June 2006

Maple Blues Revue
at the Toronto Jazz Festival
June 25, 2006Harbourfront Centre Concert StageToronto
Maple Syrup and Apple Cider (Sweet and Tangy)
by Joyce Corbett with photos by Dougal Bichan
The Maple Blues Revue band starts off the evening with an instrumental. They are all multiple award winners drawn from various groups such as Downchild Blues Band, Fathead, The Jack De Keyzer Band, The Whiteley Brothers and The Sue Foley Band. They are just warming up – and already sounding great. And when the three award-winning singers come out, Chuck Jackson, John Mays and Dawn Tyler Watson, it’s “Let the Good Times Roll”. For an instant I’m feeling jaded, thinking right, this again — but shortly after that I’m clapping and thinking if Chuck Jackson can’t hook you in, you might want to make sure you’re still breathing. There’s a good reason he’s such a household name.
After this unison start, John Mays and Dawn Tyler Watson exit the stage, leaving the spotlight to Chuck Jackson. The audience, of all ages, is very appreciative. And they know the music. The fellow behind me has been a fan since Chuck Jackson’s pre-Downchild days when he first heard him at Toronto’s Hotel Isabella in the 70s with The Cameo Blues Band.
Chuck Jackson sings “How Long” from the Downchild Blues Band’s newest album. Some of the lyrics, typical blues, go like this : “How long have you been messin’ around on me, you got me living in misery” but this is blues as a cure and it’s upbeat, more of a rockin’ blues, like most of Downchild’s material. Pat Carey on saxophone takes the first solo, Chuck comes in singing, then points to Michael Fonfara who takes off on the B3. Chuck Jackson is playing air guitar and jumping up and down. The singing and the solos go around. Teddy Leonard on bass and Gary Kendall on guitar come to the front of the stage to sing back up vocals on “Annie’s Got a Sister”, a blues with a strong R&B influence. Chuck Jackson spins to face drummer Tom Bona in a grand finale to the piece and his portion of the first set.

Next it is Montreal-based Dawn Tyler-Watson’s turn to take the stage and she takes it by storm. Well-known amongst Canadian blues fans, she deserves to be more widely known, though blues fans in France do appreciate her. As well as being a Canadian award-winner, she won the Trophée France Blues for best foreign female vocalist in 2004 and the competition was staggering. Other nominees were Mavis Staples, Sharrie Williams, Bettye Lavette and Teresa James. She impresses us from the start with one of her own tunes, “Cigarette”. Teddy Leonard picks up slide guitar for this one and Chris Whiteley puts down the trumpet to play acoustic guitar. In a slow, sultry, smoking voice Dawn Tyler Watson sings “You’re my cotton candy, you’re my chocolate bar…….you’re my cigarette and I can’t quit you baby”. It was a good warm-up for her next tune, a “blues de cochon”, or in English, a dirty blues.

After a little intro about the cosmic joke on we human beings – that men reach their sexual peak at about 18 and women at 30 (Dawn says that continues into the 40s and the 50s and who knows?) – she starts to sing, “I’ve got a young man”. Having descended from the stage, she takes the hand of a handsome young man from the audience. “What’s your name honey?” “Todd”. “I want to get you up on stage and have my way with you Todd”. “Get yourselves a young man ladies, that’ll take away your bursitis!” It’s a song full of fun, great singing and a particularly notable harmonica solo from Al Lehrman. She certainly impresses us in the first set with her voice but also with her remarkable performance skills.

In the second set, her story-telling ability will shine and she will be the highlight of the show for me with her “Boozin’ Baby”. Her vocal swerves into vocalized trumpet lines on this one, and her fingers tap the microphone as though she is pressing valves. She walks over to Chris Whiteley and points. He plays a nice trumpet solo with mute and they move into a duo, trading lines. This woman can sing the blues, she can scat, she can tell stories with the best of them, and what an embouchure!

Dawn Tyler-Watson
When John Mays comes out to front the band, we soon hear why he won last year’s Maple Blues Award for Male Vocalist of the Year against some tough competition. The horn section is perfect for his rendering of the heavily R&B “Blue Water”, which he has recorded with his band Fathead.

“I’ve Got a Feeling” flips into double time and John Mays’ gospel roots flower. The audience claps to the rhythm, smiling and standing as John Mays sings “music lifts you up when you’re feeling down inside”. He brings it down to a beautiful slow finish, sweating even though it’s a cool evening by the lake. John Mays has a powerful, rich voice which he controls with finesse - what more could you ask?

All in all, a most enjoyable lakeside voyage into the blues.

The day I don’t respond to “Flip, Flop and Fly” that’ll be the day that…..

John Mays
We welcome your comments and feedback
Joyce Corbett
• • • • • •
Dougal Bichan
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The Live Music Report

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