If you think blues music is just about crying your heart out ’cause your love done done you wrong, then meet Canadian harmonica player Harpdog Brown, the blues master coming to the Hong Kong Inn on Friday, December 8. He’s coming to play music . . . and more.
“I feel like a missionary taking it to the people,” he stated, “because it is a healthy distraction, and I’ve realized that while I am being a healthy distraction for others, I’m even being a healthy distraction for myself.”
From his viewpoint, whether you hear the blues or play the blues, everyone comes out a winner.
Sometimes referred to as a blues evangelist, the Vancouver-based blues-harp (aka harmonica) player and three-time Maple Blues Award-winner proclaims his message through his “classic” blues, which have their feet solidly embedded in the Chicago blues sound.
But wait a minute. A guy from Canada, snowy Edmonton no less, plays the blues?
“Edmonton was a pretty cultural town for being the most northern large city in Canada,” he said. “There were a lot of good players coming up during the late ’70s and early ’80s.”
He should know. He attended shows featuring Son Seals, Jimmy Rogers, John Lee Hooker and the artist who most influenced his career — James Cotton.
“I saw James Cotton when I was 17 years old,” Brown recalled. “I think that was the main turning point in my musical life. I always liked the harmonica, but I never quite experienced it like I did after seeing Cotton in ’78 or ’79.”
While Brown cut his musical teeth playing guitar, it was the harmonica that sold him on a life as a blues pilgrim, a life he refers to as “the circus.”
What was it about this circus that most appealed to him? Besides the music, he named one big reason: travel. “I was truly born for the circus,” he acknowledged. “Now I get to be the ring leader. It truly fulfills me. It’s all good.”
He credits the Rolling Stones for piquing his interest in the blues, but the Stones were only a doorway. His curiosity led him to explore the artists whom the Stones imitated. “I found myself digging into the roots of this,” he said. “More so than the Stones’ interpretations, I was really drawn to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. As that took place, I found the most soft part in my heart for what they call the classic blues — Chicago, where the blues became electrified.”
Brown and his band, Travelin’ With the Blues, with Jordie Edmonds on guitar, Rick Reed on bass and Jimmy Morello on drums, are currently on a 23-day tour of the American West Coast. He refers to it as his “Johnny Appleseed” tour because they are playing shows in smaller venues where they literally must pass the hat. Still, he’s confident the risk will come with a reward. Better venues. Better schedules. The chance to come back to a larger audience.
“Hey, if I can’t believe in myself and invest in myself, well, who else can?” he asked.
Exactly the attitude you would expect from a bluesman. Go out. Pound the bushes. See what shakes out. “It requires that,” he emphasized. “In order to break into new places, you have to pay your freight.”
Brown is breaking new ground in Ventura, at least that’s his hope. After all, he knows that his mission calls him to go out, meet new people, spread the message, and be a healer. Whatever it takes, wherever it takes him, he’s ready to go.
“I do believe that music can heal people,” he asserted, “especially blues music, if they pay attention to the good messages in the songs we perform.”
Yeah, and it’s also tasty, after a big plate of kung pao chicken, to put on your dancing shoes and let ’er rip.
Hi Hat Entertainment Presents Harpdog Brown and the Travelin’ Blues Show on Friday, Dec. 8, at 8 p.m. at the Hong Kong Inn, 435 E. Thompson Blvd., Ventura. For tickets and more information call 278-6478 or visit www.hihatentertainment.com.