Paul James at 73 rocks harder than most musicians half his age. What I love the most about this evening, wasn’t all the great music this guy can perform in 3 hours, it was he had a moment of sharing his life stories with us. He went all the way back to the beginning and described moments he had in his 55 year long career. He went back to his first band called Lick and Stick and playing in the classic bars of Toronto like The Red Lion and the Bermuda Onion. Paul then explained his first European tour when he met Rock Royalty like the Rolling Stones and Robert Plant. Of course, any great Canadian artist will romantically reminisce about going across Canada. Paul did it in style, with a brand new VW Van that had a cassette player. This was for the moments when you simply cannot find any radio waves on your journey. I have travelled northern Ontario and that does happen.
Throughout the evening there was a slideshow playing with all of Paul’s fondest memories with all the other artist’s he has had the pleasure to work with and has adored for so long. The list is very long, so we will skip the name dropping for now. Paul even picked out old friend’s from the audience and gave them a shout out, I even bumped into his children that night. This was a real family affair and everyone was invited to participate. You see, Paul puts on a free show every year to celebrate his longevity in the business and his gratitude rewards us all with a stellar show.
He has been doing these kinds of Birthday shows since he was 50 years old and it started off at the original Healy’s Hideaway at Queen and Bathurst. 23 years later and we are still showing up to sing Happy Birthday to him. In fact it is so easy to get into the show, you just arrive at the front doors and sing “Hey Bo Diddley”, and you are in!
Of course no true Birthday party would be complete without a couple of surprise guests. First up to perform was one of the best harmonica players in the city and special alumni for the Paul James Band, Paul Reddick. Usually these guests come up and do a song or two, but Paul was ready to have fun and stuck around for nearly the entire first set of the show and some of the second set. If you don’t know Paul Reddick, that was a really big treat! Another guest who will do just about anything to get up on stage and give the audience a reason to smile was the energizer bunny himself, Max Brand. He got up and performed the hell out of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock”. A really nice surprise came when Little Magic Sam, a three piece band got the entire stage to themselves, while Paul went off to fix a broken string. They shared a great story about arriving in Toronto 13 years ago and wanted to see Paul James. Well I guess they met him and all these years later they are good friends. This is just one tiny testament to Paul’s open spirit with everyone around him.
At this point, I don’t need to go into any of his songs, because you have been to his shows. If you haven’t been, what are you waiting for? I won’t go into his incredible stage presence with all his fancy moves, because you have witness that greatness. If you haven’t, don’t wait for an invitation! Paul James is truly a Toronto Treasure. He has been keeping our city alive and well with his music and all of his performances. A little piece of advice for you young players out there now, you will truly learn something from this man, so I challenge you to seek him out and see what you can take away from this Master of the stage.
Happy Birthday, Paul. Until Next year- Hey Bo Diddley!!!
Here are some images of Paul James: