BY JACK SHORT - Colton James may not be a great tarpon fisherman yet, but residents of Boca Grande seem to like him just the same.
The country singer was born in Southampton County, Va. to a family full of musicians and singers, but his song, “Save It for the Kids,” has become the theme song of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and his performances at the 2012 and 2013 World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament have endeared him to the island.
Lew Hastings, of the Boca Grande Chamber of Commerce, who is involved with the tournament, said that after Colton’s performance in 2012 all people seemed to want to know was whether or not Colton would be returning this year.
Lew had been in contact with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and they suggested Colton play the festival marking the return of the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. Colton invited Lew on a fishing trip out of Ft. Lauderdale. Lew said Colton was playing his guitar on the boat and singing, and seemed to fit the mission of conservation, education, and sportsmanship perfectly.
“That was the first year he had been to Boca Grande,” Lew said. “He absolutely fell in love with it.”
The feeling seemed to be mutual.
“All I got for the next year was ‘Is Colton coming back?’ ” Lew said.
He said the press release on the World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament’s Facebook page announcing Colton’s return to play at this year’s festival got the most activity of any post he’d made previously.
Colton said he started singing Christian and gospel music when he was around 5 years old and continued doing so for a few years, taking inspiration from his mother, Marjory, and her singing voice.
He remembers going on fishing trips with his father, Marion, in his 1969 Chevy pickup, because this is where he heard some of the country artists like George Jones and Merle Haggard that helped shape his taste in music.
“Every weekend we’d go fishing, listening to a lot of old country songs that inspired me,” he said.
He spent nearly a decade working in Nashville playing small venues with various bands, and developing his songwriting skills. Colton said he knew he’d broken through in some sense when he started to catch the attention of people in the industry around Nashville.
“When people started taking notice in Nashville, different producers and writers, and said, ‘Hey let’s try to help Colton develop his career further, there’s something there,’ ” he said.
He signed a record contract in 2009 and shortly thereafter released his first radio single, “Date with Dixie,” which also had a video on Country Music Television.
He said that aspiring performers, writers and musicians have to be tenacious and persistent.
“Follow that dream, because that dream was born in you,” he said. “And don’t ever let anybody tell you you can’t. Follow your heart.”
In 2011, he met, Kim Tribble in Key West at a songwriters’ association festival. Kim has collaborated on songs made famous by artists such as Trick Pony, Chris Cagle and Montgomery Gentry, Colton said.
“Kim’s a very big songwriter and producer,” he said. “He’s had over 360 cuts. We hit it off and had a lot of similarities in songwriting,” he said. “Right now we’re working together on my new record which is going to be called ‘101 Proof.’
“I hear a melody in my head and I write the song to go with it,” he said. “I’ve always been good with melodies and putting the words with those melodies that can be high energy or definitely catchy.”
But he said it’s also just as important to write lyrics that move people and have some impact.
“I like writing stuff that touches peoples’ lives also – makes a change, makes a difference – has a good message,” Colton said.
That makes difficult subjects like cancer, which he said he realizes touch almost everyone’s life, whether directly or indirectly, too important to ignore.
“Cancer has taken a lot of my family,” he said.
It was a woman’s struggle with breast cancer that inspired him to write “What Keeps Her Strong.”
His sense of obligation extends to people facing difficulties of many kinds, from underprivileged children to wounded veterans.
“I like working with military families,” he said. “I’ve gotten pretty close with some of the guys at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.”
He said that it was through Steve Stock of Guy Harvey Inc. and Scott Mallary of Truckin’ 4 Troops that he came to work with many veterans.
Colton met Harvey at a marlin tournament in 2010 where he sang “Brave Men,” a tribute to servicemen.
“They had me come down the following spring and sing ‘Brave Men’ for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation’s banquet and after seeing what they do and all their conservation work, Kim and I had an idea and sat down and wrote ‘Save It for the Kids.’ ”
That song would be chosen as the theme for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.
“It’s about letting people know what’s out there in the ocean and all it has to offer,” he said. “Working together we can save it for the kids. There’s life out there some eyes will never see unless we get the message of sustainability across.”
He and his wife, Cassie, have begun putting a program of their own together called Fishin’ 4 Heroes with the help of his family and several companies like Guy Harvey Inc., Mack Boring Parts of Union, N.J., and other various companies.
They recently restored a 32-foot Luhrs Express to be used as the craft that will take the majority of the organization’s trips, out of Tidewater, Va., though they would like to take families on fishing trips from locations like Costa Rica and Hawaii as well.
The program will help people facing various challenges to participate in what many might take for granted, something as simple as a family fishing trip.
“Anybody’s a hero that’s helped out country or is fighting cancer, or an underprivileged kid that hasn’t had a chance,” Colton said.
He wants to help them experience what time on the water boating and fishing meant for him, and to help them “make a memory that lasts forever.” Colton and Cassie met almost 19 years ago.
Colton met Cassie in Outer Banks, N.C. he said.
“Our first date was a walk on the beach, hand in hand,” he said. “We took a four-wheel drive truck out on the beach, and that was all she wrote. A four- wheel drive truck on the beach and a walk in the sand, hand in hand, changed this man,” he laughed.
They now have a son, Austin, and a daughter, Hailey.
Colton said he was struck by the friendliness of the people of Boca Grande and the natural beauty of the area. He is a conservationist and sportsman at heart and so it’s no surprise he fell in love.
“When I go there I feel great,” he said. “Even the air is wonderful. There’s a lot of great fishing, and I love the catch-and-release, conservation-minded tournament. The genuine people, the history, the food is amazing …”
He said he loves the country, the woods, seasons and deer hunting too much to become a full-time transplant, but he could see having a place here.
“Definitely,” he said.
He’ll need to brush up on his tarpon skills, though.
Capt. Willie Mills had the pleasure of having Colton on his boat for part of last year’s World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament and for this year’s as well, but joked that he wasn’t much help at first.
“Colton was playing some music at the Pink Elephant one night and Bruce Aikens invited him to come on the boat last year,” Mills said. “He’s a down to earth guy, a real country guy and loves to hunt, fish. He can’t catch tarpon yet, but other than that he’s good! We ragged him pretty hard on that. We’ll get him catching some tarpon here shortly.”
In the meantime, Colton hopes people will look for his new single, to be released in June, called “101 Proof.” He’ll be doing a radio tour all over the country to support it.
He finished the interview by asking that the Beacon pass along his gratitude to the people of Boca Grande, and also with a cryptic reference to an incident involving a peach cobbler and someone’s head, saying only, “I hear there might be a new peach cobbler shampoo in the making to be sold in Boca Grande – I’m looking forward to that.”
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