By Joseph Blake
Monday Magazine contributor
Downchild is Canada’s premier blues band, and they are celebrating their 50th year with a tour of Canada and the U.S. that comes to Victoria’s McPherson Playhouse on Oct. 18.
Donnie Walsh founded the band in Toronto in 1969, and he has been leading Downchild onstage and in the studio for five decades.
Walsh, who has been called the Father of Canadian Blues, estimates that more than 120 musicians have been associated with Downchild over the years. The current lineup has been playing as a unit for decades.
“I joined the band in 1990,” lead singer Chuck Jackson says. “I joined shortly after Donnie’s brother, Hock, left the band for the last time. He died of a heart attack in 1995.”
The 50th anniversary tour includes songs from almost every Downchild album, right up to their 2014 Juno Award-winning Can You Hear The Music and their 18th studio album, Something I’ve Done.
“Donnie Walsh and I have written a lot of Downchild’s songs over the last 30 years, but on Something I’ve Done, almost everyone in the band contributes songs. We also included David Vest’s “Worried About the World” on the album.”
The Victoria-based Vest and Nanaimo’s David Gogo will join Downchild onstage at the McPherson.
“We’re doing 25 shows in 35 days,” Jackson says, listing a stretch of concerts that includes Courtenay’s Sid Williams Theatre Oct. 19, Nanaimo’s Port Theatre Oct. 20 and Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre Oct. 22.”
“We started our 50th anniversary at the Downtown Jazz Festival in Toronto with Paul Schaefer and Dan Aykroyd joining us onstage.”
Aykroyd’s 1978 multi-million selling Blues Brothers album, Briefcase Full of Blues, included three songs from Downchild’s 1973 recording Straight Up including Walsh’s most famous tune, “I’ve Got Everything I Need (Almost).” Aykroyd also performed on Downchild’s 2009 album I Need a Hat with fellow guest musicians Colin James and Colin Linden, and Wayne Jackson of the Memphis Horns. But as great as Downchild sounds on record, it only hints at the band’s blues power live onstage.
Multi-Maple Leaf Award winner Gary Kendall and Mike Fitzpatrick lay down a powerful rhythmic bass and drum groove for veteran keyboardist Michael Fonfara (Electric Flag, Rhinoceros, Lou Reed Band) and saxophonist Pat Carey’s Chicago blues and jump blues accents. Walsh’s guitar and blues harmonica (The band’s name comes from seminal blues harmonica star Sonny Boy Williams, Mr. Downchild) sails above the band’s rhythmic churn, expertly framing Jackson’s soulful vocals.
As Walsh has explained, “You show up with the blues. I play, you lighten up. That’s what it’s all about. It’s like medicine.”
Downchild’s 50th anniversary show will be good medicine. They are the real deal. Highest recommendation. For tickets and more information visit rmts.bc.ca or call 250-386-6121.