The Local Music Scene

Meet Colby James – Singer, songwriter, guitarist, do-gooder

By Michael Khouri
Posted 7/29/22

What struck me about local singer, songwriter, guitarist Colby James, when I met him recently, was his unpretentious, warm, affable manner. Although it was the first time we’d met, he treated …

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The Local Music Scene

Meet Colby James – Singer, songwriter, guitarist, do-gooder


What struck me about local singer, songwriter, guitarist Colby James, when I met him recently, was his unpretentious, warm, affable manner. Although it was the first time we’d met, he treated me like an old friend whom he hadn’t seen in far too long.

Over oysters and an adult beverage on the outdoor deck at Bluewater Grille in Barrington, with his bandmate, Jay Pacheco in tow, James held court and during our “reunion,” he elaborated on what had come to be his childhood friend, the reason that he plays music and how and why his father named him twice.

“I’m an almost 40-year-old child who’s been plugging away at music for easily 25 years,” says the Bristol resident. “I was about 15 and was just playing the guitar around the house. My father was a huge music fan, maybe even a bigger fan than I am. He was a music junkie. He bought me a guitar and encouraged me to play. I put the guitar aside and was playing bass in a band and performed my first ever gig at the Living Room in Providence.”

At his dad’s urging, James returned to the guitar and hasn’t looked back. James said that studies, in his early life, didn’t grab him.

“I didn’t like school as a kid, it just wasn’t for me, so the guitar became my best friend.”

I asked if the guitar is still his best friend? “At times, yes. Life has changed as I’ve gotten older, but I still love to play. Although I learned guitar first, my voice is now my prime instrument. People compliment my voice more than my guitar playing, and I guess that’s the draw.”

That draw is evident in James’ live shows. Through an unconventionally diverse set list that features, among others, The Jackson Five’s “ABC,” Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to The Moon,” James’ range of voice is staggering and compelling.

I asked James what drives him to continue his performance schedule. “Part of it is that I’m a Leo and I love the attention. With a wife, three kids and two dogs, attention is scarce because I’m number seven in the pecking order,” he jokes. “I live for my children, but I think I also need to play music to be completely happy.”

And of course, he says, there are monetary benefits. “We call the gig money the fun coupons for the family, because it all goes back into the machine.”

But he says he’s also driven by the chase. “As a musician I still dream. You may have one great gig where you sell the place out and you have glimpses of wow and triumph, then the next couple of gigs might be less than wonderful, kind of like when you deep sea fish, you don’t always catch every time you go out, but it keeps pulling you back after you’ve had the thrill of landing a big one.”

“When I was born my dad ran to fill out the birth certificate. My mom liked Nathan or Justin and told my dad to pick one or the other. He liked the name Colby, which my mom didn’t at all, so contrary to her choices he named me Colby,” says James. “My full name is Colby James Costa. For the first six months of my life, my mom was ashamed of my first name. Later on, when she’d call for me as a kid she’d yell out, ‘Colby James!’ One day my dad suggested I call myself just that. He thought it had a good ring to it for a musician. To this day, when my parents come to a gig, I introduce them as Mr. and Mrs. James.”

James plays many different local venues, be it solo, a duo with Jay or with his band Colby James and the Ramblers, at places like Aidan’s Pub in Bristol, The Beach House in Bristol, Bluewater Bar and Grille in Barrington or Thames Waterside Bar and Grill in Bristol. Although those locations are all “great gigs,” he says he has a special affection for Thames Waterside and its owners.

“My residency at the Waterside is in its 11th season. In the summer I play solo every Saturday and Sunday in the afternoon on the roof from 2 to 5, and every Friday night in the winter. In those days of my career, I couldn’t buy a gig, but the Waterside gave me a shot. Then suddenly DJs were all the rage and they (Thames Waterside) could have gone the way of the DJ, but they stuck with me.”

James and his fellow musicians reciprocate to such benevolence when and where they can. “During Covid, Jay and I took all of our time playing on Facebook Live to raise money for the staff at the Thames Waterside, raising over $5,000 for them.” And on the heels of that success, they didn’t stop there. “There was a young boy in East Providence who lost his battle with cancer as well as a young mother in Bristol who had also succumbed, and we raised nearly $30,000 combined for those families. That’s the power of music and the Internet.”

I asked James if the Internet and music make for a good alliance? “It’s a double-edged sword,” he says. “Anyone who can bang pots and pans can be on iTunes. That dilutes musicality, but being able to reach such a wide audience and do so much for charities outweighs any of that. And if I can do some good and make people happy while playing music, I’ve done my job.”

Visit Colby James on Facebook.

Michael Khouri is a Barrington resident writing occasionally about the Rhode Island music scene. Reach him at

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.