Toronto used to be the centre of a vibrant blues community with the likes of the Brunswick House, Silver Dollar, Jeff Healey’s and the Cadillac Lounge all playing host to major blues artists like Downchild Blues Band, Jeff Healey, King Biscuit Boy, Jack de Keyzer, Colin James, Sue Foley, Matt Minglewood, Dutch Mason et al performing regularly at these downtown venues.
But with the recent closing of the Cadillac Lounge, the city’s blues community finds itself short of viable venues with only Hugh’s Room actively promoting blues artists to its venue (Sue Foley performs there Sept 9th). This could change Friday, September 20th when The Revival Event Centre stages a concert featuring Jack de Keyzer, Paul James and Danny Marks in an effort to provide a viable entertainment alternative.
De Keyzer, a true Canadian blues icon, is not surprised by the loss of prime live venues saying that attendance at blues clubs have been in a steady decline in recent years. “The bar scene has been dying a slow death for the past 10 years, its gradually been getting worse and worse,” he analyzed during a phone conversation. “Personally, I haven’t been relying on the local bar scene that much as populations seem to be moving out to smaller centres and attendances at local venues has been dropping off. There are still a lot of blues festivals to play at and it’s actually great to be playing at those smaller centres.”
Having cut his musical teeth performing for four years as a youngster with Ronnie Hawkins, the former London England immigrant (he came over to Canada at the age of nine) enjoyed a spell in the spotlight as guitarist with Hamilton Ontario’s, The Bopcats rockabilly band with whom he recorded two EPs and two albums on Attic Records between 1980-1982.
Advancing to a solo career, de Keyzer made a strong impression with his debut `Hard Working Man’ album release in 1989, produced by Stacy Heydon and in total has issued 11 albums and one DVD winning top Blues album Juno awards in 2003 for `6 String Lover’ and 2010 for `Corktown Sessions’.
More recently, he enjoyed success with his 2018 ‘Checkmate’ release which featured covers of some of his favourite songs, winning Music Express awards for top Blues Artist of 2019 and Top Blues Recording.
“That album was kind of a happy accident,” de Keyzer explained. “I recorded a bunch of covers in preparation for recording some original material but the covers sounded so good, we decided to put the originals on hold. All the top blues artists/bands do covers and the cool thing about those songs are that people instantly recognize them and can appreciate the sort of treatment you give this material.”
The 13-track release which contains such classics as “I Can’t Quit You Baby”, “Double Trouble”, “I Ain’t Superstitious” and “Walking Blues” has proven to be one of de Keyzer’s most successful releases to date and, after four decades of performing, continues to motivate his creativity.
“Blues music is ageless,” he acknowledges. “You don’t have the big highs but you don’t get the big lows either. “Many rock stars score that big hit but then you never hear from them again, whereas blues musicians tend to attract a more supportive audience.”
De Keyzer agrees that playing with ‘The Originals’, people like Bo Diddley, Otis Rush and Etta James have been career highlights but he also gets a kick performing in small venues in out of the way places. “I played Alert, Nunavut (the most distant Northern community in the World) to 60 military personnel, I also have fond memories headlining the Montreal Jazz Festival in front of 10,000 people, I’ve played that festival five or six times (last time 2014).” He is also a mainstay at many of Canada’s top blues festivals and this year performed at the Memphis International Blues Championships.
“I still love recording and performing music,” concluded de Keyzer. “I practice a lot and I still try to learn different styles, I am strongly influenced by jazz and that style has been creeping into my music. My big motivation is to keep writing songs. It’s the hardest thing to do but at the same time, it’s the most gratifying thing that I do.”
De Keyzer, along with Paul James and Danny Marks, can be seen in action Friday, September 20th when they perform at Toronto’s Revival Event Centre (783 College Street). Advance tickets $35.00 plus HST are available through ticketscene.ca with tickets available at the door for $40 plus HST.
By Keith Sharp