Colin James singing in his own voice
After 21 years of marriage, Colin James wrote a love song for his wife called Finally Wrote a Song for You.
“It was a bone of contention for many years,” admitted the Vancouver-based blues rocker, who performs with his band on Wednesday, Nov. 14, at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre. “Since I’d written songs about other people, my wife wondered when I’d write one for her.”
But this was difficult to achieve mid-marriage, James reasoned, since most romantic ballads tend to germinate from the pain or introspection gained from a relationship once it’s over.
“Our relationship is still going on, so in a way, it was a good thing that I hadn’t written one for her. . . .”
Then one day, some lyrics to Finally Wrote a Song For You popped into James’s head while he was cycling. He later sang them over the phone to his colleague and sometimes co-writer, Ron Sexsmith, who collaborated on the tune about long-term love.
While James was pleased enough with the soulful result to add the song to his 15th album, 15, he was told it doesn’t let him off the hook.
“Since I co-wrote it with Ron, my wife said it doesn’t count — I still owe her a song!”
The latest CD actually contains eight tracks that were jointly written by James and other songwriters, including Gordie Johnson of Big Sugar, Tom Wilson of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, and Thomas “Tawgs” Salter, who’s written for Lights and Josh Groban.
James, a six-time Juno Award winner, admitted he prefers co-writing because words aren’t his strong-suit. “I come from a blues background,” said the 48-year-old Regina native, who noted that most blues singers don’t write their own material, but base their repertoires on traditional standards.
“Willy Dixon wrote half the blues catalogue, and a lot of the rest is by Robert Johnson, with a few songs by Elmore James.”
The Regina native actually thought of songwriting as a chore when first told he should start writing his own tunes after being signed to a major record label. Then James realized this allows him to tailor his material to his own singing and playing styles. “You can sing in your own voice.”
The first single from 15, Stone Faith, starts off with “Get your tired ass pulled over to the side of the road,” reflecting James’ real-life experience of being stopped by police for speeding the same day he wrote the song.
It continues with a chorus of “Hail Mary hanging on a chain” — which was co-writer Tom Wilson’s contribution. “He loves religious imagery.”
While the single could be interpreted as a love song, “it’s really just a rock song that’s meant to sound cool,” James added, with a chuckle.
Among the covers on 15 are Fleetwood Mac’s Oh Well, Allen Toussaint’s funky Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, and John Lennon’s Jealous Guy.
James said he loves Lennon’s music because he was a “beautiful” lyricist, who also showed a real appreciation for blues and rockabilly music.
The former Beatle always wrote primarily for himself. James said Lennon once imparted this to a fan who was hugely inspired by his songs. “He said, ‘The lyrics mean something to me. Whether they mean anything to you is immaterial.’ ”
James, who’s best known for his hits Five Long Years, Why’d You Lie? and Just Came Back, hasn’t joined a duo, trio or other musical permutation — as have his writing partners Wilson and Johnson, who are members of various groups.
“I’ve thought about it, but the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself,” said the 48-year-old, who’s content to keep performing with his own band.
As he’s already shared the stage with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Santana, Bonnie Raitt and other heavy hitters — “other than (Eric) Clapton,” James said, he wouldn’t know who to put at the top of a wish list.