For the past few months it has been my pleasure to attend several blues shows at the downtown Delta Chelsea’s Monarchs Pub. The Delta has done something that no other major hotel chain in Canada has dared to do which is to offer world-class live blues shows every Thursday evening, 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
One of the two major attractions to these great blues nights, is the always entertaining, Juno Award-winning blues guitarist Jack de Keyzer. His performances have always been great, whenever this writer has seen his shows, over the past decade.
De Keyzer is co-billed at this venue with blues harp (harmonica) player Jerome Godboo. Jerome has been on the blues scene since the 1980s, when his shows featuring him and his then-band The Phantoms, filled major Toronto venues with eager blues fans whenever he played. He was also a Hawk in Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks performing with The Hawk at a celebration for President Bill Clinton in Arkansas several years ago.
When you put these two powerhouse blues artists together in the same room, it’s a given that blues 'magic' is bound to happen and it does! Playing off each other, and backing each other, is a real pro thing to do, and these two always seem to know how to do just that.
A year ago this past June, I felt privileged to attend an historic night of Chicago-style blues, featuring de Keyzer and Godboo, with de Keyzer’s band. That night, they backed iconic blues piano man Pinetop Perkins, who for years played piano with the founding father of electric Chicago blues, the late and super-great Muddy Waters, until Waters’ untimely passing in 1983.
It was Pinetop’s 95th Birthday Bash Party at Toronto's Sound Academy. De Keyzer and Godboo complemented Pinetop’s classic Chicago blues vocals and piano playing in an unforgettable performance that night. De Keyzer has also performed with and toured the world with former Muddy Waters drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith hence a deep connection with Muddy, who brought electric blues to Chicago in the 1950s.
Backing de Keyzer and Godboo at the Delta’s Monarch Room, is the always-interesting James Rasmussen on bass. Rasmussen’s bass lines are always filled with energy and imagination that easily fuels the senses. He has performed for years with other Toronto blues harp greats, Little Bobby (Little Bobby & the Jumpstarts) and Dr. Nick (Dr. Nick & The Rollercoasters as well as Juno-winning multi-instrumentalist/vocalist bluesman Julian Fauth.
Drummer Dan Lockwood equally puts his ‘all’ into each and every one of these Delta performances as well -- giving strength to and holding together whichever songs this 4-piece blues band comes up with. Lockwood is sometimes featured on lead vocals, and has a strong blues delivery in his singing, that’s always nice to hear. His stage presence is formidable, to say the least.
Many times when I’ve attended one of these Delta Blues in the Delta Chelsea’s Monarch Room, special impromptu surprise guest artists like guitarist Tony ‘Wild T’ Springer (ex-David Bowie band) have shown up and performed. What has become a weekly ‘surprise guest’ is Springer’s former 2nd lead blues guitarist Stephen Candib. Candib’s insightful and tasteful lead and rhythm guitar playing, always goes the extra musical mile to complement and enhance all the players onstage.
On one special Thursday night last April 2009, the incomparable blues icon Buddy Guy's 2nd lead guitarist Ric 'JazGuitar' Hall, as well as drummer Tim Gross (Shemekia Copeland), dropped by to check out this weekly Delta blues show, after Mr. Guy's mind-blowing blues concert with Hall, and Gross (opening with Shemekia), at nearby Massey Hall. I remember Ric mentioning to me on the walk up to the Delta show, how the intersection of Yonge & Dundas "Looks like New York" ... which it does now ... an uncanny resemblance to Times Square .. another world-class city now, with world-class blues too!
A few other gifted guitarists show up to lend a bluesy musical hand at times, including Eric Schenkman (Spin Doctors), Eric Fefferman (Caution Jam), Mark Crissinger (Caution Jam/Bluebudzz) and UK blues guitar great Ray Minhinnett (Frankie Miller's Full House). Other special guests have included the late Jeff Healey's 2nd lead/rhythm slide blues guitarist Pat Rush and keyboardist Dave Murphy. Their fabulous blues concoctions are always guaranteed to amaze with their bluesy and jazzy expertise.
Wild Tis this writer’s favorite of these special guest guitarists. His sometimes reggae-influenced blues and even Hendrix (with a Reggae twist) blues, ie: "Hey Joe", "Angel", "Red House", always knock my socks off, whenever I hear him play them. Tony’s deep jazz leanings surface in some of his guitar chords and leads. When Springer’s wild, jazzy leads are combined with the insanely imaginative jazzy leads of the great Jack de Keyzer, these two awesome players performing together, transcend to a guitar blues/jazz heaven, that goes beyond what one would ever expect or get, in a blues show.
I should mention that Springer’s second-last CD, True Bliss featured one of Canada’s all-time greats in jazz -- the incomparable Guido Basso. Decades ago as a teenager, this writer saw Basso perform live outdoors, with who might undeniably be the greatest jazz drummer of all time, the ingeniously incomparable Gene Krupa ... and a few days earlier, clarinet 'Swing King' Benny Goodman with legendary Peter Appleyard on vibes. So it is, that ‘Wild T’ Springer rubs elbows musically with jazz greats, as well as delivering up his own unique ‘smorgasborg’ of jazz and blues leads, lending imagination with style, to de Keyzer’s always-mouth-watering blues and jazz-influenced blues leads, at these Delta Chelsea shows.
Godboo’s blues harp playing sometimes takes off into harp orbit, with his rapid-fire harp leads, where the ‘muse’ meets the imagination head-on, doing wonders for the soul of the listeners and the artists onstage as well. Rasmussen’s highly pleasing bass lines seem to find the hidden gaps in these fabulous arrangements, to add his own special magic on electric Fender bass. His blues roots go back to growing up in Michigan, and all the wonderful blues, jazz and rock acts that performed their over the years both on local and international blues circuits.
De Keyzer’s performances feature many of the great compositions from several of his great blues CD’s he’s recorded over the years. These include a high-energy "Rock ‘Til You Drop", off Juno-winning CD 6 String Lover, the ultra-jazzy/bluesy "The Way I Love You" and deeply moving, romantic "Nothing In the World", among many intriguing and engrossing numbers from the de Keyzer blues/jazz song book.
On one special night, the awesome Teddy Fury appeared as special guest on drums. This night reunited de Keyzer with Fury both of whom played many happy years together onstage, as wild rockabilly act The Bop Cats. Speaking of de Keyzer toured with and backed rockabilly great Robert Gordon over the years, as well as living legend of rock ‘n’ roll, Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins. These two major influences on de Keyzer’s inimitable style and finesse onstage, have reached their zenith many times, with ballistic performance of Chuck Berry’s "Little Queenie" and other unbelievably fantastic creations.
One regret this writer has about the Delta Blues at the Delta Chelsea, is not seeing de Keyzer’s otherworldly solo acoustic finger-picking guitar expertise, aka the late-great Robert Johnson’s early guitar style. A solo spot during his Delta Chelsea performances, would I believe open some eyes, and create some pleasant surprises with the hotel guests at the Delta; as well as blues fans from the Toronto Blues Society ( http://www.torontobluessociety.com/ ) like Mike Smith who regularly brings friends of his (and some noteworthy blues artists as well) by for a blues ‘fix’ every week. Some of these artists sit in at a 'pro' blues jam on these Delta blues nights, which really adds some lively and quite imanginative bluesy spontaneity to the musical proceedings onstage.
Many of the hotel guests at the Delta, have already expressed to members of the band, and to this writer as well, their sheer delight in finding such high quality blues in a world-class hotel lounge setting. The staff at this Delta Monarch Room venue are low-key, which allows the audiences who attend these great blues shows, to enjoy each and every note and nuance, to their heart’s content.
Add to this that there’s never a cover or dress code at this fine establishment makes it a very inviting Thursday night out with down-home Delta blues at the downtown Delta Chelsea I don’t think I can offer any better commendation than that! It’s well worth a visit, even if you’re not just visiting Toronto, but living (the blues) here as well.