It was a rollicking night of blues and rock ‘n’ roll with the Paul James Band at Toronto’s Premier Blues Club, the Silver Dollar Room, Saturday November 15th, 2008. The Dollar is a great venue for blues, and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary in the biz. Paul’s band includes 30-year James Band keyboard player Gary Gray. Bassist Rick Ramsey is a familiar face, who’s been part of Paul’s band for a few years now, and fits right in like he’s played with him for decades. In the pocket on drums was Leon Stevenson.
The band was in fine form, dishing out song after song to an avid audience many who’ve been fans of Paul’s for almost three decades. There were also noticeably several fans rockin’ it up, who weren’t even born yet when Paul James formed his first major blues band Lick ‘n’ Stick, back in the early ‘70s in Toronto.
A few days before the Silver Dollar show, Paul played onstage with the iconic and one and only Bob Dylan, in 5-song sets with "Bob" (as Paul refers to him as) in Bob Dylan concerts in London, Ontario November 11th and Oshawa the following evening. Paul has performed many times with Dylan over the years including an impromptu "Meet me in the parking lot." phone call request from "Bob", where he and Paul jammed the night away with no fans in sight.
Paul lost his good friend Bo Diddley earlier this year. James and his band backed Bo’s performances onstage many times over the past three decades. Paul also occasionally performs with innovative blues great John Hammond, who’s also a lifelong friend of his. Paul and his lady attended Hammond's awesome blues show at the TD Jazz Fest in Toronto this past summer, and were seen hanging out with Hammond and his wife at the outdoor 'Green Room' before that show.
Paul always puts on a great show, and this night was no exception. He went out into the audience, hollow-body Gibson electric being played behind his neck and carroused with his audience like the troubadors of an earlier time. At one point while meandering through the crowd, James sauntered up to the bar and casually picked up a beer bottle, which after he took a few slugs while playing some tasty blues leads at the same time, used the bottle to play some breathtaking slide blues guitar.
The crowd gathered around him, and it was quite a sight to see.
While onstage, Paul used the mic stand as a giant metal slide, and got some great sounds out of his guitar, making this part of his performance both musically appealing and visually so as well. He’s very expressive in his face while singing, reminiscent of Canadian folk/blues icon Murray McLauchlan in this respect. One of Paul’s originals, a Halloween favorite called "It’s Halloween", shows this aspect of Paul’s performance quite well.
Some of the many entertaining Paul James originals this night, included the bluesy "I’m Going Fishing" and upbeat James originals like the jazzy/bluesy "Jitterbug Swing" and boogie woogie-style "Boogie Woogie Baby". The audience flocked to the dance floor, and gave James pianoman Gary Gray a chance to solo vigorously on the ivories.
Other memorable James dittys included "The Joint Out Back" and "Red Hot Mama". The phrase "out back" reminds this writer of Paul’s CD’s being played far and wide including ‘down under’ as part of Australia’s ‘bluesoz’ scene, and no doubt heard on the Aussie ‘Outback’ on a CD player or wireless Internet thanks to Aussie blues DJ’s like Canadian Cath (a former Torontonian).
"The Blues Walk In" is a deeply moving blues that really got the crowd going, and featured some of Paul’s impeccable blues harp playing and vocals, with more of Gray’s lilting keyboard playing and Ramsey’s gripping bass lines. "Little Girl" is an upbeat Chuck Berry-influenced original of Paul’s that really got the adrenalin flowing for the Dollar audience.
Paul is an all-round entertainer with a big ‘E’ for entertainment and also for effort since he puts his ‘all’ into each and every performance, at every venue this writer has seen him perform at over the years.
Tonight’s show was equally as entertaining for this writer, as it was for the many fans who showed up at the Dollar this night, even though it was very wet with ice pellets and rain coming down outside.
Paul played many of this writer’s faves including "The Joint Out Back", with its double tongue in cheek meaning, as well as some high intensity rock ‘n’ roll, and deeply infectious Chicago-style blues, that truly was soul-inspiring and intensely moving to listen to. The Paul James Band ended off this night at the Silver Dollar with a superb rendition of blues guitar great Buddy Guy’s "Stoned Crazy", which was extremely uplifting to listen to. Paul’s blues leads are some of the best around, and he really did justice to blues icon Guy’s song.
All in all, this was a very nice night of upbeat fun entertainment as only a true master of the art can muster up, as Paul James and his very talented band surely did this night. The Paul James Band is out there for the audience at each and every performance, ensuring we always have a good time seeing them.