Twenty Instruments, Multiple Dimensions
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."
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.
In 1995, Colton says, Dion decided to take a break from touring. "I guess he got a little bit burned out," he says. "We spent a lot of time traveling. It was tough." Colton and the rest of the band went their separate ways. He last saw his former boss about two months ago at Dion's house in Boca Raton. "It was real nice," Colton says, "He took me out in his truck and played me some new stuff that he's recording, and I gave him my new CD. We're still close friends."
His association with Dion did not make Colton an astronomically wealthy man, though it is fair to say that he and Maria -- his wife of three-and-a-half years -- are well off. True, their house is modest, but three nice vehicles sit in the circular driveway out front. Maria is presently at work with a fourth. Even more telling of Colton's relative wealth is the estimated $250,000 worth of instruments and sophisticated recording equipment he has tucked away in a back room. He spends many of his waking hours in his studio and is clearly proud of everything in it. "This is the highest-tech equipment you can get," he says, pointing out for particular emphasis his 24-track mixing board, his DAT and CD recorders, several of his 16 electronic keyboards, and his gleaming set of Sonor drums.
Colton has recorded three albums in his studio in the last 18 months. The first -- Streets, Souls + Saxophones -- is a fine collection of original, acid-jazz instrumentals. The other two -- one of which is yet to be released -- are strictly blues-rock affairs. Though Colton is adept on 20 different instruments and has played them all in a variety of genres, "high-powered, blues-flavored rock" is definitely his style of choice these days. He plays a few cuts from the unreleased CD, Even God Gets the Blues, which will soon be available on the Internet-only Nightstar International Music Group label (www.nightstar.com). As with all of his recent recordings, Colton sings every song and plays every instrument on the disc. It is all accomplished material in the vein of a present-day Stevie Ray Vaughan. One song, however, stands out as unique. On "Howlin' Dog" Colton does some greasy, back-porch fingerpicking over a standard 12-bar blues and sings in a low-down, gravelly voice that sounds a lot like vintage Tom Waits. Along with the acid-jazz disc (also available on Nightstar) "Howlin' Dog" is a sure sign that, even after nearly three decades of performing and recording, Colton is still a creative, vital artist.
He keeps busy with a variety of music-related endeavors. Late last month he played a high-profile gig in the theater of New York's Madison Square Garden. The theater accommodates an audience of 6000, and the room was sold out for legendary promoter Richard Nader's Original Rock 'n' Roll Revival Concert. Twenty-three acts were on the bill, a collection of oldies greats and not-so-greats that included Jerry Butler, the Capris, the Flamingos, the Shirelles, and headliner Bo Diddley. Colton's role for the evening was to blow saxophone for 10 of the 23 acts, one of them being the immortal Little Eva, she of the No. 1 hit from 1962 "The Loco-Motion." For the past 18 months, Colton has proudly served as Eva's musical director.
Beyond Little Eva, Colton produces CDs for singers and bands in his studio. He dabbles in acting. Through an advertising agency, he landed a peculiar job doing character voices for three different Nintendo games. He promotes concerts, mostly, he says, three- and four-day festivals at churches. His main outlet of late for his own stage act is with the Z-Max Band, a high-octane, usually four-piece blues-rock outfit that Colton fronts in clubs and at festivals throughout South Florida. And then, of course, he is always a reliable musician for hire. "I do the rock, I do the blues, I do Top 40 when I need to," he says. "I'm very versatile. Any music on any instrument."
Contact David Pulizzi at his e-mail address:
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