Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne will perform in Red Deer with his band (photo submitted).

Boogie-in’ with the Blues Boss

Pianist Kenny Wayne brings his star-studded band to Red Deer

Juno Award-winner Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, who performs in Red Deer on May 5, is considered one of North America’s finest boogie-woogie piano players.

But his blues career was nearly derailed by a spot of bad luck in his youth.

The San Francisco-raised music prodigy had been performing with blues legend Jimmy Reed (who influenced Elvis Presley), when he was just 16 or 17. While this was a fantastic break for him, Wayne’s father, a minister, was leery of blues music. He considering it vulgar and its fans rowdy.

To prove his disapproving parents wrong, Wayne invited them to the poshest gig he was playing with Reed. “It was in a ballroom, not a juke joint,” recalled the pianist.

But Wayne and the rest of the band had barely launched into their second song when a fight broke out — right beside his parents.

“Some guy saw someone with his girlfriend, or wife,” he recalled, and fists started flying. Noses and bottles got broken. Even his piano was “smashed” by flying debris.

Wayne’s parents left with their bad impressions reinforced. And he reluctantly acquiesced to his father’s wishes and went back to playing gospel and big band standards for quite a few years.

Eventually Wayne began accompanying some early ’70s rock acts, including Billy Preston, Delaney and Bonnie (whose group members sometimes included the Allman brothers, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Rita Coolidge). After moving to Canada in 1982 to marry his first wife, Wayne slowly found his way back into the blues, recording his first record in 1994 in Vancouver.

Wayne’s dad had passed away by then. But he still remembers his dad telling him he was proud he’d had the guts make music his career. “He was the kind of guy who always felt ‘don’t shoot for the stars, shoot for the top of the tree’… so as long as you were able to make a living at music, that was OK…”

The Kelowna, B.C. resident has done better than OK. After being nominated for Juno Awards in 1997, 1999 and 2003 for ‘Best Blues/Gospel Album,’ he won in 2006 for Let It Loose. According to a Chicago music critic, there’s no blues piano player out there “who pounds the 88’s with the conviction of Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne.”

The 72-year-old, now married a second time, plans to perform selections from his 2016 album, Jumpin’ and Boppin’ and 2014’s Rollin’ With the Blues Boss at Red Deer’s International Beer Haus. His star-studded band will be made up of Red Deer guitarist Charlie Jacobson, renowned bassist Russell Jackson, drummer Joey Dimarco, and saxophonist Dave Babcock.

The goal is to get the crowd dancing, said Wayne, who stressed it’s why he loves to play boogie-woogie blues — “cause nobody dances to gospel, outside of a church!”

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