Colin James plays the blues with a vengence, but it’s easy to settle down and forget about the hard times when one lives in British Columbia.
“Vancouver is such a beautiful city,” says the guitarist whose most recent album Open Road is fittingly titled for a constantly traveling performer. “You can boat in the morning, tan at noon and ski high up above Vancouver on the same day for a lot of the year. Winters are wet but rarely have much snow, and summers are super sunny and hot. Bike lanes get you anywhere around town, and the food scene is on fire.”
James, who was born in Regina, Saskatchewan, and moved to Vancouver in the mid-1980s, appreciates the city’s historic Commodore Ballroom. Built in 1929, the ballroom has hosted musicians from Count Basie to David Bowie and was named by Billboard magazine one of the Top 10 Most Influential Clubs in North America and the Most Influential Club in Canada.
“It’s a very cool place with a horsehair-stuffed dance floor,” James says. “I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan tear the roof off and levitate around the room. Ha, ha, ha!”
Many visitors to Vancouver are unaware of the geographic wonders of nearby Vancouver Island, a huge island 50 miles wide and 285 miles long. James loves two remote towns on the island’s west coast that are about 25 miles apart and unknown to most Americans.
“Tofino and Ucluelet are magic, even in rainy weather,” he says.
Tofino is a village surrounded by old growth forestland full of black bears. It is a great place to whale watch, has unique restaurants and shops and is near the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Ucluelet, a fishing town surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on three sides, offers various outdoor activities, including kayaking and hiking.
James, who has two shows scheduled next month in Denver and Telluride before heading home to British Columbia, also advises visitors to experience the Canadian province’s interior.
“Penticton is becoming very much like Sonoma with wineries and killer restaurants,” he says.
Penticton, located in the Okanagan Valley, is one of two cities in the world situated between two lakes, according to the Visit Penticton tourism website. The area offers sandy beaches and year-round outdoor recreational activities and has more than 80 wineries and eight craft breweries, the website says.
Unlike the USA, where Highway 61 in Mississippi is known as “the blues highway,” there is no comparable blues trail in Canada, James says.
“It’s hard to define anything in Canada being a blues highway,” he says. “There are Canadian artists, such as Big Dave McLean from Winnipeg, who paved the way for others and kept the blues alive in Canada for decades.”
James hopes to some day travel on Highway 61 while taking a blues tour from Memphis to New Orelans. He has been inside two renowned Memphis recording studios with a blues pedigree, Ardent and Royal. Robert Cray and other modern blues artists have recorded at Ardent, and Willie Mitchell created the Memphis rhythm and blues sound at Royal.
“I recorded my second record at Ardent Studios and always love a trip there,” James says. “The last time I was in Memphis, I went to Ardent and Royal Studios and then stopped on the way to Nashville to see Sleepy John Estes’ last home. I have yet to do the drive from Memphis to New Orleans with only the blues in mind. One of these days!”
Travel has been a constant theme in James’s recordings. His most recent album, Open Road, and its two predecessors have travel-related titles.
“2016’s Blue Highways was a reference to the blue-marked secondary highways on most maps, and Miles To Go in 2018 was a play on the famous Robert Frost poem,” James explains. “Open Road seemed like an optimistic title for a time that was anything but! I just liked the sound of that title and the way an open road can make you feel. All the possibilities and the freedom just wait over the horizon.”