The late Harpdog Brown’s peers agree on his musical heritage

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With the passing of Harpdog Brown, Canada loses one of its character bluesmen – a rowdy traditionalist deploying classic-electric Chicago blues, swirling New Orleans swing and hyper-dancing big band blues that lifted reliably dust the dance floor.


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Rarely seen without a harmonica, the Edmonton-born singer-songwriter, who recently moved home after living in Vancouver since 1987, died at home in his sleep on January 7 at the age of 59.

“Brave blues from the core, not the surface,” said Brown, who has shared the stage with many legends, including kd lang, whom he was looking for.

“Some of those things that were written in the past are still true today,” he told Roger Levesque of the Journal in 2017. “But you’ll never find me singing about picking cotton , because I never had to. I try to keep it in my own reality.

“I’m 55,” he said to Lévesque at the time, “and in the blues world, I’m a teenager. I have just begun.

His friends and peers in the vast blue-note world praise Brown as a man and a musician.


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“I was amazed to learn that my friend Harpdog Brown is gone,” veteran Mississippi bluesman Charlie Musselwhite told The Journal. “How can that be? He was so full of life. He always seemed more alive than the average person.

“Not only was he a good blues harmonica player, singer and performer, but he had a great sense of humor. Harpdog was one of the good guys.

“Another good man,” repeated Duke Robillard of Rhode Island. “I’ve always known him and his reputation as a great bluesman.”

Edmonton singer-songwriter Ben Sures has been playing guitar for Brown since the early ’90s and shares his impressions.

“Harpdog was very charismatic and an imposing presence. He was tall, tall and well dressed in a suit, his hair shiny and slicked back – he looked 60 to 30. He had a deep cartoonish voice, as Jackie Mason meets Rodney Dangerfield with a special pocket in his belt for its Zippo lighter. “


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“The way he appeared was exactly who he was,” says Holger Petersen of CKUA, who will be doing a special Natch ‘Blues episode dedicated to Brown, starting at 4 p.m. Saturday, including their last recorded interview in November.

Petersen has seen Brown play at least a dozen times, concluding, “I really put him in the real bluesman category.

“He lived it, 24 hours a day.

Harpdog Brown died at home on January 7.
Harpdog Brown died at home on January 7. Photo provided

On stage, Brown has also performed regularly with pianist Graham Guest and guitarist J. Arthur Edmonds. Sures says he was lucky to be there, up close, watching Brown evolve.

“I think some people shape their personalities from childhood, but Harpdog started later – he became Harpdog as an adult. Sometimes someone would call him Harp and he would say, ‘A harp is one thing, call me dog!’ “


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“He was inspired by all the greats like Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter Jacobs and the others. He even had them tattooed on his arms, ”says Sures. “He was a really good singer, earlier in his career he was kind of blood talk, which worked with his rich character voice.

“In the last 20 years or so he started to really sing and he had a knack for traditional melodic swing and blues melodies. “

Sures plans to raise a drink on his CD release show Elks Lounge in Red Deer on January 28, on what would have been Brown’s 60 e birthday.

Adopted into a musical family that included his guitarist mother, Brown first became addicted to the blues after seeing James Cotton perform at the SUB Theater and Dutch Mason perform at Jasper Avenue Lucifer’s nightclub in the late 1970s.

First opened for comedians and active on stage in the next 40 years – including at the Ambassador, Sidetrack Café, and Blues on Whyte countless times – Brown got his nickname at a 1989 gig in Kitsilano Beach after two members of the audience shouted “Harpdog!”

He eventually adopted it as his legal name after his marriage broke down.

The long-bearded singer’s debut album in 1990 was a cassette recording of a Sidetrack concert, which he followed by seven studio albums, including Home Is Where the Harp Is in 1995, which earned him an award nomination. Juno.

Notable recordings Naturally (2011) and What It Is (2014) followed, and he was named harmonica player of the year at the Maple Blues Awards between 2014 and 2016.


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“Every record got better,” said Peterson, saying Brown’s latest album, For Love & Money of 2019, was his best – the first one pressed on vinyl.

“It opened up a whole new world for him, working with Steve Dawson and a few inspired horn players from New Orleans. It’s a part of him that first came out, and I think he would have pursued it more.

Dawson, who produced the album, talks about Brown’s sheer artistic will.

“He was a lot more confident,” says Dawson, compared to when he played on the tour with him in the ’90s. “Knew exactly what he wanted, and in particular how to encourage what he wanted from the young horn players he had with him.

“He was very consistent and sang just as he sang each time – same with the harp.


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“If I pushed him to try and do something different, he would just stick to his guns and not do it,” Dawson laughs. “Stubborn, but confident. I learned something from this.

A great spokesperson for the blues, Brown also spoke for Edmonton, even when he lived on the coast.

“It’s one of the fastest growing cities for the blues these days, and I’m proud to be from Edmonton,” he told Levesque. “A lot of Albertans seem to poop in their hometowns, but it was a great place to grow up.”

Petersen says the Harpdog legacy is multi-faceted, starting with these Maple Blues Awards, insisting that “It’s a really big cachet, especially for someone from Edmonton. “

The longtime radio host remembers being with legendary DJ Dave “Daddy Cool” Booth at the Maple Awards the first time he saw Brown perform.

“He just said, ‘This guy is amazing, he’s one of the best people to do authentic old school blues,” ”Petersen recalls. “So he’s very popular in blues circles by people who are very popular.

“His legacy will be his music.

Finally, Musselwhite expresses what many are saying this week.

“Thanks for all the great times, Harpdog. I will definitely miss him.

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