Blues music may have originated in the Deep South, but today its influence can be heard around the world. Major bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead owe a debt of gratitude to the black musicians from Mississippi to Chicago who pioneered the blues sound.
Canadian bluesman Matt Andersen grew up in a musical household in a rural, blue-collar part of New Brunswick. On Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 6:30 p.m., he will bring his hearty and soulful songs to the Sun Valley Opera House, as a featured artist of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts concert series.
In 2010, Andersen became the first Canadian to win Memphis’s famed International Blues Challenge, which led to festival dates in France, Italy and the U.S., where he toured with Old Crow Medicine Show.
“What reallyhit me most about the blues was its total honesty,” Andersen stated in a press release.
Andersen played tuba and later trumpet in junior high school band. He took up guitar at 14, and before long was playing classic rock and Top 40 covers in pub bands while he studied studio engineering.
Things changed dramatically when he discovered the blues.
“Through Eric Clapton I got into B.B. King, which led me to the Chicago electric stuff and eventually back to the Mississippi Delta guys,” said the 30-year-old singer.
He took some time earlier this month to speak with the Idaho Mountain Express about his career.
IME: How big is the blues in Canada? Does it have a specifically Canadian style?
Andersen: There is a strong blues scene in Canada. Sharing a border with the U.S. meant a lot of the U.S. players came to Canada to tour on a regular basis, and also many Canadian players headed south to learn from the greats. I wouldn’t say that there is specific sound that is Canadian blues. We got to hear blues first hand from so many of the original artists. I would like to think Canadians have a strong sense of what the blues is and where it comes from.
IME: Coming from a blue-collar area, were you encouraged to play music?
Andersen: I was fortunate to grow up in a very musical family. Music is a huge part of our culture on the east coast of Canada. When my family gets together there’s always music. It was never something we were pushed into or even made a choice about, really. It was just there.
IME: Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones and many others owe a lot to the original blues greats. Can you expound on some of your favorites from the Mississippi Delta and Chicago, and how they have shaped modern rock ’n’ roll?
Andersen: I’m learning more about the blues all the time. It’s so easy to get music to our ears these days with the Internet and satellite. I’m finding “new” old music that is broadening what I thought I knew about the blues. The artists I listened to, like Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Taj Mahal, Bobby “Blue” Bland and Elmore James, have led me to finding more and more music. The more I listen to the blues, the more I hear it in so many of the classic rock bands that I listen to. When you listen, you can trace back so many riffs and grooves to the blues pioneers. The blues, in a considerably short time, became the foundation for so much of the music that was created after. Not that everybody is playing “blues,” but you can definitely hear its influence.
IME: What was it like going to Memphis? Graceland?
Andersen: Nashville is an amazing place to be as a songwriter and musician. Music is treated as a respectable business by the whole community, and not just viewed as a hobby. Memphis was an incredible trip and a phenomenal chance to walk where so much of the music I’ve listened to originated. Stax and Sun Records produced some of my favorite artists. It was great to stand on Beale Street and think of all the music that has passed through those doors.
Graceland meant more to me that I expected it would. I went there because it seemed like the thing to do in Memphis. I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed it. You can’t deny what that man [Elvis Presley] accomplished. The hallways are lined with gold and platinum albums. It was humbling to stand at the edge of the carpet that led into the “Jungle Room” and imagine all of the people who have been in that place.
IME: How do the French and Italians respond to American blues?
Andersen: Something I’ve learned through playing music in different places around the world is that it has the same affect on just about everybody. They definitely don’t all react the same, but everybody feels the groove and is grabbed by the emotion that the blues delivers.
Bluesman Matt Andersen:
Wednesday, Jan. 23, 6:30 p.m.
Sun Valley Opera House
$20 Sun Valley Center members/ $30 nonmembers / $10 students (18 and under)
Buy Matt Andersen tickets: 726-9491, ext. 10
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org