once again with former Odds' musician Craig Northey, who collaborated on his 2000 release, Fuse.
James followed his heart and his love for music when he dropped out of high school in Grade 10 and left Regina for Winnipeg to play "on street corners, in coffee houses outside liquor stores -- it's not a thing you could make a living doing."
His new name (he was born Colin James Munn) got around and he was signed to perform at civic events, then as a warm-up act in bars. James' big break came in Saskatoon in 1984 when the late Stevie Ray Vaughan fired his opening act and James stepped up to fill in.
"It was a long time before my career came anything close to a 'dream job'," he said. "I left home in 1981 and it took until 1988, after I was signed by Virgin America. That's when everything changed."
His first album was a pop-rock-blues blend in 1988 titled Colin James, followed by Sudden Stop in 1990; Colin James And The Little Big Band, 1993; Bad Habits, 1995; Then Again (Best Of), 1995; National Steel, 1997; Colin James And The Little Big Band II, 1998; and Fuse in 2000.
"The music business is a struggle and based on a lot of stuff, it's sometimes wonderful and sometimes not. A lot of times in those first 10 years I was broke. If you want it, you have to keep a positive attitude, keep your head down and just keep on going. Something will inevitably land in your lap."
He names Van Morrison and Rolling Stones' guitarist Keith Richards as his inspiration. "They're people who don't go 'I'm 45 or 50 now, so I'm hanging it up. Guys like Muddy Waters who just keep going until they can't go any more -- I want to be like him!
"But you can realize all that and still have a full life -- not just a career-driven existence," said James, who is married with two children, age seven and four. "I can choose the time when I want and need to get out there and tour. When I'm gone, I'm gone.
"And when I'm home," he said, "I'm really, really home for my wife and for my kids, to read to them and play with them. Life is really about the friends and people around you. The older you get, the more precious they become. Looking at those people I have, I feel very fortunate in my life."
(Jane Van Der Voort (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is a Toronto-based freelance writer.)
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