Canadian bluesman Colin James organized a family reunion at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre on Tuesday night.
The fact that 700 friends joined the party made it even more special as James dug up some old family yarns and took an appreciative audience through a tour of his impressive list of tunes.
“My mom, stepdad and brother are in the house tonight,” he told the packed hall. Turned out an uncle and aunt and another eight or nine family members and close friends came out for James’ return visit to the Cowichan Valley, part of a Western Canadian tour that has been drawing capacity crowds.
Although he was born in Regina, James claims that due to the fact he has lived in British Columbia longer than anywhere else, he considers himself a British Columbian now.
“Grandma and Grandpa had a place in Hope and that’s how we ended up here,” he explained, adding his mom lived in Cowichan Bay for awhile before moving to Duncan.
James, now 53, with three decades of award-winning singing and writing under his belt, got his start in 1984 when he opened for the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan at a Regina gig. It was a serendipitous debut, necessitated when the scheduled opening act failed to show.
James and his band filled in capably, impressed Vaughan enough that the legendary blues icon invited him to join him for the encore and then asked him to tour with Vaughan’s band as the permanent opening act. The memory prompted a fond story as he reached for a guitar that he’s owned for 40 years.
“This is the guitar my mom bought me when I was 13. I pawned it once when I was with Stevie Ray but I was able to make enough money to buy it back,” he confessed as he launched into a fan favourite, ‘Five Long Years’, a song he released in 1986.
“I wrote ‘Five Long Years’ on this guitar,” he reminded Mom as the crowd applauded.
James has become a veteran of the Canadian music scene and a frequent winner of Juno Awards including Male Vocalist of the Year in 1991 and 1996, beating out the likes of Neil Young, Tom Cochrane and Gowan those years.
But he hasn’t forgotten the early years in Vancouver.
“I played at Joe’s Cafe on Commercial Drive, floated from couch to couch. I must have played in front of every liquor store in Vancouver,” he recalled.
‘Five Long Years’ was followed by a number of singles, including ‘Just Came Back’, a rockin’ blues tune written by James and Daryl Burgess that made its way to No. 5 on the Canadian RPM singles chart in 1990 and won the Juno Award for Single of the Year in 1991. He has recorded 18 albums with a new one scheduled for release shortly
The Cowichan performance featured James and two backup guitarists and was described by one fan as “being like in someone’s basement, so relaxed and cool.”
The crowd eagerly added their voices to the more familiar tunes and enjoyed the Muddy Waters tribute that opened the second half of the two-hour show and produced another memory.
“I remember in 1981, and Muddy was playing the education auditorium in Regina, and Mom said you’ve got to go hear him.
“I did and it was amazing. Now I’m just glad to be here playing for Cowichan and thanks for supporting live music.”