By Ken Wallis, Blues & Roots Radio
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It seems like Throwback Thursday is the in-thing on Facebook. Well I’m gonna trump that with Throwback Years! (and no, Trump does not refer to someone South of the Border)
Where did it all begin?
For me, I fell in love with the blues in the 60s and 70s. I really liked the Stones and their early blues tunes. I bought King Biscuit Boy’s Good Uns album that came wrapped in burlap. I only saw him perform once, but did he sure did know how to whip up an audience. And don’t forget there’s a new King Biscuit Boy release called King Biscuit Boy: The Lost Session 1981
I was a Hendrix freak and although he was steeped in psychedelia, the blues always lurked in the background. I loved the Paul Butterfield Band with Elvin Bishop and constantly had the album In My Own Dream on the turntable.
I had the super session record with Al Cooper and Mike Bloomfield. Great blues jammin’. Then there was J. Geils with the marvelous harmonic melodies. I’ll never forget seeing Crowbar in the early seventie at Brock University with the Ghetto wearing his top hat playing Oh What A Feeling. Oh What a Feeling their album made on all of us.
But when it really hit home, was B.B. King’s Live At Cook County Jail.
My buddy and I Rick were hooked and there was no turning back. It was 1971 and I had the blues in my veins. There was lots of time to explore the classic blues with Howling Wolf, Freddy King, Willie Dixon. John Lee Hooker, Albert King and of course Robert Johnson. I’ll never forget Eric Clapton with Howling Wolf and their London Session
B.B. King personified the blues for me for many years. I saw him so many times in Hamilton at Hamilton Place. But more on that later. But then in 1983 magic happened.
I was a young pup (well maybe not that young) working at CHCH TV in the writer’s department, called the copy department. We’d heard that a new show was going to be produced in our main studio. It was a music show called In Session, produced by William F. Cooke Productions. Construction began on a recording studio in the middle of the studio that would give the ambiance needed for live recordings. I was intrigued.
One day I went down the hall, threw open the washroom door, and was greeted by a three-piece pale blue suit. GOOD GOD. It was the King of the Blues, B.B. King. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I wanted to say so much but I was speechless. He said excuse me and headed towards the studio. But before it was over, I had his guitar pick.
By then the production of IN SESSION was in full swing. I spent every spare moment in the studio to watch, even skipping lunch, which is not my normal routine. IN SESSION was an unbelievable production. How in the world did they land so many music greats to come to Hamilton.
I sat on the concrete studio floor to watch B.B. play with Larry Carleton. If the camera would pan slightly right, you’d see sitting there in a leisure suit with a full head of hair. Those were the days. They just killed the Thrill is Gone
I also saw Albert King play with Stevie Ray Vaughan. Apparently Albert almost didn’t take the gig as he hadn’t heard of Stevie. If you watch the videos and listen to the cd, it’s apparent that Albert was in charge but he gradually gave Stevie the respect he deserved. Then Albert let him loose on Texas Flood.
I remember wishing I hat a hat like Stevie.
Then there was Dr. John and Johnny Winter. Unbelieveable!
And there were tons of other artists but sometimes memory fades. But thanks to Ian Anderson, producer of the show, I now have a list of the many artists that appeared. Here’s just a sample of who jammed: Burton Cummings /Don Everly, Ronnie Hawkins/ Bev D'Angelo, Dave Mason/ Spencer Davis, Rodney Crowell/Emmylou/ Albert Lee/ Rosanne Cash, Bruce Cockburn/ Rik Emmitt, Buffy Ste Marie/ Dr John, Glen Campbell/ Leon Russell, Donnie Walsh/ Dutch Mason/Paul James, Jeff Healey/ The Phantoms and I just don’t have enough room to list the many other artists.
The Blues World Is A Small World – after IN SESSION
But once you’re into the Blues, it never ends. I saw B.B. King so many times. In his last appearance in Hamilton, he couldn’t stand and had to sit on a stool. But he still had his sense of humour as he said at his age he still loved the women and was grateful for the Blue Pill. He also tossed out memorabilia to the audience, but I just couldn’t get up to capture one. I just wanted to watch him. What a class man!
The years keep rolling by. Well that’s a Harry Chapin song. Which may not be the blues, but it’s still a great tune. And I saw him so many times in Hamilton. He was signing autographs and greeting fans at the end of the concert but I decided not to wait in line. He died shortly afterwards so remember, if you have a chance to meet an artist, do so and tell them how much you enjoy their music. That’s what they live for.
I was fortunate enough to be involved with fund-raising events in Hamilton for Mohawk’s Music program, sponsored by the Steeltown Friends of Mohawk College. After watching Larry Carleton play with BB on In Session it was a thrill to book him for a concert. He’s is an unassuming musician who concentrates on the music. He put on a great show.
And then I was so excited as next up was Jimmy Vaughan. He and I sat in the darkened theatre after sound check and he wanted to hear all about Stevie Ray’s appearance on IN SESSION. He was such an enjoyable person and it was a thrill to watch him perform.
And then finally the great Robben Ford played some sweet notes to an enthusiastic crowd and jammed with one our music students, Braden Varcoe.
And there was Canada’s ambassador the blues, Jack de Keyzer who put on a marvellous workshop for our music students
Whew so many memories from past years. But the beauty of it all is that the memories continue to pile up as I continue my association with the blues and the talented blues artists. And while we’re at it, a tip of the blues fedora to Stevie and Anne Connor for the great work they do in Blues and Roots Radio.
One quick reminder
Wednesday July 26th, guitar slinger Joel Johnson appears at Hendrie Park in Burlington at the Royal Botanical Gardens’ Cool Blues.
Joel can shred with the best of ‘em, so if you’re down this way, don’t miss out.