Loose Blues News
Those are strong words, but anyone who has seen Vancouver-based pianist/vocalist Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne in concert knows he doesn’t have any problems living up to such unqualified praise. Wayne occupies a distinctive niche on the Canadian blues scene, basing his music around the piano, instead of the more common guitar or harmonica-based forms heard today. Combining an urbane West Coast sound with New Orleans grooves and a deep feel for the blues, Wayne’s musical style bears traces of Amos Milburn, Ray Charles, and Fats Domino, yet remains distinctly his own. “A little more intensive,” is how he described the distinction in a recent interview with the London Free Press.
Wayne’s musical roots stem back to the 1940s in San Francisco, when as the son of a minister, he learned boogie woogie from the church organist. He started playing professionally at sixteen, and spent many years backing such international acts as Billy Preston, Buddy Miles, and Santana, as well as leading his own R&B combo.
Since moving to Vancouver in 1981, Wayne has returned to the blues. “I decided to be true to myself and play what was inside me,” said Kenny, in an interview with Andy Grigg in Real Blues Magazine. Choosing the nickname “Blues Boss” in honour of Amos Milburn, in 1995 Wayne recorded his debut release Alive and Loose (Blues Roots/Festival). Featuring mostly original compositions, the CD was nominated for both a JUNO and a Pacific Music Industry Award, and was listed as Best Debut Release and Top Blues Recording in the West Coast Blues Review Annual Awards. The recording also brought Wayne new fans in Germany, where two numbers made the charts on national German radio.
After completing his first tour of Ontario and Quebec this summer, Wayne will head into the studio to begin work on his second recording, to be released on a new label founded by Real Blues publisher, Andy Grigg. The album will be targeted to the “Shag” market. For those who don’t follow dance crazes, the Shag is a dance form somewhat akin to the Jitterbug, that is extremely popular in parts of the U.S., North Carolina in particular. Shag dancers look for particular rhythms to dance to, and as Kenny explains, “I write that kind of stuff anyway.” A video featuring prominent Shag dancers will accompany the CD, and Wayne hopes to tour in States in support of the release, possibly with dancers in tow. Other tour plans include folk, blues and jazz festivals across North America and Europe. Considering the overwhelmingly positive response he’s received since his return to the blues, it’s a safe bet he’s here to stay.
– Barbara Isherwood
Blues Brothers invade Toronto: Blues Brothers sightings are being reported all over town for the last couple of weeks. A new Blues Brothers movie (Blues Brothers 2000?) is being shot in Toronto, with all the attendant car crashes and blown up buildings (the most recent on Cherry St.). Jon Landis hosted a “staff party” at the Horseshoe and gave the band the opportunity to run through some Steve Cropper compositions under the direction of the “Colonel” himself. Jeff Healey was invited to join in and played some searing solos. Also sitting in for this warm-up/rehearsal/jam were local bassmen Peter Cardinale and Prakash John taking turns subbing for “Duck” Dunn who wasn’t available. The show started a little late because drummer Willy Hall was delayed at the airport, but it was worth the wait.
A few days before, harp-meister Lee Oskar did an evening at the the Horseshoe with some local players including Neil Chapman, Rod Phillips and Phil Dwyer. After a couple of tunes with this band he had never even met, Lee commented, “You guys chop the LA guys”. He played “Georgia” as a special request from Steve Cropper who was seen responding quite enthusiastically to Rod Phillips’ searing organ solos.
Tuesday Night Treats: Toronto is a hotbed of live entertainment, as we are all reminded especially in the summer months, with all the festivals and special events simultaneously dizzying us throughout the city. Yet now and again, one can find a musical surprise lurking about in a place and at a time you least expect it, complete and apart from the rest of the flocks. Tuesday nights at The Reservoir Lounge (52 Wellington at Church) have become one of these quirky pockets of time and space. Tyler Yarema (piano) and his rhythm section Mike Carson (upright bass) and drummer Bob Vespaziani, seem to have started an infectious little jam that attracts some heavyweight players and produces classic jazz and boogie with brow-raising authenticity. Other players attending the night we dropped in include: Jeff Healey, who split his time between coronet and guitar, vocalist Alex Pangman, Blues Brothers’ arranger/trombonist Tom Malone (in town filming a Blues Brothers sequel), sax and “saw” man Gene Hardy, violinist Aaron Solomon, Scott (Professor Piano) Cushnie and singer/songwriter Tory Cassis. Expect to hear gems like “Sheik of Arabi” and “Honeysuckle Rose”. Owners Hae-Soon Chung and Elizabeth Seabrook tell us there is also entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights, oh, and it’s an oyster bar, too.
The Robin Banks Band has just finished their stint at the Studio at Puck’s Farm, collecting on their prize from the 1996 TBS New Talent Search. Board member Lily Sazz was present to witness the final hours of project completion, and reports having heard some rockin’ tracks, 10 in all, 6 of them original. Word is that the folks at the farm are real interested in releasing a CD under one of their labels. Fathead‘s Al Lerman sprinkled some harp on a few tunes as a guest. Working title of the project is Permanent Record. 97 New Talent Search Winners, Edmonton’s Rockin’ Highliners have stuck around Toronto for a little longer following their rollicking performance at the Heineken Soul ‘n’ Blues Festival during their prize showcase slot on July 19th. That performance will be broadcast at a later date on CBC’s Saturday Night Blues hosted by Holger Petersen. Hamilton-area readers can catch the Highliners with guest Richard Newell aka King Biscuit Boy at Johnny Kool‘s on August 1st. (Dundurn & Herkimer)
New Crops from the Farm: Scott Cushnie, aka Professor Piano, the legendary ivory-tickler, is back at Puck’s Farm Studio creating more boogie magic, along with cohorts Doug Riley (organ, piano), Maureen Brown (drums), Lance Anderson (piano) and next generation pianoman Tyler Yarema. Joan Besen (of Prairie Oyster) has also been invited to rejoin Cushnie, but at press time her schedule had not been confirmed as clear. This album is a follow-up to Cushnie’s acclaimed Two Pianos No Waiting CD release from last year, also recorded at the studio at Puck’s Farm.
From the Slidewinder Uncles: Email from the uncs reported that Mike Mckenna is the proud papa of a bouncing baby boy at (8 lbs. 9 oz.) Congratulations to Sue and Mike. “…the birth of a BLUESMAN!! No name yet, but Muddy and Elmore were being considered…”
Moe News: Word’s out that drummer, singer, writer, former TBS board member and Women’s Blues Revue band leader and participant Maureen Brown‘s long-awaited CD Be Close is to be released very soon. The release party will take place on Sept. 17th at The Rockit, 120 Church St. at 9 pm. The new CD, produced by Ian Thomas, also features guitar performances by Bill Dillon (Robbie Robertson, Peter Gabriel, Daniel Lanois, The Boomers), session guitarist Mike Francis, Maureen’s drummer hubby Rick Gratton, Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward, Ian Thomas, and more.
Happy Anniversary, ATG: Congratulations to TBS Board member and club booker extraordinaire Jeff Cohen and his colleagues Craig Laskey and Bookie on the second anniversary of Against the Grain, the promotion team responsible for the Horseshoe Tavern‘s ruling status as the hottest “Nu~Alt Roots” live music venue in Toronto. Since taking over the legendary ‘Shoe in 1995, Jeff and Co. have booked a long list of amazing acts, including John Hammond, the Holmes Brothers, Buckwheat Zydeco, Joe Louis Walker, Jonny Lang, R.L. Burnside, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Otis Clay, James Cotton and many more. Thanks, JC, we’re looking forward to lots more hot stuff in years to come.
Beer and Blues: Toronto’s second annual Festival of Beer invades Historic Fort York on Friday, August 8th at 2 pm. Over 30 breweries participate with over 100 different types of beer available for sampling, plus local restaurants are preparing gourmet fare made with beer. Live music will be hosted by Danny Marks throughout the weekend and will also include The Sidemen, Dave Murphy Band, Snooky Tynes and Cream Fillin’, Rhythm and Truth Brass Band, and The Hopping Penguins. Visit www.realbeer.com or call 416-698-3125 for details.
Playing Hardball (not.): We regret to report the demise of live entertainment at the Hardball Southside in Milton. Despite talent organizer Joe’s best efforts, a few musicians were cancelled at short notice and inconvenienced by the shaky last weeks of the club’s entertainment calendar. Let’s hope another venue sprouts somewhere in its place and brings us more great live blues, sans the poor treatment of the musicians.
Curley: If you caught Curley Bridges at Heineken Soul `n’ Blues and were left wondering where to catch the man again, try heading to Barrie for his regular Tuesday evening R&B set at Ruanne‘s downtown (24 Dunlop Street East). Ruanne’s is now also trying a Sunday show (5:00-10:00) with Curley and a couple other local musicians. Call Ruanne’s for details: 705-737-2010.
Blues in Kingston: The First Annual Limestone City Blues Festival happens August 21-23 in Kingston, Ontario, hosting both indoor and outdoor shows, centering around a Market Square performance by Colin James and Colin Linden. A $5 dollar festival bracelet will go on sale in mid-August, and is valid for all three days. For more info, contact Doug Ritchie or Michele Langlois at 613-542-8677.
Harvest Jazz & Blues: Louisiana’s BeauSoleil avec Michael Doucet will headline Fredericton’s Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival in September. “This is one of the biggest touring acts in the world and they’re certainly the top band in the Cajun genre.”, said David Seabrook, the festival’s music director. More than 85 performances are featured in more than 20 downtown venues from Sept. 10 to 14th. The Mojo Tent, one of this year’s new venues, will feature acoustic blues duos, including Boston’s Paul Rishell and Handy Award-winner Annie Raines, and Rick Fines and Suzie Vinnick. Vinnick (from Ottawa) will also headline with harmonica player Annie Raines and Toni Lynn Washington, also from Boston, in the Women in Blues part of the festival. For more info, call toll-free
1-888-NBBLUES (622-5837), or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Have a Heart: By now, you’ve heard that legendary bluesman Johnny Copeland passed away on July 3rd due to heart surgery complications. (See cover story.) This has inevitably left his family with financial burden, after two years of medical care leading to the transplant gone awry. Donations to the family can be sent to: “The Johnny Copeland Heart Fund”, c/o his manager, Ms. Holly Bullamore, P.O. Box 6775, Champaign, IL 1826-6775. Phone: 217-355-5280; or “Johnny Copeland’s Heart”, c/o Manny’s Car Wash, 1558 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10128. Manny’s is also slated to host a memorial on August 21st.
All Blues All The Time! America’s Blues Music Cable Network is born. The 24-hour-a-day Califorania-based network will cover programming of various topics, such as the Blues Music Industry, Music Publishing & Business Issues, Live Blues Music Events and Blues Music Gossip.
– Brian Blain, Tony Burns, Barbara Isherwood, Lily Sazz