Paul James is one of the most exciting and energetic Canadian musicians — past and present.
James has received many awards during his long career in the music business. He is winner of a Juno Award, multiple Toronto Music Awards, the Maple Blues Lifetime Achievement Award for Blues Music in Canada, and many others on his mantle. However, winning the respect of his musical peers always rated more highly than winning awards for James.
Bo Diddley asked James to open his show and to back him up over 100 times between 1973 and 2007. Paul co-wrote a song with Bo, recorded with him and helped him to create the soundtrack for the movie, Diary of a Sinner.
Bo Diddley played on James’ first vinyl album, Almost Crazy, and wrote the liner notes for his second album, The Paul James Band.
In 1986 Bo wrote: “From the beginning of his young career, I predicted that Paul James would be a big star one day and that time is now. The man is a true professional and dynamic. Listening to Paul James is listening to the building of a new thing, and he is a new thing. Paul James is a great musician. He’s a great tribute to rock ’n’ roll.”
Bob Dylan sat in with James’ band and came to see Paul perform on numerous occasions. In 1990, Dylan invited James to play an acoustic set to open his show at Canada’s Wonderland. Dylan further invited James to sit in with his band many times in Toronto, London, Oshawa and Buffalo.
In 1986, when they first met, Dylan advised James that if he would move to L.A. and do what he’d been doing in Toronto, he would make it big. But Paul had to keep his home base in Toronto for family reasons.
In 1982, Willy DeVille asked James to join his New York-based band, Mink DeVille. Paul stayed in New York living in Willy’s apartment in Greenwich Village for about a month while learning all the Mink DeVille material for an upcoming 12-country world tour. Paul also recorded with Mink DeVille while he was in New York before the tour. There is a Great DVD documenting that tour titled Mink DeVille Live at Montreux 1982.
James played lead and rhythm guitar for New York bluesman John Hammond. They played about 100 nights together over a 30-year period, mostly in Toronto and also in Ottawa, London, Montreal and Edmonton. James played on one of Hammond’s albums, Nobody But You, and Hammond played on two of James’ albums, Acoustic Blues and Rockin’ the Blues.
Paul has played guitar for Texas guitar great Lightnin’ Hopkins, and piano greats Sunnyland Slim, Johnny Johnson, and Dr. John.
Paul James was a trailblazer for the independent music scene in Canada, recording independently long before it was popular. He released his first vinyl 45 rpm original single, Joint Out Back in 1973, on his own label Lick’n’Stick Records. Paul proved he could be successful as an Indie artist and many others followed his lead. He probably was the first independent recording artist to play all 10 provinces in Canada, travelling in his van with his band.
Paul was a Canadian blues crusader. He played the blues in bars since 1968 when it was not nearly as popular as it is now and long before there were any blues societies or blues awards in Canada. Paul James kept the blues flame burning in Toronto even through the late 1970s when the disco era caused so many live bands to give up.
James is a Canadian cultural icon. He is a veteran entertainer who has seen all that the crazy music business has to offer. His talents as a guitarist, vocalist, band leader, stage acrobat, producer, songwriter, trailblazer, and owner of his own indie record label have allowed him to perform and produce the music he loves for close to five decades. Paul is not over the hill yet — in fact, he is still going up it.
Paul James is a real musician’s musician.
He plays in Thunder Bay July 5 and 6 at the Prince Arthur Waterfront Hotel’s Dawson Room. Tickets (show only or show and dinner) are available at the hotel, Naxos and the Coney Island Westfort.
—Submitted by Dominic Besignano, Harbour Lights Productions
(Originally published June 29, 2019)