Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne Releases New Tribute Album
To the uneducated blues fan, the guitar might be considered the musical backbone of the genre. But don’t tell that to Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne, a staple on the Canadian blues since finding his passion for traditional blues in the early 90s. As a highly skilled piano player who weaves his gospel, jazz, Latin, R&B, soul, country, swing, bebop and rock and roll influences into his own unique brand, Wayne is renowned for his robust piano playing and soulful vocals.
Like many musicians grounded by the pandemic, Wayne decided to channel his energies into recording. The result is a 17-track track collection called Blues From Chicago to Paris, a tribute album to two of the greats – Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon. Cherry picking songs from the Memphis Slim/Willie Dixon songbooks, the new album contains some of the duo’s more obscure tracks, including Rock and Rolling This House, Reno Blues, Somebody Tell That Woman, Messin’ Round (With The Blues), New Way To Love and Stewball, the album serves as a showcase for Wayne’s fiery blend of piano playing. To promote his upcoming stop in Thorold, Wayne chatted with GoBeWeekly about the new album, his influences, and the joys of the blues.
GoBe: You’ve called Canada’s west coast home for a long time but now you’re living in the area. Why the move to Burlington?
Kenny: There’s lots of opportunity out here. Things were really drying up on the coast. So I’m really happy to be living in the area.
GoBe: It looks like you were busy during COVID. You’ve got the new album out, Blues From Chicago to Paris. Is that album pretty much the result of being isolated during Covid?
Kenny: That’s it exactly. There’s two reasons. The first one was someone suggested an album with more piano. I started moving toward the trio sound because of COVID so I thought it would be a good idea to have a trio and play a lot of piano. Then I started figuring out who we can make a tribute to, and I thought there’s no real tribute to Memphis Slim. Then of course Willie Dixon came into the picture because they worked together. I picked out songs that weren’t done by a lot of people, just some of the obscure songs, part of the Big Three Trio.
GoBe: What is it about those two legends that attracted you to pay tribute? We all know how connected they were.
Kenny: I think when they’re working together I hear a lot of playfulness between the two. A lot of blues trios don’t really interact with some of the other musicians. There’s guitar and there’s only guitar. The piano and Willie Dixon’s style sort of had that playfulness. They’re two of the forefathers who took that sound to Europe and helped promote other players. I have a lot of appreciation for Memphis Slim. He’s the kind of guy I was looking for when putting this together who just plays the hell out of a piano. He plays the piano like guitar players play the guitar. He takes and fills all the spots.
GoBe: There’s 17 tracks on the new CD. That’s a generous allotment of songs and a good bargain no matter what you’re charging.
Kenny: When we were putting this down we went in for eight hours and just laid down tracks. We were playing like we performed live. I picked 17 because I thought there may be 13 good ones and the others we could get rid of. The label said they liked them all and couldn’t figure what to get rid of. We had just enough time to put it on CD. There’s only 10 on the album and a 7 song download card in there.
GoBe: Your own playing is a mix of different styles, everything from gospel to swing to bebop and R&B. That’s a diverse menu of styles to choose from. Do you find it hard choosing what to include?
Kenny: It’s relatively easy for me. A good gospel background is a good background for all the other genres that come in whether it’s blues, R&B, country. That’s a good foundation. Most of the people that hire me like the fact that I have a gospel background. They’re all okay with it.
GoBe: Do you have a favourite genre when performing? Is there one where you feel more in the zone?
Kenny: No, I guess I have sort of a niche and I put in whatever I need to. I don’t change it for someone else unless they want something else, like a little Floyd Kramer if they’re doing a country song. I can do that. Usually someone would know my style. I don’t really have a favourite. I like them all because I can intertwine them all in a song. I kind of sneak them in there.
GoBe: What have you learned as an elder statesman of the blues that you didn’t know as a young aspiring musician?
Kenny: Well, I always liked to listen. Being aware of what else is around you, knowing what everyone else was doing, was important. One of my early inspirations was the jazz bebop guys who knew how to make space without getting in the way of the melody. Wayne Henderson of the Jazz Crusaders was a good friend of mine and he taught me a lot of things, when to listen, when to play, how to approach the solo part and save something. There were a lot of mentors for me.
GoBe: You’re learned enough over the years to remain a staple on the Canadian blues scene over the years. It seems the scene is active, attracting young players like Spencer Mackenzie here in Niagara. What’s your opinion on the state of Canadian blues.
Kenny: Just about every type of music that comes out has a blues base. My only thing I’ve tried to observe is piano blues. Most of the kids now are into the guitar. For jazz, there’s a lot of kids going into piano. For the blues they’ve been dropping off because they feel that blues means playing guitar. I try to explain to them that those guitar players are out in the front now but they used to be in the back. That’s where it started. The horns and piano were always out front, guitars were always just strumming. When talking about the blues I like to remind them it didn’t just start with Stevie Ray Vaughan.
GoBe: There’s nothing more soulful than the blues with a big piano up front. We need to get the kids a copy of the Ray Charles movie.
Kenny: And that was it. The arrangements. He was a saxophone player as well. He knew how to arrange the horns. I understand the fact the guitars are easier to move around. Doesn’t go with jumping on a freight train and travelling across Canada. Pianos are in the church as well, so they may have thought it was a good instrument. Not the devils. When playing boogie woogie that right hand is like God and the left is like the Devil, so you’ve got the two.
GoBe: You’ve picked up a slew of awards to date, including seven Maple Blues Awards, a Juno, three keyboard awards from Living Blues Magazine, and you were inducted into the Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame in Cincinnati in 2017. What do those accolades mean to you?
Kenny: It means everything. When i decided to go in this genre of music, the blues, which I discovered back in 1994 in Spain, I noticed a change was happening. I didn’t have a distinct direction until then. I’ve always been a versatile player, but when I started getting write ups and awards that’s when I knew that I should focus on the blues. The awards, reviews, and interviews, have done me right. It just tells me this is the way i should go.
GoBe: For those people who haven’t had the luxury of seeing you perform before, what can they expect in Thorold October 14th.
Kenny: Excitement, great stories, and lots of piano. I’m here to show off. I’ve got a great band, Brant Parker on guitar, Joey DeMarco on drums, Nick Succhi on bass. It’s a wonderful band. A lot of jump, a lot of piano. It’ll be great.
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