Harpdog Brown is a one-of-a-king blues master – there could hardly be a genre more suited to the man. He performs at Fratters on March 12th. All ages are welcome – showtime is at 8 p.m. with tickets available at the door.
Heading into 2015, Brown, who calls Vancouver home, is already reflecting on a busy and rewarding season in his life – he won Harmonica Player of the Year from the Toronto Blues Society and their Maple Blues Awards earlier this year. He’s also got a new line-up he’s traveling with this spring and focusing on this year.
“I guess it’s just a spin-off of how great 2014 has been,” he says during a recent chat.
As for the coming string of shows, Brown couldn’t be more excited about the mix.
“We are playing early electric Chicago blues, upright bass, guitar and myself – no drums required,” he explains. “I am singing through a 1951 Masco PA system, and let me tell you, it sounds so cool.
“I’m really quite excited about it.”
The choice to hit the road minus drums will, in this case, serve to open up the sound that much more, he added.
“It’s an early 1950s electric approach to blues – Chicago style. Honestly, the drums kind of evolved in as the blues clubs got larger,” he explained.
Not that they weren’t included at all during those early days. But it wasn’t as common.
“This is really the authentic, early Chicago-style blues. And the beauty with the not having drums is that you can hear everything very clearly. Every instrument has a voice and you don’t really notice the voice of the instrument and the dexterity and the dynamics of the instrument when you’ve got drums banging and clashing behind you – no offense to the drummers,” he adds with a laugh. “It can swallow up a lot of sound.
“We’ve been gigging together, but this is all really quite fresh – this particular ‘slice of Brown’ if you will. This is also what I’m really focusing on, and want to record by the end of this year.”
Few have tackled the smoky magic of the blues quite like Brown. Having been in the business as a touring and recording artist for more than 30 years, he has shared the stage with such greats as Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, Pinetop Perkins, The Powder Blues Band, Jack de Keyzer and the late Dutch Mason to name a few.
His latest disc, What It Is, was released last year. Packed with what fans have grown to expect from Brown over the past three decades, the disc captures what the man is all about – a flat-out commitment to creating some of the finest blues music around.
From the classic swagger of Big Rockin’ Daddy and All Night Boogie to the slowed-down instrumental simmer of Blue Lights, it’s certainly all here. Of course, Brown is truly in his element in a ‘live’ setting where he can let loose and his music’s intensity heats up to an entirely new level.
Other gems include the sleek Doncha Know I Loves You, How Come, In My Younger Days and the irrepressible charms of If Ya Wanna Grow Old and Whiskey Bottle.
The CD continues to garner attention and new fans as well. “It charted in at number 32 of the top 100 world blues albums of 2014 on the roots and radio charts – based on play lists around North America.
“It’s still selling, I’m still getting emails from DJs regarding play lists and we are starting to break into the European market,” he said, adding that his music has been attracting attention in England, Germany and Holland to name a few. “So there is a lot of opportunity.” To that end, he’s considering a stretch of overseas dates in 2016.
Originally from Edmonton, Brown can indeed be described as a gifted singer and an imaginative harp player who brings traditional blues into the 21st century.
As to his early days, he started playing instruments before he even really knew what they were. As a youngster, his mom would plunk him down with a lap steel guitar and he would come up with all kinds of stuff. In his late teens he landed his first gig as a guitarist with a singer.
The guys would open for comedians, and although it wasn’t exactly where his heart was it was during times like this Brown really began to see his ability to connect with audiences.
Next up he joined a rock band which further solidified his love for touring.
He eventually settled into the genre that would truly fit – the blues. It’s heartfelt nature, rife with honesty and gritty authenticity, is what has been so compelling to him over the years.
Ultimately, Brown pretty much feels at home wherever he finds himself. It’s a good trait to have, as he’s committed to touring and relishes the realities of life on the road.
“All my life I’ve been drawn away from the ‘regularities’ of life – I think I was born with gypsy blood,” he has observed. “I don’t like boredom. I like being busy and I like change.”