Canada’s premier testifiers, Downchild, are marking 50 years of the Blues, and taking their celebration across North America, touching down in Cranbrook this Saturday.
The legendary Blues band, formed in 1969, had a plethora of hits like “Flip, Flop and Fly,” “Almost,” and “Shotgun Blues” — these songs were all covered by the famous Blues Brothers, who were heavily influenced by Downchild Blues Band, and helped bring them to new fame at the beginning of a global Blues renaissance in the late ‘70s and ‘80s.
But Downchild has never gone away, never needed a comeback, and neither has the music they extoll — the Blues.
Blues is vital, relevant, and reaching a bigger audience than ever — as is Downchild themselves, says Chuck Jackson, longtime singer and harmonica player with Downchild, who spoke to the Townsman from Toronto prior to hitting the road on tour.
“There’s a lot travelling around, we see a lot of great young Blues performers, a lot of young kids getting into the Blues. Now, with the internet, you can basically see artists and find them on Youtube — it’s a smaller world, there’s festivals all over.
“With Downchild we play in Costa Rica, Panama … Blues has been opened up to the whole world.”
Downchild is designed to be and still is a performing band first and foremost. That’s still where they get their electricity from.
“No doubt about it,” Jackson says. “We love playing — this tour right now, we’re doing 24 dates in 31 days. We’re looking forward to getting out there and seeing you folks [in British Columbia].
“We’re going to showcasing all the great music, over 23 CDs, LPs, tapes, 8-tracks … that we’e recorded over the years, We’re going to be playing a little bit of everything, from the hits, and also some from our latest CD, ‘Something I’ve Done,’ which was nominated for a Juno, and the CD before that, ‘Can You Hear The Music.’”
Named after a Sonny Boy Williamson II song, Downchild Blues Band was formed by Donnie Walsh et al, in Toronto in 1969. Walsh remains the original member from that storied era, though the current line-up has been with the band for decades. Jackson himself joined in 1990, and as been front man ever since.
“It doesn’t get old. 30 years — they tell me one more year and I’ll start getting paid,” Jackson joked.
“The newest guy in the band, Fitzy (Mike Fitzpatrick), has been in the band 20 years. We got a great group of guys, and some of the best musicians in the country. It’s always a joy to step on the stage with all those guys, and especially our leader, Mr. Downchild Donnie Walsh.”
Donnie Walsh and Downchild have been called “the Father of Canadian Blues,” and that scene is flourishing today.
“In Canada now, there are so many great Blues bands now, with players coming up,” Jackson said. “And the interesting thing about Canadian Blues is that pretty much everybody is writing original music, writing their own tunes. It’s a great thing. I have a Blues festival I do in Mississauga called the Junior Jam, we get kids nine, 10 years old playing. It’s a fantastic scene.
“The Blues community is really tight. We see each other on the road, we get together and jam, it’s a nice family.”
Downchild Blues Band celebrates their 50th anniversary at the Key City Theatre in Cranbrook on Saturday, Oct. 26, at 7:30 pm. “Every year is a celebration when you get to be our age,” Jackson said. “Come on out. It’s going to be a fabulous show, We’re going to be playing some great stuff.”