Twenty Instruments, Multiple Dimensions

Jamie "King" Colton: Who says South Florida ain't got no class

Jamie "King" Colton was a seven-year-old boy living in a middle-class neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, the day his parents brought home a plastic clarinet for him. So it was on nothing but a toy that he first learned to distinguish particular musical notes and different keys. A couple years later, his folks bought him a real saxophone, and Colton got serious about figuring out how to play it. Soon he was jamming on old jazz tunes with relatives in the basement of his blind uncle's house.

From the saxophone Colton moved on, first to drums, then piano, then guitar, then ultimately to more than 15 other instruments. He would come home from school, sequester himself in the kitchen, and do nothing but practice. He says today that, by the time he was 14, he could read any piece of music set before him. "I had no life," he recalls. "I didn't go out and do the things that normal kids do. But I knew what I wanted to do when I was young. I knew I didn't want to be the best player of any one instrument. I wanted to play all instruments, do multiple-track recording, and do my own songs. And that's what I did."

Over the years Colton has fulfilled all of his boyhood aspirations and even a few others he hadn't thought of back then. He has played in innumerable bands, both as a backing musician and a frontman. He's been involved in the recording of several records that have landed on the Billboard pop charts, most famously with a studio band called the Buena Vistas. In the early '70s, the Buena Vistas struck pop gold with a novelty hit called "Here Come Da Judge." Colton's was the funky baritone voice behind those memorable lines: "Here come da judge/Here come da judge/Order in the courtroom/Here come da judge." Today Colton has mixed feelings about that record. "It was pretty phenomenal, except I got screwed out of the money," he says. "I signed a lot of contracts. I made about $1000 where I should have made $150,000. I was a little bitter about that, but at the time I didn't care about money. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do, and that was what I was doing."

Jamie "King" Colton: Who says South Florida ain't got no class?
Melissa Jones
Jamie "King" Colton: Who says South Florida ain't got no class?

Details

Colton's concert hotline is 954-523-5463, ext. 7618.
Performs Wednesday nights with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Danny Burger at O'Hara's Jazz Cafe & Swing Street Bistro, 722 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, 954-524-1764.

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Colton is now sitting on a comfortable couch in the living room of his modest home in Lighthouse Point. His two beloved miniature dachshunds lie resting on either side of him. Occasionally he reaches out absently and scratches one or the other behind its ears. Across the room, next to a slightly out of tune piano that Colton got from an old lady in a rest home, a third dog, this one an adopted greyhound, sleeps peacefully on the carpet. Colton himself seems peaceful in this room. The phone rings every 15 minutes or so, and he politely excuses himself to answer it.

He has pictures to show, photographic evidence of where, and among whom, his musical expertise has led him over the years. This is Colton's scrapbook from his life on the road with a virtual galaxy of men and women who were once music stars but now are either dead -- as is Carl Wilson of the Beach Boys -- or predominantly relegated to the oldies circuit. Most of the pictures are set up the same: Colton standing next to one of those stars -- Frankie Valli, Paul Revere, Davy Jones, Aaron Neville, Rick Derringer, Wilson, Bo Diddley -- smiling, as some unseen acquaintance snaps off a shot of him with a muscular arm loosely draped for a moment around a shoulder of greatness, or at least fame.

There are programs and fliers in the album, each indicative of a place and event that Colton has played in his roughly 26-year career as an all-purpose professional musician. His most notable gig was one that lasted from the late spring of 1990 to sometime in 1995. He was working in a piano bar in Deerfield Beach when the bass player from his weekend trio told him that Dion DiMucci was unhappy with the fellow in his band who played keyboards and saxophone. The bassist arranged an audition for Colton. "I got the tunes down," he remembers. "I learned the parts, and I went into a rehearsal. I played 'em down straight perfect with the same sound that [Dion] was used to. He looked at me, he said -- I'll never forget it as long as I live, it was June 14th, 1990 -- he says, 'I think I'll adopt you.'" Within a month Colton went from playing for the cocktail set at a piano bar to a successful audition with a rock icon to his first show with Dion two weeks later at the Orange Bowl in front of 40,000 people. "From then on," he says, "it was nothing but the sky's the limit."

Colton toured the world with Dion. He flips to a page in the album with a picture of himself standing on stage at Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium in 1993. The photo was snapped just before his set with Dion commenced. Behind Colton is a crowd of 55,000. "They came out of the bleachers," he recalls with satisfaction. "They filled the field completely." He remembers playing shows for similarly huge crowds in Athens, Greece, and Atlanta, Georgia. On one New Year's Eve, the band played a show at Miami's Bayfront Park Amphitheater for 100,000 people.

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