Acoustic James tunes in to his audience

The last time Colin James was in the Yukon, he remembers a guy vomiting backstage. It was an outdoor music festival — James didn’t…

The last time Colin James was in the Yukon, he remembers a guy vomiting backstage.

It was an outdoor music festival — James didn’t remember which one.

“And there was all these really drunk people,” he said, from his Vancouver home.

This time around, James is playing the Yukon Arts Centre.

“With my main band, we’ve moved to soft-seat venue,” he said.

“It took me this long to start playing places like Massey Hall in Toronto.”

James used to play festivals and even the occasional club.

“But I don’t do that anymore at all,” he said.

On this tour, he’s not even playing with his band.

James has teamed up with former Odds singer Craig Northey for an acoustic cross-Canada tour.

“At first I was like, why did I say I’d do this,” said James, whose tour started on the East Coast.

But within three shows, he changed his mind.

“You can kind of hide behind your band all your life without having to really relate to your audience so much,” he said.

But when it’s just James and his guitar on stage, he can’t.

“It’s not that I’ve ever been aloof — if anything I’m just shy on stage sometimes —but this really forces you out of your box,” he said.

James first teamed up with Northey in 2000.

He was having trouble writing the chorus for a new song and someone suggested James contact Northey.

“We were label mates at Warner, and knew each other in passing,” he said.

“Then we started getting together to write songs and we’ve been friends ever since.”

Songwriting has never been easy for James.

But playing and singing is.

Born and raised in Saskatchewan, James grew up with folkie parents.

“If there was country music around Regina, I never saw it,” he said.

“I had parents who were very counter-culture.”

When he was seven, his folks took him to see Bruce Coburn.

The prairie boy and his parents also frequented one of the oldest running folk clubs in Canada, based in Regina, and saw plenty of first-run delta blues.

The only country in James young life was bluegrass.

By the age of 13 he was playing in a bluegrass folk band full of 30-year-olds.

Five years later, he left the prairies for the coast.

There was a well-known blues harmonica player from San Francisco living in Vancouver. And James went to play with him.

The pair ended up opening for Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Taken by the young James, Vaughn asked him to join his tour and head to the States.

James asked his harmonica player, who nixed it.

“He said I’d lose my job (playing with him).”

James turned Vaughn down.

“It’s stupid when you think about it,” he said.

“But the reason I’d moved to Vancouver was to play with this harmonica player.”

James got another chance a few years later.

Back on tour, Vaughn offered him opening slots for his Edmonton and Calgary shows.

Then they flew to Texas, and James joined the blues great on his bus.

“It was weird, nobody wanted me there but Stevie,” he said.

“I was his kid, a complete stranger with no money.”

Vaughn bought James his own hotel room every night and loaned him some spending money.

“It was exciting because I would get up for encores,” he said. That’s when James started getting calls from mangers.

One of the first artists to be signed by Virgin Records, James ended up opening for Keith Richards and Steve Winwood on Canada/US tours.

“All I ever wanted to do is play guitar and sing,” said James

“And I don’t even know in the early days whether it occurred to me to think, ‘Well I hope this lasts my whole life.’

“So when it did, it was just kind of a big bonus.”

The business side of things isn’t as interesting to James.

“It’s tough to keep afloat, keep on it and keep records coming out,” he said.

This year, James is putting out his first Christmas album.

“In life, you have to make a Christmas album,” he said.

James ended up in Nashville doing the finishing touches on the album in the spring.

“So I’m walking down the street in the heat humming these Christmas tunes,” he said with a laugh.

James, who played Vancouver Island on Sunday, had to jump on a twin-propeller plane to get to tonight’s night show in Whitehorse.

“I’m terrified,” he said.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

James has a brother in Whitehorse, who also plays music.

And his mom lived in Whitehorse when he was a teen.

“I remember going to the Kopper King when I was underage,” said James.

“And I ended up playing with these guys called Whiskey Jack.”

James plays the Yukon Arts Centre Monday and Tuesday night at 8 p.m.

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