Living up to the legends
The Black Keys and The White Stripes are essentially blues bands that identify themselves as rockers, says Canadian blues musician Paul Reddick.
“It would be nice if we could use the (blues) word,” said Reddick, who believes this would draw more young fans to a genre that sometimes seems headed for the bone yard.
While the 51-year-old has won several Maple Blues Awards for his solo music, as well as with his former band, The Sidemen, he recalls thinking at the last ceremony put on by the Toronto Blues Society, “most of the people here are my age or older.
“Seems like when I’m asked about what I think of the blues, I should say it’s got 15 to 20 years left,” said Reddick.
But the Toronto-based musician, who performs on Saturday at Fratters Speakeasy in Red Deer, feels he’s the last one to be cynical about a musical genre he loves.
While the traditional blues, performed in the style of Muddy Waters, appears to have limited relevance for younger generations, Reddick is heartened that permutations of the blues are still popular — especially when contemporary songwriters draw from the genre’s wellspring for their own tunes.
“Maybe we should let the old styles RIP,” said Reddick, who pushes the envelope of conventional blues music himself.
His own motto has been not to copy his heroes — Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter — “but to try to live up to them.”
Reddick was turned on to the blues as a kid, by
listening to his older brother’s music and attending parties at his uncle’s house. “My Uncle Bill was kind of a cool cat. He still is a very cool cat,” he said, with a chuckle.
Reddick taught himself the harmonica at age 12 by wearing out several blues recordings learning to play along.
“I thought it was the heaviest, most beautiful mu- sic I’d ever heard. It so strongly expressed heartache and longing and sexiness, and confidence ... I was transfixed by it.” And the harmonica seemed the perfect instrument for conveying that, said Reddick, who sees the harp as being connected to the heart and breath.
He has since become one of the country’s preeminent blues singer/songwriters and harmonica players — first with his Juno-nominated band The Side- men (best known for the 2001 album, Rattlebag), and then as a solo artist, who has put out three releases, including 2012’s Wishbone.
This blues-rock album is built around a title character who embodies the hard-living, footloose blues persona.
Several songs, including the first two ballads Red- dick has written, “are about love and loss and beauty and movement. They are poetry-influenced and I like to tell stories,” said the songwriter, who tried to represent the “unknowns of life and love and the mysteries of it.”
Other tunes on the release are more rollicking, including Devil’s Road, co-written with Tom Wilson (of Lee Harvey Osmond and Blackie and the Rodeo Kings).
Reddick is starting to pull together material for another new album in the same “loud, rocking” vein. He sees it as being built around motion, which has become essential to his songwriting.
The musician sometimes buys Greyhound Bus tickets to other Southern Ontario destinations just so he can write songs during the journeys.
“I’ll stay in town in a coffee shop for a couple of hours and then I’ll take the bus back again.”
Why this works “is abstract to me,” he admitted, “but there’s a pattern in songs that corresponds to the rhythm of movement.”
Reddick’s Western tour could be particularly polific, since he plans to take the train from Toronto to Edmonton. He gets to ride for free, under Via Rail’s Artist on Board program, as long as he entertains other passengers en route.
“What a fantastic way to travel!”
Tickets are $10 at the door. For more information, call 403-356-0033.