B.C. Read says the blues capture his full range of emotionsAn appetite for the blues

B.C. Read plays three venues at jazz festival

Ned Powers, The StarPhoenix

Published: Tuesday, June 26, 2007

B.C. Read believes the blues are his best means of achieving musical self-expression.

He's owned a guitar since he was 12 years old, he's always liked to sing, and his pursuit of a musical career took him into a Quebec bar as early as 15. He learned to adapt to almost every pop style of music but, gradually, the blues won out.

"I was most comfortable singing the blues, but there wasn't always a demand for the style," says Read. "I finished a year's house gig in a Kelowna club in 1990 and decided to take a year off to recharge my batteries. When I started to play again, I decided to concentrate on the blues."

"To me, the blues are real and capture the full range of my emotions in an honest way. I like the improvisational tradition. There's an old saying that you don't pick the blues, the blues pick you."

"My influences ranged from Muddy Waters to Delbert McClinton, from T-Bone Walker to John Hiatt. I also like Neil Young and Johnny Cash. I've been allowed to mix some folk, country and rock into what I write. I wear all the influences on my sleeve."

Read often had to open his own doors to play the music he loved. There was a place called The London Bridge, one of the first blues clubs in Saskatoon. Read became the second act to be hired and the first blues act when Bud's opened in the mid-1980s on Broadway. In 1988, he, George Tennent and Sheldon Corbett were among the first to be hired for the Blues Gardens at the Saskatchewan Jazz Festival.

He's very much part of the scene again this week. He's on the program, which Buddy Guy headlines, at the Bessborough Gardens on Saturday. After dark, he takes his big horn band over to Amigos Cantina. On Sunday, he is one of the 10 Saskatchewan-born artists who will play in the day-long program in the Gardens.

Read was born in Saskatoon, but his father was in the armed forces, which led to boyhood experiences in Germany and teenage life, with guitar in hand, in Montreal, Ottawa and North Bay. He played at teen dances and high school hootenannies.

"My first job for money was in a bar in Temiskaming, Quebec, where the leader of the group said if anyone questioned my age, I should tell them I've been playing in bars for two years."

He carried his guitar in an old case, which had B.C. Read, painted on its side. B.C. has remained his label although he was christened Brian Cleve.

Read returned to Saskatoon in 1976, graduated from Walter Murray Collegiate, and he pursued his music.

He, Ron Grace and Dave MacLachlan formed a trio which played regularly at The Artful Dodger.

"One night in 1984, Joan Baez came over to the Dodger after playing her concert at the auditorium. We were into playing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and some Simon and Garfunkel. She came up on stage and joined us. The next night, she came back again and sang with us in our closing set."

The Saskatchewan Jazz Festival helped quench his appetite for the blues "because it gave me a chance to meet and play with people like Roy Rodgers, Paul DeLay, Keb Mo, John Hammond, Hubert Sumlin and others I've admired."

Given his desire to do less road work, Read is able to spend more time at his Dalmeny home with wife, Tammy, and children Kristy, Zoe and Zac, but he also has a studio where he can write and record.

His first album release in 1998 was called My Tunes, all of which was original material. Part was recorded in Toronto; part in Saskatoon; and his associate producer was Canadian roots music legend Ken Whiteley. The album made the Canadian top 10 list among blues offerings.

The second, in 2002, was called Live, half recorded at the jazz festival and half at the Midwinter Blues Festival in Regina.

His latest is Bowl of Sugar, featuring original material and plenty of input from friends. Prove That You Love Me was written along with Kenny Marco. Why Do Girls Do That! was written with Big Dave McLean. He wrote Highway Shoes and Get Yourself A Garbage Man with Tennent.

Another song, So Glad, was targeted as a country blues piece and it has been chosen for inclusion on an Acoustic Rainbow Radio sampler which is distributed to 1,800 roots music disc jockeys around the world.

The album is rich in sounds, with Tennent on bass, Corbett on saxophone, accordion and in charge of horn arrangements, Tom Cunningham on drums, Rod Salloum on keyboards and Doug Scarrow on electric guitar. Dave McLean plays harp on two cuts and sings on one. Brent Longstaff, from the Saskatoon Symphony, plays tuba, Ross Ulmer trombone, David Anderson trumpet and Glenn Ens, who was co-producer, plays drums and percussion. Sharon Matheson and Kelly Read are his singing partners.

Read's victory in the Rawlco-sponsored 10K20 contest was pivotal to producing the album.

"I'm happy with the way it turned out. I was able to work with so many great players and each brought their own feel and style to the project. I know from blues radio play lists and downloading sources, it's being heard from Australia to Germany."