with young children would probably say Saskatoon's B.C. Read has his
priorities straight. With two young 'uns of his own, he's elected to
forego life on the road ("I did it for twenty years," he laughs) for the
quieter pleasures - and the attendant responsibilities - of family life.
It's a darn shame, though, to those for whom geography renders unlikely the opportunity to catch this mega-talented performer in concert anytime soon.
It's been said many times that B.C. Read may well be Canada's best kept secret. Even the 1997 release of "My Tunes," a fourteen-cut marvel of intelligent songcraft, soulful vocals, and passionate performances, hasn't done much to raise his profile on the Canadian blues map. That it hasn't made B.C. a household name says much about the vagaries of the 'biz,' as it's very close to a masterpiece.
Brian 'B.C.' Read ("everyone calls me B.C.") certainly has music in his blood; able to trace his ancestry back to the very first Scottish colonies of North America circa the early 1700's, it seems almost every generation since has featured prominent musicians. B.C. himself grew up in North Bay, but with a father in the Air Force he's seen much of the country at some point or another.
It was a high school friend who turned B.C. on to the Rolling Stones, and like so many he began working his way backward, seeking out the source. It wasn't long before he discovered Muddy Waters - no surprise there, as most know it was Muddy's song that gave the Stones their name. Parallel explorations led him to John Mayall, along with more folk-influenced artists like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee and Lightnin' Hopkins. B.C.'s quick to point out, though, that like any teenager of the time Led Zeppelin and the Beatles formed an important element in his musical education as well. But it was the blues that kept calling. "I don't want to sound clichéd," B.C. says, "But it's the simplicity that did it - does it - for me. It's such a pure form, and it gives me a certain freedom to express my feelings. Really, it's everyman's music - everybody can relate to the blues."
While B.C. is perfectly capable of rocking out in a full band setting, it's in the acoustic arena that, again, he feels best able to express himself. "I love playing acoustic," he says. "My biggest influences are still the old guys, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, Muddy, Robert Johnson of course . . ." But he doesn't resort to mere imitation. "I have no interest in playing it note-for-note," he says, "Even when doing covers, there's got to be some of me in there."
B.C. is a big fan of American Roy Rogers (the slide guitarist, not the singing cowboy), as well as fellow Canucks Brent Parkin and Johnny V (both of whom appear as guests on "My Tunes"). He's also quick to sing the praises of Big Dave McLean, Morgan Davis, and Calgary's Bill Hills. The geographically inclined will note that most are based in the Prairies, and as host of a community radio program, B.C. has done much to help expose local artists (if one can call musicians who routinely tour the Prairie's vast distances "local") to the public. B.C. is also actively involved in a "Blues In The Schools" program, part of what he sees as keeping tradition alive. "We've done shows in ten schools in the past month," he claims with a hint of pride. "Blues is the basis of so much popular music, and every kid coming up, no matter where they end up, will be the better for listening to at least some blues." There's a great deal of satisfaction to be had as well. "To tell the truth, I'm tired of the bar scene, playing to a bunch of people who could care less. This is so much more rewarding."
Tunes," B.C.'s solo debut, an equal mix of acoustic numbers and band cuts,
shows remarkable assurance in all categories. B.C. wrote or co-wrote
everything, with material ranging from bouncy, horn-fuelled swing to
slippery, greasy-grooved funk, from dusty, delta-inflected slide workouts
to quietly confessional ballads. Yet there's a unity to the project, with
every stylistic variation merely another facet to B. C.'s musical
personality. Sounding relaxed and assured throughout, it's obvious he's
thoroughly comfortable with every shade of blue. The disc features guest
appearances by some of Canada's finest, including co-producer Ken
Whiteley, Brent Parkin, and Johnny V; B.C. himself proves adept at
mandolin and harmonica as well as both acoustic and electric guitar, with
and without slide.