Playing ‘blues from their very core’, The Harpdog Brown Band performs at Fratters on Dec. 11.
Few have tackled the smoky magic of the blues quite like Harpdog Brown, and he’s thrilled with a new band configuration that explores his beloved genre like never before.
Having been in the business as a touring and recording artist for more than 30 years, Brown 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. Brown’s latest recording Naturally was voted the number one Canadian Blues Album of the year by the Blind Lemon Blues Top 20 of 2011.
With the new band, which formed this past spring, Brown has come full circle in reconnecting with early mentor John Hunter who began to have a powerful influence on Brown when he was in his early 20s.
“He sent me in the right directions in learning this language,” explains Brown.
These days, George Fenn has brought his formidable chops to Brown’s new venture as well. Rounding out the band is Jordan Edmonds, who Brown says holds down the guitar like an extraordinarily seasoned old pro.
“He’s really about the juice and the roots of Chicago mid-1950s blues. It’s right up his alley and it’s where his head is at.”
Meanwhile, years back, Hunter had gone on to become an accountant and pretty much was out of the music and touring scene for a time.
But Brown called him to fill in back around 2000, and Hunter found himself pulled back into music with gusto. And it led to Hunter and Brown doing a couple of dates together this past June.
“We did this show off the cuff, and I was amazed. Two weeks later I’m back in Victoria doing a show with these guys, and I said you guys should really be my band. That’s kind of how it started.”
And it’s been a richly creative journey since.
“I’ve had people who have seen me with this band – people that have known me for 20-plus years – come up to me and say ‘I’ve never seen you so on your game and full of life in all the years I’ve know you’,” he adds. “I’d delighted. How could a guy who is almost 53 years be so excited? I’m playing my ass off. It was like that almighty Stanley Cup team that comes together.
“And it excites the hell out of me to have John back in the fold.”
Brown has always had an easy rapport with audiences, which all the more fuels his ability to connect.
Originally from Edmonton, he is indeed one of Canada’s truly gifted blues artists. He’s also a lifer in the world of musical gypsies, traveling near and far to share his talents in story and song.
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. That curiosity and attraction to creating only grew stronger as the years passed.
In his 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 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 authenticity, is what has been so compelling to him over the years.
These days, besides eagerly hitting the road, the guys are putting the finishing touches on a project for release next year.
“We just finished a live off the floor recording session here in Vancouver, and we have 14 potential songs to go on the album. It includes eight of nine originals that we have collectively written as well.”
He’s thrilled with the results thus far. “It’s so clean and natural – we did it with no overdubs, and we did it collectively – old school – where we miked up the room and miked up ourselves, and stood in a circle in a big studio. Out of that we have definitely 12 or 13 tracks for the new album.”
Ultimately, he’s found a path in life that has perfectly suited him.
“All my life I’ve been drawn away from the ‘regularities’ of life – I think I was born with gypsy blood. I don’t like boredom. I like being busy and I like change. So ultimately, I stumbled into the place I really belonged, which is where I’m now.
“And when I stumbled into blues music, that’s the time I felt like I really did belong,” he adds. “The blues could never fail me, and never would.”