Harpdog Brown is a one-of-a-king blues master – there could hardly be a genre more suited to this versatile powerhouse of a performer.
The winner of Harmonica Player of the Year from the Toronto Blues Society and their Maple Blues Awards for three years plays The Krossing on June 22nd with his Uptown Blues Band.
“It started around New Year’s,” he explained during a recent chat about linking up with a bevy of very talented musicians.
He did a show with some young musicians in Vancouver, and Brown had asked them if they were working on New Year’s.
“We conjured up a New Year’s gig with three of us old fellows and three young guys, and it was something that I had to repeat. So we did it again at a different joint in Gastown, and it was just as good or even better.
“I knew I wanted to pursue this. So that’s kind of how it all started – getting introduced to these young fellows who had gone down to New Orleans at age 17 to learn how to play the instruments,” he said. “So they are really speaking the language.
“Here we are now planning to cut a new album this year with these guys. I’m also taking them out to Quebec for a couple of big festivals in late June and early July, and then another big one back here in July.”
In terms of forming a new direction for the next CD, Brown is pursuing a broadened vision.
“I need to branch out. I’ve been doing classic Chicago low-down blues shows for the last (number of) years and now it’s time to go uptown,” he said with a laugh. A bigger focus on piano, for one thing, opens up a lot of musicality.
“I noticed a whole different type of reaction when I was taking this show across the country in February – it seemed to me to be a broader brushstroke that reaches a wider audience,” he explained, adding that it’s also provided him more versatility and expression as a singer. “I’m really excited about it – I’m stoked!
“There is a whole lot more that is going to come out of this album.”
As to production on the CD, Brown said he’s trying to find some time to focus squarely on the project, but it’s been tough with the brisk pace of hitting the road. “I’m keeping one step ahead of my mortgage on the road,” he laughed. But touring brings its own kind of inspiration. Brown recently took a swing through some of the southern United States and enjoyed every minute of it.
“I think ultimately it’s going to springboard me further, with a further reach,” he said, adding that Nashville-based producer Steve Dawson has been tapped to produce the upcoming project.
“I’ve realized that doing what I’ve been doing for the last four years is a little bit of a peghole,” he said. “I will love classic Chicago blues until my death. It will always raise the hair on the back of my neck.”
But, as mentioned, he feels like it’s time to step out a bit.
“It just feels like this new album and this new band is going to serve as a better platform for more of me than what has met the eyes and the ears (out there) to date. That excites me.”
Having been in the business as a touring and recording artist for more than 30 years, he has shared the stage with such greats as Matt ‘Guitar’ Murphy, Pinetop Perkins, The Powder Blues Band, Jack de Keyzer and the late Dutch Mason to name a few.
In 2016, he was named Best Blues Artist of the Year at the first Fraser Valley Music Awards.
As a youngster, his mom would plunk him down with a lap steel guitar and he would come up with all kinds of stuff. In his late teens he landed his first gig as a guitarist with a singer.
The guys would open for comedians, and although it wasn’t exactly where his heart was it was during times like this Brown really began to see his ability to connect with audiences.
Brown’s latest CD, Travelin’ With the Blues, was released in 2016.