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A Blues Revival

How a group of young talent in Victoria are heating up the local blues scene
Smokestacks members Owen Pollock, Bryden Amos, Ella Slaughter, Ethan Ramirez, Holly Peterson, Daniel Froese at the Sunday Services Blues Jam at Hermann’s Upstairs. (Charlie Fox)

In an interview with NPR in 2015, blues legend Buddy Guy said “I worry about the future of blues music.”

But for a genre that has seen a downward trend in popularity since the emergence of pop music, a new spark in Victoria has ignited with some young locals. Blues music has captured the hearts of a six-piece group of 20-something-year-olds who call themselves the Smokestacks.

For guitarist, Owen Pollock, age 24, hearing the blues for the first time was love at first listen.

“I just loved the motion, the soul, how much you can see the artist dumping their heart and soul into the music. Like B.B. King – you hear his guitar and you hear his singing and when you see them on stage, too, its just this incredible, powerful moment,” Pollock said.

Pollock discovered the blues, which sprang to popularity in the 1920s, after doing a deeper dive into what his parents listened to: rock ‘n roll.

“I started playing guitar and taking lessons, I’m like, oh my God, Jimmy Hendrix is amazing. And then, who are his idols? T-Bone Walker and all these old blues musicians and that’s kind of how I got into it.”

Recently, the Victoria Blues Society has taken real notice of the group.

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Every year, the Blues Society sponsors one person from the community to go to the Hornby Island Blues Workshop – this year, they pulled all the stops, putting on a special fundraiser in order to send all six Smokestacks members to the camp which took place in April.

The band’s members received mentorship and support as well as attending concerts with award-winning blues musicians and students from all over Canada.

The Victoria Blues Society also recently gave the Smokestacks the opportunity to open for Brett Smith Daniels.

“All of us who attend have been amazed by the talent of these young people and their obvious dedication,” said Deb Rhymer, co-founder of the Victoria Blues Society and lead singer of the Deb Rhymer Band who hosts the Sunday Services Blues Jam at Hermann’s Jazz Club.

“Most of the blues legends are older now and there are fewer younger people dedicating themselves to a career in the blues. So, it was wonderful for Victoria blues lovers to see these enthusiastic young and talented musicians loving the blues and genuinely interested in the history,” said Rhymer.

The Smokestacks just formed in the past year, with some bandmates being lifelong fans of the genre, and some discovering it as a recent passion only within the last few years.

Pollock got to know bandmate Bryden Amos in high school, both sharing a fascination with blues music. Their shared interest eventually led to the two going to blues jams on and off for years. They soon started becoming regulars at the Sunday Services Blues Jam at Hermann’s Upstairs and brought new friends.

“We’d get up there, play, and we were just kind of like, let’s start a group here, we’re all showing up,” Pollock said.

“They’re extremely welcoming, encouraging and honestly it’s just like a family there,” said Pollock.

Lead singer Ella Slaughter recently started exploring the blues musically after being introduced to the jam through Pollock and Amos. Now, she’s hooked.

“Being a blues band has been so incredible, to see an older crowd come out and support us playing the music they grew up on, getting to introduce younger people to the genre that fundamentally influenced a lot of the music of today,” she said. “When we’re onstage together, it’s just electric!”

“Getting the opportunity to go to Hornby Island blues camp just really is the cherry on top of this life-changing experience.”

The band is currently booking shows for the summer and plans on writing originals and learning new material to perform. The members of the band are Owen Pollock, Bryden Amos, Ella Slaughter, Ethan Ramirez, Holly Peterson and Daniel Froese.

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Sam Duerksen

About the Author: Sam Duerksen

Since moving to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2020, I’ve worked in communications for non-profits and arts organizations.
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