Perpetual blues machine Adam Karch picked up the guitar at age 12. He used to head to the barn on the family farm in L’Acadie, Quebec to watch his brothers play with their band. One day, the lead guitarist showed him how to play. It was love at first strum.
“The first song I learned how to play was Angie from the Stones. I just kept playing 10 hours a day,” he says from his home outside Montreal. “I don’t practice that much anymore.”
“All my brothers stopped playing when I started,” he says. “Dad was really supportive … he built a stage in the barn with lights. I’d go up there with my band and practice. It got me used to playing in front of people. I’m really kind of shy. I don’t really like attention.”
It wasn’t until later that he opened his mouth to sing. What happened next was a music miracle. The young man, who spoke with a stutter his whole life, was able to sing without faltering.
“I’ll be honest. I stutter. And when I sing, I don’t. It’s been like that 35 years. I have good days and bad days, but when I sing it’s gone … I remember someone telling me that my stutter was gone the first time I sang. I didn’t even notice. It’s one of those things. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t know quite why.”
A few years later, the budding bluesman found himself touring Germany with the late-great Jeff Healey. While on tour, he had the chance to rub elbows with the likes of Phil Collins and James Brown.
“I got to hang out with him for the month,” says Karch. “It was so nice to be with a Canadian icon.”
Although Karch grew up in Quebec, he speaks primarily in English, allowing him to sing and converse with crowds in both French and English. “I’m pretty much bilingual. It’s fun when I get to go out West and play and speak in English. I don’t get to do that often.”
Karch played an afternoon show at last year’s Vancouver Island Blues Bash and won over the huge audience that gathered to hear him play. The sun was glistening on the Inner Harbour and the crowd was tuned into what he was playing.
“It was amazing. It was really, really cool. I don’t get out of Quebec very often, and I couldn’t have been invited to a nicer festival. The way the audience listens to the music, the way they applaud, the way they understand it — it’s a whole new way of appreciating an artist. I felt really at home.”
And so the hosts of the Blues Bash invited him back, in hopes of recreating some of that magic.
“We got an overwhelming response from the 2,000 people who saw last year’s performance,” says Darryl Mar, executive director of the Victoria Jazz Society.
This time around, Karch is on the same bill as Stephen Barry Band, also from Quebec, on what is being touted as Quebec Blues Night Double Bill, Sun., Sept. 1.
The other ticketed performance at this year’s bash is Duke Robillard, someone Mar calls “one of the best blues artists in the world.” There are free afternoon performances in the Inner Harbour all three days.
More information and tickets at jazzvictoria.ca.