Like most musicians, Colin James has spent the pandemic just itching to get back on the road to play for live audiences. Now, he’s doing just that as his Open Road tour launches later this month, including a stop at Kitchener’s Centre In The Square February 23.
“I can’t wait to start in Kingston (February 21). We make our way across the country to Vancouver, and there’s no better medicine than to get out there and play. There’s nothing, no better feeling for a musician to get a few shows under your belt and know that it’s going to be fun, and it’s going to be a learning experience – there’s just nothing better,” said James.
The tour comes in the wake of his 20th album, Open Road.
James said he’s looking forward to touring as he hasn’t been able to play for an audience much in the last couple of years.
“After two years of this already, this industry has been completely whacked sideways. So, it’s been pretty tough on someone like me with a band and touring schedule. And then there’s crew, there’s sound men and monitor men and guitar techs and just a whole string of other people involved, as well. You worry sometimes that ‘geez, am I losing my ability after sitting around for this long?’ But it just takes two nights and you’re back, two nights to kind of go ‘Oh, yeah, that’s where that goes,’ and then you’re back,” he exclaimed.
“I love the band I have right now and we have a fair amount of work facing us, so I just hope it goes on.”
Since emerging on the music scene in the late-1980s, James has received a long list of accolades, including seven JUNO Awards. Today, Open Road is second on the Roots Music Report’s Canadian Chart, and was number-one for a couple months.
“You don’t even realize as you’re doing it, every record is a new journey and every record you hope for the best for it, like it was your child.”
His latest album was more difficult to make than in previous years due to the pandemic’s restrictions and not being able to be in the same room as sound technicians or producers.
“This one was particularly bizarre to make because, I mean, I actually had to set up mics. I’m not really an engineer. My co-producer lives in London, England, so we had to do it all over Zoom and over different audio software systems. It was probably the weirdest record I’ve made in that regard because usually we try to get these things done pretty quick, and this time we had to kind of dole it out over days and days just because it was hard to get together. He was obviously eight or nine hours on a different timescale than me so just coordinating our time was difficult,” said James. “I have to say as far as the technology was concerned, it worked flawlessly.”
The Saskatchewan-born musician is happy to see the new record being loved by Canadian audiences. The song, ‘Open Road,’ takes listeners along on James’ journey with his relationship with blues music.
“The title track. I enjoy that one, but I like it because it’s slightly contemporary and I think the words are fairly uplifting, but really there’s a bit of everything on this record.”
Over his long 30-year career, James has played with many notable artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Albert King, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, ZZ Top and Mavis Staples. This album will be one of his few that didn’t use feature artists or a prominent producer.
“We’ve kind of kept this in-house. For years, I used to get people like Mavis Staples on my records, Bonnie Raitt played on my records. I’ve had guests and it’s not that I don’t love doing them, but I’m kind of proud of the fact that the last three records I’ve made I didn’t use a name producer. I use my friend – we’ve kind of got our records farther out into the world than I’ve ever got from doing it ourselves and not bringing in name guests. It’s interesting,” noted James about self-producing his albums with friends.
In 1988, James debuted his self-titled album featuring the hits “Voodoo Thing” and “Five Long Years,” which turned out to be one of the fastest-selling albums in Canadian music history. That helped him win his first JUNO Award as well as opening up for Keith Richards.
“I started playing and taking guitar lessons when I was 10. I was actually in a little band when I was 13 or so and I’ve been in a band ever since,” said James. “It was a collective of a bunch of hippies and there was probably three acoustic guitars, three mandolins, fiddles, autoharps – you know, just a ragtag bunch of people who are way older than me. I was like a kid and they were all in their 20s and 30s. We played barn dances and parties and I kind of grew up fast and left home when I was 16. We moved to Winnipeg when I was 16. I started playing on the street corners, and all that.”
James has lived in Vancouver since he was 18 and has loved getting the chance to tour his home country multiple times.
Colin James takes to the stage at the Centre In The Square Wednesday, February 23 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $39.50 to $89.50, available from the box office or online.