Mighty Duck Blues Band Heads West
By David DeRocco
A change in the weather inspires a lot of Canadian migratory birds to head south each winter. However, for fans who like to follow ducks of the blues band variety, west St. Catharines is the direction they’re going to have to travel.
It was definitely a chill in the relationship with club management that prompted The Mighty Duck Blues Band (MDBB) to leave their weekly roost at The Bar Upstairs -- which had served as home to the band’s Saturday afternoon blues program for the last couple of years -- and take flight to The West Hill Tavern in St. Catharines. And while the need to move came somewhat unexpectedly, MDBB co-founder Gary Kendall says landing at the west-end St. Catharines club puts the band back on a stage better suited to delivering live music.
“The Bar Upstairs is a bar in a sports complex,” said Kendall, in reference to the ball hockey/volleyball facility in which the bar is located. “The owners never got a handle on how to run a live music event and an efficient bar restaurant.”
Despite attracting packed houses for their star-studded Saturday afternoon matinee performances at the venue, the MDBB was surprised when The Bar Upstairs owners announced they were cancelling the popular blues program.
“They abruptly cancelled our series on December 1st, giving us essentially three weeks’ notice with dates on the 8th, 16th and 22nd,” said Kendall, a bassist revered in blues circles for his years of exemplary service with Canadian legends, Downchild. “This meant that all our guests that had been booked to the end of March had to be cancelled. This included our annual Boxing Day and New Year’s Day shows and a few confirmations that we’d made after the end of March.”
Given the rotating cast of A-list Canadian and American blues guitarists, harmonica players and vocalists that regularly sit in with the MDBB, Kendall isn’t surprised they found a new home so quickly.
“Over the years we`ve always had offers from other venues who saw the value in what The Mighty Duck Blues Band has to offer. The folks at the West Hill (soon to be called Jo Blos Rock and Wok) made us a very good offer and approached us with a very positive attitude. They`re in the midst of doing extensive renovations inside. It`s going to be a great place to play and it reminds us of our original home at The Duck (Golden Pheasant). Jo Blos will start with Saturday blues and develop a more extensive live music program over the next few months. We have a good feeling about the place.”
The band has been generating lots of good feelings since releasing their 2017 debut, Duck Soup. The album has spent 48 weeks on the Roots Music Report Charts, and helped earn the band three Niagara Music Award nominations in 2018 including Best Video, Best Blues Band and Best Recording.
“Recording Duck Soup was something we needed to do,” said Kendall, an eight-time Maple Blues Bassist of the Year Award winner. “It`s a year and half old and still rating high on the Stingray and Roots Music Report charts. Our recording has let people know that we`re a serious band.”
The fact they are a serious band makes it all the more amazing that the Saturday afternoon blues program will continue to be offered free of charge. However, fans who attend the shows can certainly help contribute to ensuring that the Mighty Duck Blues Band is nestled in for a long run at the West Hill/Jo Blos.
“There’s no cover at our Saturday afternoon gig but we will be running the usual giveaway draw to help the club subsidize the cost of presenting our Blues Matinee,” explained Kendall. “For a "pay what you can" contribution they`ll have a chance to win $100 worth of Blues Bucks, coupons that they can use at the club and a blues CD. Our guests donate a CD every time they appear so the CD prize is a fabulous piece of Canadian music.”
The new program kicks of January 19th with an appearance by Joel Johnson, an award winning blues guitarist and vocalist from Six Nations Ontario who competed in the International Blues Challenge in 2013 and 2015.
SPECIAL GUEST LINEUP
Feb.16-Dawn Tyler Watson
The expanded line-up will be announced February 11th, with the series continuing until June 8th.