January 2009

The Twelfth Annual Maple Blues Awards
January 19, 2009 The Phoenix Concert Theatre Toronto
Fired up for the Blues, Hallelujah!
by Laila Boulos with photos by Mike Colyer
Formerly the W. C. Handy Blues Awards, in honour of "The Father of the Blues" William Christopher Handy, the Maple Blues Awards took place on the final night of the Blues Summit IV (held from January 17 to 19, 2009 at the Delta Chelsea Hotel). As people were streaming in from the Blues Summit IV, a house party feel took over as warm greetings and lively banter filled the room and continued throughout the evening.

As Scott McCord, of Scott McCord and the Bonafide Truth, introduced the evening's host, Garvia Bailey, of CBC Radio One's Big City, Small World the banter slightly subsided. Beginning with her paraphrased Barack Obama callout, Ms. Bailey jokingly taunted, "Are you guys fired up?" to which the audience yelled "Ready to go!". There were also a few "Yes we can!" cheers among them.

This year, the Maple Blues Awards Gala, which recognizes achievement in the blues music world, resembled more of a wake honouring and celebrating the life and spirit of guitarist, singer and trumpeter, Jeff Healey, who passed away on March 2, 2008, than a mere awards gala.

Healey and his band members were honoured with a total of seven awards between them. The first award, Entertainer of the Year, given to Jeff Healey, was accepted by his widow, Cristie and his father, Bud, in a heartfelt yet joyless speech as they mourned their loss while speaking about Jeff's dedication to music. Released by Edmonton-based Stony Plain Records, Mess of Blues (produced by Healey and bassist Alec Fraser) was voted Recording of the Year. Germany's Ruf Records handled the distribution of Mess of Blues in Europe, the United States and elsewhere. The list of all the nominees and winners can be found at the bottom of this page.

Bud Healey & Cristie Healey
The fact that it was Martin Luther King Jr. Day*, and also the day before the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States, provided invisible yet very present electricity in the air during the awards.

Although speeches were kept to a minimum, there were some wonderful moments: Shakura S'Aida, stopping mid-song to roar, "It's just like Christmas Eve, except Santa Claus is black!"; BLUZ FM's Danny Marks' pronouncement that if people in attendance had renewed lost or broken friendships during the Summit, then it was a success; and, Lance Anderson's "This is the eve of a historic day. America's about to get funked up" referring, tongue-in-cheek, to the title of his own musical creation. All these comments were unavoidable reflections of the raw feeling of hope in the air surrounding the incoming new president of the United States.

As John Valentyne, of CIUT 89.5FM's Let the Good Times Roll, provided information on how the winners were chosen, he mentioned that over 3,200 people voted for their favourite blues artists. From this list, 40 experts in the Blues world chose the winners.

The Maple Blues Band, composed of superb musicians who have all been Maple Blues Award winners or nominees, provided teaser jack-in-the-box musical bites of euphoria throughout the evening. Playing sound blasts of pieces as diverse as T-Bone Walker's "T-Bone Shuffle"; Harry Manx's "Bottom of the Hill"; Willie Dixon's "The Seventh Son"; George Gershwin's "It Ain't Necessarily So"; and, Lance Anderson's "Funk You Up" The Maple Blues Band teased the audience with their energetic renditions by only allowing us a taste.

Pacifying the crowd with full-length performances, a number of artists jumped in throughout the evening to further spice up the Maple Blues Band's instrumentals.

First on the scene, JW-Jones took over the stage with some wonderful rock-a-billy blues guitar mastery. He especially impressed those in attendance with his abrupt tempo changes, feverish riffs and lively vocals. And, as he sang 'She's so fine', the words could aptly refer to his own performance.

One of the evening's low-key moments took place during Harrison Kennedy's acoustic guitar performance of "Chairman of the Board" in which his soothing blanket-wrapped strumming virtually lit candles of bliss around the room.

More low-key moments occurred with Ray Bonneville's performance of "I Am the Big Easy", which he wrote about living in New Orleans. Accompanied by Amos Garrett, the infinite train-keeps-a-rollin' rhythm of this beautiful guitar duet rocked the crowd onto a porch in the Deep South to sip mint juleps.

In their rendition of Mary Chapin Carpenter's "Children Go Where I Send Thee", British Columbia's Sojourners brought salvation in the form of haunting gospel harmonies as their vocals lifted the floor up beneath us. The almost imperceptible instrumental accompaniment, including audience clapping-in-time, provided the perfect minimal backdrop to these "amen" inducing gods who, after their performance, had a hard time finding their way back to their seats with all the hand-shaking and hugging they encountered from their new-found apostles.

As catwoman-in-red, Shakura S'Aida, purred to Koko Taylor's "I cried like a baby", her 'stilettos across her man's heart' vocals left her listeners feeling her man was more likely the one who was crying. Nominated in the Female Vocalist of the Year category, her 'bring 'em to their knees' megawatt performance... brought her audience to their knees.

When Treasa Levasseur invited the Sojourners to join in on her performance of "Stuck in Soulsville", a tribute to the Stax history and sound that she penned, her growling vocals provided a wonderful foil to their otherworldly harmonies.

Later, as Mako Funasaka's video collage of the Jeff Healey Band performing Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" was shown, a hush fell over the room. Funasaka's lovingly produced tribute wonderfully depicted Healey's joy and guitar-playing versatility in his performance.

In addition to the loss of Jeff Healey, Garvia Bailey drew everyone's attention to the loss of many other blues artists during the year, including: Wille P. Bennett, Bo Diddley, Doug Kirby, Paul McNamara, Odetta, Thom "Champagne Charlie" Roberts and Kirby Small.

Canada's newest blues station, Ottawa's DAWG.FM was the proud babysitter of Taj Mahal's B.B. King International Artist of the Year award, for which he promised an on-air live performance.


Amos Garrett

Suzie Vinnick
Rob Bowman (the Professor of rock 'n' Roll) both 2008's Blues booster award winner and a Grammy Award winner has a long history with the blues through his work with Records on Wheels, the Colonial Tavern and as a lecturer at York University. He noted God's good taste in putting blues musicians on the earth and extended this spiritual reference in his admiration for the heavenly harmonies of the Sojourners who blew his mind.

Dr. Julie Hill, of CKLN 88.1's Lowdown 2 Uptown previously, and Blue Remedy presently, echoed the sentiments of many people in stating that "... for everyone on this list, there are so many who could fill their shoes." The Blues community in Toronto and in Canada is very rich and the audience was assured of this through the evening's performances.

As all the nominees and award winners were invited on stage to participate in a grand finale series of jam sessions, the jaw-dropping talent of all the artists shone brightly.

Later, as everyone congregated in the Phoenix Side Lounge, Winnipeg's The Perpetrators turned on the musical taps filling the room with an invigorating mix of garage rock blues and surfer rock that kept the room bumping and jiving into the early hours.

*Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 and was assassinated on April 4, 1968. His birthday is celebrated on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day which occurs on the third Monday in January every year.

Martin Luther King, Jr., at 35, was the youngest man to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and was known for advocating change through non-violence in addition to tolerance, equality and dignity among every individual.

The Maple Blues Band
Tom Bona: drums
Pat Carey: tenor saxophone
Michael Fonfara: organ, piano
Gary Kendall: Musical Director, bass
Teddy Leonard: guitar
Al Lerman: harmonica, tenor saxophone
Chris Murphy: baritone and tenor saxophones
Chris Whiteley: guitar, harmonica, trumpet
Other Performers
Ray Bonneville, Daddy Long Legs, Amos Garrett, JW-Jones, Harrison Kennedy,
Shakura S'Aida, Treasa Levasseur, The Perpetrators, The Sojourners
The Twelfth Annual Maple Blues Awards 2008

Entertainer – Jeff Healey
Nominees: Downchild, Garrett Mason, Big Dave McLean, Dawn Tyler Watson
Male Vocalist – John Mays
Nominees: Danny Brooks, Harrison Kennedy, Paul Reddick, Bob Walsh
Harmonica Player – Steve Marriner
Nominees: Guy Belanger, Carlos Del Junco, Jerome Godboo, Paul Reddick
Acoustic Act – Harry Manx
Nominees: Michael Jerome Browne, Julian Fauth, Big Dave McLean Thom Swift
Bassist – Alec Fraser (the Jeff Healey Band)
Nominees: Stephen Barry, Alan Duffy, Tom Easley, Keith Picot
Guitarist – Jeff Healey
Nominees: Amos Garrett, JW-Jones, Garrett Mason, Steve Strongman
Horn Player – Pat Carey
Nominees: Dave Babcock, Johnny Ferreira, Chris Murphy, Chris Whiteley
Songwriter – Paul Reddick
Nominees: Ray Bonneville, Julian Fauth, Treasa Levasseur, Thom Swift
B. B. King International Artist – Taj Mahal
Nominees: Eric Bibb, James Hunter, Mavis Staples
Blues Booster – Rob Bowman
selected by the Board of Directors of the Toronto Blues Society
Piano/Keyboard – Dave Murphy (the Jeff Healey Band)
Nominees: Curley Bridges, Julian Fauth, Michael Fonfara, Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne
Drummer – Al Webster (the Jeff Healey Band)
Nominees: Geoff Arsenault, Bucky Berger, Maureen Brown, Chris Nordquist
Female Vocalist – Suzie Vinnick
Nominees: Treasa Levasseur, Roxanne Potvin, Shakura S'Aida, Dawn Tyler Watson
Recording – Jeff Healey – Mess of Blues (Stony Plain)
Nominees: Ray Bonneville: Goin' By Feel (Red House)
Julian Fauth: Ramblin' Son (Electro-Fi)
Treasa Levasseur: Low Fidelity (Slim Chicken)
New Artist – Daddy Long Legs
Nominees: Keith Hallett, Marshall Lawrence, Monkey Junk, The Sojourners
Electric Act – Jeff Healey
Nominees: Downchild, JW-Jones, Jack de Keyzer, Garrett Mason, David Rotundo
Blues With a Feeling Award: Lifetime Achievement Award
Amos Garrett

Nominees: Danny Brooks, Michael Fonfara, Alec Fraser, Tom Lavin, Ellen McIlwaine,
Joe Murphy, Chris Whiteley, Ken Whiteley, Terry Wilkins.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Mike Colyer
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The Live Music Report

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