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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!


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Showing posts with label Downchild Blues Band. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Downchild Blues Band. Show all posts

Friday, September 11, 2020

Downchild - Live At The Toronto Jazz Festival - New Release Review

 I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release, Live At The Toronto Blues Festival, from Downchild (The Downchild Blues Band) and it's packed full of blues and stars. Opening with piano boogie, Can You Hear The Music, with Mike Fonfara on keys,  Chuck Jackson on lead vocal and Donnie Walsh on harmonica, Chuck Jackson and Pat Carey on sax, Gary Kendall on bass and Mike Fitzpatrick on drums, this is a lively opener. David Wilcox joins on shuffle, It's A Matter Of Time adding slide and vocal. With great feel and energy, this is an all out party. I'm Gonna Tell Your Mama is packed with energy featuring Gene Taylor  piano and giving Walsh a great opportunity to really hang out there on harmonica. Very cool. Finland's favorite slide player, Erja Lyytinen joins on harmony vocal and slide guitar on Mississippi Woman, Mississauga Man, a cool blues rocker with Cajun kind of rhythm. Shotgun Blues is one of my favorite tracks on the release with Kenny Neal on vocal and guitar. The longest track on the release, clocking in at over 9 minutes a solid slow blues number with plenty of  room for solos by Neal, Jackson and Carey. Very nice. Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd and band leader Paul Shaffer join on R&B classic, I Got Everything I Need (Almost) and the band gets into full swing. Walsh winds up his harmonica again and the party continues. Wrapping the release is Elmore James' TV Mama with Walsh on slashing slide and Walsh back upfront on vocal. Solid closer for a solid release. 


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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Downchild - Something I've Done - New Release Review

I just had the opportunity to review the most recent release, Something I've Done, by Downchild. Opening with a high energy Albany, Albany lead vocalist Chuck Jackson leads the way with strong underpinnings by Michael Fonfara on piano and a super sax solo by Pat Carey. Worried About The World is a pumped up boogie with a driving bass line by Gary Kendall with Mike Fitzpatrick on drums, Donnie "Downchild" Walsh on guitars and crisp harp work by Jackson. Very nice. Soul ballad, Take A Piece Of My Heart, has a rich melody and Jackson's vocals, balanced with hot sax, Fonfara's piano and trumpet work by Peter Jeffrey makes this a certain standout on the release. The sax wags the tail on piano boogie, Mailbox Money with solid vocals and some of Downchild's best guitar work on the release. Blues swinger, She Thinks I Do has a cool groove with rhythm piano, riding organ and pumped up horns. Title track, Something I've Done, has a great bass line, tight horns and sweet harp by Downchild... a real foot tapper. Wrapping the release is Evelyn, a nice boogie with a solid lope. Downchild's harp has the melody over Fonfara's piano rolls, Kendall's driving bass and Fitzpatrick's tight drums riffs. A cool closer for a solid release.

  

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Canada's National Blues Awards Land in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and Hamilton

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Canada's National Blues Awards Land in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa and HamiltonMaple Blues Award Nominations Led by MonkeyJunk, Downchild and Steve Hill


(October 30, 2014) Toronto, ON - The Toronto Blues Society will be celebrating the 18th annual Maple Blues Awards by honouring nationally and internationally recognized Canadian blues artists from across the country on January 19th, 2015.  Toronto artists lead with twenty seven nominations, followed by Montreal (15), Vancouver (9), Ottawa (8) and Hamilton (7).

Ottawa’s MonkeyJunk and Toronto’s Downchild each received five nominations followed by Montreal’s Steve Hill with four. There are plenty of other acts each with multiple nominations including Fathead, Raoul & the Big Time, The 24th Street Wailers, Brandon Isaak, Steve Strongman and Harrison Kennedy. Quebec blues artists are well represented with nominations for Jordan Officer, Angel Forrest, Dawn Tyler Watson, and Guy Bélanger to name a few. British Columbia’s thriving blues scene is represented with nominations for Dave “Hurricane” Hoerl,  David Vest,  Keith Picot and Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne. The nominees, selected by a panel consisting of industry professionals from across Canada, are recognized both for their talent as well as their contribution to the growing Canadian blues music scene.  


Voting is open from 11:59pm Newfoundland Daylight Time on November 5, 2014, through 11:59pm Pacific Standard Time on December 5, 2014. Blues fans can cast their votes online at www.mapleblues.caCanadian blues fans can cast their votes in all categories except instrumental.

Tickets for the Maple Blues Awards, held at the Royal Conservatory's Koerner Hall in Toronto, are on sale now for $28 - $65 and can be purchased at The Weston Family Box Office, located in The Royal Conservatory building at 273 Bloor Street West, Toronto, by phone at RCM box office (416) 408-0208 or online at https://tickets.rcmusic.ca/public. Contact The Toronto Blues Society for member discounts.

Heading in to its 30th anniversary year, The Toronto Blues Society is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of the Blues. The Maple Blues Awards is Canada's national blues awards program. Its goal is to promote blues music across Canada, and to recognize outstanding achievement in the field.

Located along the Bloor Street cultural corridor, The Royal Conservatory of Music is one of the largest and most respected music performance and arts education institutions in the world. Its breathtaking Koerner Hall, "the jewel in the crown of Toronto's Cultural Renaissance," along with two other concert spaces, presents 70+ concerts annually from acclaimed classical, jazz, pop, and world music and hosts an additional 100+ concerts and events from a wide range of not for profit arts groups, charities, and corporate clients.

The 18th Annual Maple Blues Awards Nominees:

Entertainer of the Year
The 24th Street Wailers
MonkeyJunk
Raoul & the Big Time
Steve Hill
Steve Strongman

Electric Act of the Year
Downchild
Jack de Keyzer
MonkeyJunk
Steve Hill
Steve Strongman

Acoustic Act of the Year
Adam Karch
Big Dave McLean
Brandon Isaak
Harrison Kennedy
Michael Jerome Browne

Male Vocalist of the Year
Chuck Jackson
Harrison Kennedy
Jon Knight
Matt Andersen
Steve Marriner

Female Vocalist of the Year
Angel Forrest
Dawn Tyler Watson
Diana Braithwaite
Shakura S’Aida
Suzie Vinnick 

New Artist or Group of the Year
Irene Torres & the Sugar Devils
Joel Johnson Band
Jordan Officer
Sean Pinchin
Wicked Grin

B.B. King International Artist of the Year
Beth Hart
Elvin Bishop
Janiva Magness
Johnny Winter
Mavis Staples

Guitarist of the Year
JW-Jones
Paul DesLauriers
Steve Dawson
Steve Hill
Steve Strongman

Piano or Keyboard Player of the Year
David McMorrow (Jack de Keyzer)
David Vest
Julian Fauth
Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne
Lance Anderson

Harmonica Player of the Year
Dave “Hurricane” Hoerl
Guy Bélanger
Harpdog Brown
Jerome Godboo
Steve Marriner

Horn Player of the Year
Al Lerman
Chris Whiteley
Jon Wong
Pat Carey
Richard Thornton

Drummer of the Year
Bucky Berger (Fathead)
Lindsay Beaver (The 24th Street Wailers)
Matt Sobb (MonkeyJunk)
Sam Harrisson (Paul DesLauriers Band)
Tom Bona (Raoul and the Big Time, Soulstack)

Bassist of the Year
Alan Duffy (Jack de Keyzer)
Alec Fraser (Fraser/Daley)
Greg Morency (Paul DesLauriers Band)
Keith Picot (Brandon Isaak)
Omar Tunnoch (Fathead)

Songwriter of the Year
Angel Forrest
Brandon Isaak
Harrison Kennedy
Raoul Bhaneja
Ray Bonneville

Recording/Producer of the Year
Brandon Isaak - Here On Earth (Self) Producer: Chris Isaak
Downchild - Can You Hear the Music (Linus Entertainment) Producer: Don Walsh
JW-Jones - Belmont Boulevard (Blind Pig Records) Producer: Tom Hambridge
Raoul and the Big Time - Hollywood Blvd (Big Time Records) Producer: Raoul Bhaneja
Steve Hill Solo Recordings Vol. 2 (No Label Records) Producer: Steve Hill

Blues With A Feeling (Lifetime Achievement Award)
Diana Braithwaite
Alec Fraser
Danny Brooks
Ellen McIlwaine
Joe Murphy
Ken Whiteley
Michael Fonfara
Stephen Barry
Tom Lavin
Michael Jerome Browne
Brent Parkin
Nannette Workman
Theresa Malenfant

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Downchild Blues Band


Donnie Walsh thinks a hat might make a difference.

“Something that will help the band fit in … or stand out,” says the veteran Canadian bluesman by way of explaining the title of the new Downchild album, I Need A Hat.

It’s a joke, of course. Downchild doesn’t need a hat, or a ticket, a tag, a bag, a niche, or a flashing neon sign.

Forty years on, Downchild remains a blues force, true to itself and without equal.

For just about every waking moment of the four decades since he formed the Downchild Blues Band – Canada’s best known and best loved blues outfit – Walsh has been living the dream that changed his life back in the early 1960s, when someone dropped a Jimmy Reed album onto the turntable at his girlfriend’s 16th birthday party in suburban North Toronto.

It’s a moment Walsh – he also answers to his “given” name, Mr. Downchild, taken from a song by Sonny Boy Williamson II – says he will never forget.

“That was it. I was hooked. I never wanted to play anything else.”

He drove his girlfriend crazy learning Reed’s lip-splitting harmonica technique, then James Cotton’s. He locked himself away from the world while he picked apart Muddy Waters’ and Albert King’s guitar licks, reconstructing them in his own inimitable style on a beat-up electric guitar. And when he did venture out, it was to one of Toronto’s legendary blues dives to catch his heroes Luther Allison, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, all of them regular visitors in those days to Walsh’s hometown, Canada’s blues capital.

Walsh was a good student. He is recognized around the world as both a blues harp virtuoso with few equals, and an unusually expressive guitarist.

He wasn’t the only one, of course. They say Toronto’s built on the blues, but all across Canada the blues, particularly jump-style and Chicago blues that used to blast across the border from radio stations in northern U.S., is a basic, shared language.

Singer Chuck Jackson, tenor sax player Pat Carey, drummer Mike Fitzpatrick, bassist Gary Kendall, and pianist/organist Michael Fonfara – Walsh’s compadres in Downchild for the past decade and a half, and, he says, the “best musicians I’ve ever played with” – were soaking up the blues in their teenage years as well, in different parts of the country.

Their shared dedication has served them well. And with the release of their 16th album, I Need A Hat, October 6th, 2009, on the Canadian independent label Linus Entertainment, Donnie Walsh and his buddies are celebrating their collective longevity big time.

Comprising a new batch of Walsh originals – edgier, darker, more caustically humorous than ever before – I Need A Hat boasts a cluster of stellar guests. Dan Aykroyd – a long-time friend and admirer of Downchild – on harmonica, second-generation Canadian blues-rocker Colin James and Nashville-based Canadian roots music veteran Colin Linden on guitars, and Stax Records legend Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns on trumpet, all make muscular and eloquent contributions to the album, which Walsh produced over five days earlier this year in Toronto’s famed Metalworks Studios.

“It’s not really producing,” says Walsh, a self-deprecating homegrown star – when he’s not on the road, he’s fishing his favourite pickerel hole at his secret lake in northern Ontario – and a ribald raconteur with a lacerating dry wit.

“We’ve been together long enough to know just how everything fits, every groove, every note, every piece of punctuation. It’s not as if we have to go looking for hooks – they just happen. That’s one of the great things about a band that’s been together for as long as we have. It just gets better and better.”

“I get a buzz doing the final mix, tweaking the nuances, the little elements I know are in there, hiding somewhere. Those little bits are like pure gold to me. I love shining them up.”

“And it was really exciting this time to have so many great guests adding their own parts.”

During the past 40 years and against all odds, Walsh and his band mates have won countless music industry awards, including a Juno (Canada’s Grammy) for “Best Roots and Traditional Album” in 1991. They also received a Juno Award nomination in 2005 for “Blues Album of The Year” for their album “Come On In.” In 2007 Downchild was named “Entertainer of The Year” at the annual Maple Blues Awards (the Canadian equivalent of a W.C. Handy Award).

With more than 80 great musicians on the payroll during its long life, Downchild is a robust road beast, having racked up thousands of performances at concert halls, fairgrounds, saloons and roadhouses in every corner of the continent.

The inspiration for Aykroyd’s and the late John Belushi’s fabulous creation, The Blues Brothers – they recorded Downchild’s “Shotgun Blues” and Walsh’s “(I Got Everything I Need) Almost”, the latter shortlisted as one of Canada’s Essential Songs in a survey conducted by the Toronto Star in 2007 – Downchild is an institution in their homeland, and revered by blues fans around the world.

America’s National Public Radio service pays regular tribute, featuring Downchild in concert specials and blues programs.

For years a favourite on the North American festival circuit, the band made its first concert appearance in Europe in 2008, at the Lille Blues Festival in France, returning in 2009 for the Tobakken Blues Festival in Esjberg, Denmark. More trips to Europe, where Downchild’s reputation is almost mythical, are in the works.

Apart from its earliest incarnations, with Donnie’s brother, the late “Hock” Walsh as singer, Downchild was always more than a bar band. A party band, sure – good times guaranteed, just as it says on one of Downchild’s album titles.

But musicianship of the highest order, sharp arrangements, strict adherence to its legitimate sources, slick pacing and a steely fix on the moods of its audiences, have always set Downchild apart. This has been a class act for the better part of its 40-year life.

Drummer Mike Fitzpatrick credits the quality and individual character of the songs Walsh and singer Chuck Jackson – he contributed “Down in the Delta” and “I’ve Gotta Leave” to I Need A Hat – have brought to the band.

“The songwriting is exceptional,” he says. “There’s always some unexpected slant to the story in each song, or a line that cuts straight to the bone.”

Bassist Gary Kendall hears something old and something new each time he listens to I Need A Hat.

“The more I play it, the more I get it,” he says. “This is vintage Downchild – straight up blues, no frills, no R&B, nothing slick. But Donnie’s doing something new with his lyrics, commenting on what’s happening in the world, reaching out to people who’ve lost their jobs and are facing hard times. That’s different. His songs are usually much more personal.”

About the reasons for Downchild’s success, Walsh is succinct and unequivocal.

“First, it’s knowing your audience, and knowing when to give them what they want,” he says. “If they want to dance, you step up the groove. If they want to watch, you give them lots of solos.”

“As for keeping a band together for as long as Downchild has been around, it’s an unspoken thing, finding a balance between what I need and what I know each musician can give. Every member of this band is well equipped to do what each of us wants and needs. Downchild has always been bigger than the sum of its parts, and I can’t really explain why. “

“But I do know that after 40 years doing this, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. The hard parts are easier. I’m writing songs all the time – and better songs – which surprises me. I get to experience new things all the time, and see new places.”

“And I get to make my own records. I will never sell enough of them to put me out of work … but that’s probably a good thing.”
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