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Colin James has juggled his skills as a singer, guitarist and big-band leader so well over the years that diversity seems almost synonymous with his stellar career. He’s also been a restless voyager, traversing genres—from blues and rock to pop and swing and back again. Throughout it all, Colin has always forged ahead, without regard to fads or trends, going wherever his wandering muse takes him.
When Colin set out to make Rooftops and Satellites, he had a vision for a gentler album, full of quiet, introspective songs. “Despite my best intentions,” he says, laughing, “it didn’t turn out that way.” The change came about as a result of his songwriting collaboration with Tom Wilson, founder of the 1990s alt-rockers Junkhouse and now a member of roots-rock trio Blackie & the Rodeo Kings. “Tom and I really hit our stride together,” says Colin who co-wrote eight of the album’s songs with Tom and Tawgs Salter, who has written for Edwin and produced the debut album by rising synth-pop star Lights. “Tom’s a super creative guy and he’s tapped in at all times and Tawgs is a hot up-and-comer.” Rooftops and Satellites is co-produced by Colin and Mike Fraser (AC/DC, Metallica).
Together, Colin and Tom wrote the horn-drenched funk workout “Stronger,” Tawgs joins Colin and Tom on the r&b-flavored “Love is Calling” and the touching ballad “Lost Again,” a heartfelt shout out to “easy riders” and “lost insiders” that is the album’s stellar first single. Yet another moving ballad from the James-Wilson writing sessions is the Van Morrison-style “Find My Home.” But the song for which Colin is most proud is the blue-eyed soul gem “More Than You Needed,” with its exquisite lyric: “Only the brave get lonely like this/Lovers and slaves/Who live by the kiss.” For him, the song is the benchmark for how far he’s come as a composer. “I’ve worked really hard on that,” says Colin, “and I believe the craft of writing shines through on this album.”
The rockier side of the album continues on two well-chosen covers: a blistering garage-rock version of Bob Dylan’s early classic “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” and a driving rendition of the Toots & the Maytals’ soulful “Johnny Coolman.” But Colin delivers his most freewheeling number with the relentlessly chugging “Man’s Gotta Be a Stone,” a song he calls his “Buddhist boogie.” “Most boogies have a macho thing going on,” he explains. “This one has a universal lyric and is more philosophical.” I like the fact that it’s got a bit of the Canned Heat thing going on with the high falsetto vocal,” says Colin. “I found the whole vibe of the song refreshing.”
Colin is no stranger to writing memorable songs. His 1988 self-titled debut was the fastest-selling album in Canadian history, thanks in large part to him having written two of its biggest hits: “Voodoo Thing” and “Five Long Years.” That earned him his first of six Juno Awards and an opening spot on tour with Keith Richards. His star-crossed journey began even earlier. A prairie-born child prodigy, Colin demonstrated his prowess on the guitar before he was still in his teens and was discovered by blues guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan, who became a mentor and an inspiration to the young artist.
With his second album, Sudden Stop, Colin’s career went soaring into the pop stratosphere. Produced by Joe Hardy (ZZ Top), it earned platinum sales and featured “Just Came Back,” Colin’s highest charting song on U.S. rock stations, hitting the # 3 position. A rave review in Rolling Stone, an opening slot on ZZ Top’s tour, an appearance of Late Night with David Letterman and two more Junos, for “Single of the Year” and “Male Vocalist,” followed. The awards, hit songs and sold-out tours continued, even as Colin shifted between blues, rock and pop solo albums and the swing and jump-blues recordings of his Little Big Band recordings.
Colin has never shied from exploring all of his musical tastes. “Music is such a passion and a lifeforce for me,” says Colin, “I can’t help but be drawn to something that moves me. If it’s not pulling you in, then what’s the point?”