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24. May. 2016

Blues and Party Music: Let the Good Times Roll

In the lead up to the 2016 edition of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Coastal Jazz asked various members of the jazz "family" to share their thoughts about artists who will perform at the festival. Today, guitarist and blues-lover Jim King talks about the good times coming to the 2016 Jazz Festival.

Any Canadian blues fan probably has a memory or story about  seeing the Downchild Blues Band somewhere at sometime. After forty years and estimated 120 members passing through the band,  that experience can be varied, it could be at a soft-seater like the upcoming jazz festival gig at the Vogue on June 27,  or a less plush environment like the El Mocambo in Toronto, or perhaps back in the day at Rohans in Vancouver.

Donnie Walsh's Canadian Blues institution, has had its share of ups and downs. From their beginnings as Eglinton high school boys,  working as the house band Grossman's Tavern. Donnie and Richard 'Hock'  Walsh  emerged from the vibrant  blues scene in Toronto of the 1960s and 70s, with string of classic blues hits: 'Flip flop and Fly', 'Trying Keep my 88's Straight', and ' I Got Everything I Need ( Almost)'. They were the  inspiration for Saturday Night Live's Blues Brothers, who covered the Downchild classic 'Shotgun Blues'.

Throughout  the 70s and 80s Downchild's lead vocalist position would fluctuate between Hock Walsh and Tony Flaim. Mostly because Donnie kept firing his brother. The 80s and 90s  would prove to be hard decades for Downchild.  Donnie's partner and truly exceptional keyboard player Jane Vasey died in 1982, brother Richard died in 1999 and Tony Flaim, the classic voice of Downchild, passed away in  2000.

This is a look at the classic Downchild line-up, featuring Donnie and Hock Walsh and Jane Vasey, as well as some fine 1970s fashion.

In this truly rare clip of Jane Vasey and Peter Appleyard  with Downchild,  you can hear Vasey holding  her own against the boys.  She died much too early of leukemia, in 1982.

Downchild has throughout the years in the tradition of a 'living the blues' band taken a few breaks, with Donnie Walsh usually deciding he's had enough of the music business and going back to his fishing boat. But recently, with re-issues and renewed interest in the blues, Downchild has had great success on the North American and European festival circuit.

The band that appears at the Vogue on June 27th is still powered by Walsh's guitar and distinctive harp playing as well as the authentic  gritty vocals of Chuck Jackson, a 19 year veteran of the Band. Michael Fonfara on keyboards and saxophonist are also long-time members of the band.  This is tough urban blues played by some experienced pros who know their ground.

Downchild has, after forty six years, to quote their own classic tune-"everything they need".

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In contemporary  music the notion of one person 'doing it all' on a recording or performance, usually brings  up an image of someone slaving away over a computer in some bedroom or high tech recording studio.  Trying to pump out a little soul through Ableton Live and into Pro Tools.

That is not the way Steve Hill does his one man band. In fact he's closer to 1916 than he is to 2016. Pre-war blues artists had to fill a room and sometimes a lone guitar just didn't cut it. To this end players like Charlie Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson , and even the legendary Robert Johnson would augment their sound with a bass drum, highats and cymbals, even kazoos and whistles, and of course the harmonica.

Juno nominated Montreal singer and guitar player Steve Hill has had 20 years as mainstay in the Canadian blues scene to hone his unusual and captivating style. Not a sample or a loop in sight.

You have to see this!

Yeah, I know. Makes you want to grab the drill and bolt a drumstick onto the head stock of your vintage Gibson  guitar.

Just watching him do this has got to be worth the price of admission, June 27th at the Vogue, opening for Downchild.

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In terms of pedigree,  Derek Trucks pretty much stands alone. By the age of thirteen he had played with Buddy Guy, and  by twenty he filled the legendary guitar chair in his Uncle Butch's band, the Allman Brothers Band.  In between he has recorded with and performed with numerous artists, but most notably with Eric Clapton on "The Road to Escondido" album and appearances at the Crossroads Guitar Festival.  Trucks has been on the cover of Rolling Stone  and been included in their  "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".

But it is really Trucks' solo work , that separates him the ordinary. His albums from !997-2010, showcase not only his innovative and concise slide guitar technique, but an eclecticism  rarely heard in the blues rock world. His albums are a blend of  blues, soul, jazz, rock, qawwali music (a genre of music from Pakistan and eastern India), and feature collaborations with Hindustani classical legend Ali Akbar Khan. In 2010 Trucks would receive a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for  "Already Free".  Somewhat of a head scratcher for blue purists as The Washington Post describes Trucks as a cross between Duane Allman and John Coltrane.

In this clip from quite awhile ago Trucks talks about his influences and playing style, but mostly you get that  "what a nice guy" vibe.

Boston born Susan Tedeschi also had early start in the blues world playing in bands by age thirteen , at twenty three she formed the The Susan Tedeschi Band,  successfully handling the guitar chores in manner of young Bonnie Raitt. She would  go on to play Lilith Fair, Austin City Limits, and open for the likes of B.B. King, Bob Dylan, and the Rolling Stones. In 1999 she opened for The Allman Brothers  Band, where she met Derek Trucks, they married in 2001.

This is Tedeschi at her soulful best, doing 'It Just Won't Burn", at Farm Aid in 1999.

Although they would perform together at various time over the next few years, it wasn't until 2010 that they would decide to combine their efforts into the Tedeschi Trucks Band.  Concentrating on  writing recording and performing original material. Their efforts would pay off when their debut album 'Revelator'  won a Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2012.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Tedeschi Trucks Band might be the skilful blending by two blues pros of straight forward time worn material .  But in this case the sum of the two parts is greater than the whole. From their home studio in Jacksonville, Florida, Tedeschi and Trucks create sound not unlike Bobby Blue Bland, Solomon Burke, or Johnny Taylor with a strong nod to their delta blues influences.  Mixing an urban blues/soul  groove and singing style with those eclectic Latin, eastern sounds from Trucks'  solo days.

There is a infectious feel, and intense musically to the Tedeschi Trucks Band. And although you may wish to see them in intimate club somewhere, just imagine if you were sitting at your desk at work and all of the sudden  the Tedeschi Truck Band starts setting up in your office.

Check this great clip from NPR Tiny Desk Concert series.

So they are unlikely to show up at your job , unless of course you work at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre the night of June 28th.

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"playing the guitar is best, we should all play the guitar." —Ana Popovic

Serbian born Ana Popovic's love of the blues came from her father, who moved his family to Amsterdam after the outbreak of the Balkan Wars. Ana studied jazz  in Amsterdam, but her love for the blues remained. In 1999, after some success with the Dutch band Hush, she formed the Ana Popovic Band, and toured alongside Taj Mahal, Eric Burden and appeared on the Jimi Hendrix tribute Album, 'Blue Haze: Songs of Jimi Hendrix'.

With the release of "Trilogy', Ana has eleven albums to her credit, and has received numerous European Music awards. Getting closer to her musical home in 2012, she moved  to Memphis.

Cracking the male dominated word of electric guitar would be daunting task for any woman. Jennifer Batten in the 1990s and more recently Michael Jackson/Alice Cooper guitarist Orianthi,  being the notable exceptions.  But rather than emulating the styles  of female blues contemporaries like Bonnie Raitt or Susan Tedeschi, Popovic's playing traces a fiery line from Hubert Sumlin to Jimi Hendrix through Gary More and landing right on top of Stevie Ray Vaughn. Popovic's no holds barred approach to her Stratocaster  has won her numerous guitar nerd fans on both sides of the Atlantic.

She can handle a Cry Baby and a Tube Screamer, better than most guys, as witnessed in this video for her newest album 'Trilogy'.

It would be unfortunate though to dismiss Popovic as some female SRV clone, as her new album 'Trilogy'  demonstrates. A three CD set that blends Popovic's  familiar blues and funk style with her little used jazz sensibilities and training, features guest appearances by Joe Bonamassa and rapper Al Capone. Eschewing the Strat and the stack of Mesa Boogies for a Gibson ES 175 and a Black Face Super Reverb,  we hear Popovic copping phrases from the likes of George Benson and Robben Ford.

This is Mo' Better Love off of her album 'Can You Stand the Heat'.  Touring with a tight band of Memphis pros, this example what you'll see June 29th at Performance Works.


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Most people have a musical style that floats their boat. Heavy Metal, but maybe not acoustic folk, country but perhaps, (heaven forbid), not jazz. But I think there are some genres that can get to you in some way no matter what your musical preference. I can remember being in a bar in Ensenada, Mexico and hearing grandmothers, parents with little kids, teenagers, twenty- somethings, and guys with baggy pants and sideways baseball hats singing their faces off to old mariachi songs, and they all knew the words.

The Cajun French sound of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys is little like that. It might not be on your heavy rotation playlist, suitable for romantic dinner, or what you put on to wash the dishes, but you can't help liking it.

Grammy nominated Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys have had twenty five years of exporting Cajun Music to the world.

This a video of Riley and company performing as close to the core as you can get, a bar in Lafayette Louisiana.

The Riley and Playboys sound is a hybrid of traditional Cajun, Zydeco and what can only be described as swamp pop, with the non-traditional elements of electric bass and guitar. This is not the 'front porch' sound that is usually associated with traditional Cajun music.

No doubt Riley and the Playboys will tear it up at Performance Works on June 30th, but just imagine you're surfing the net at work and this happens.

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