Purifying the blues 

Wes Mackey plays Mallard Lounge for three nights this weekend

click to enlarge The blues man Blues veteran Wes Mackey will play Mallard Lounge over Christmas. It'll be a blue, blue, blue Christmas.
  • The blues man Blues veteran Wes Mackey will play Mallard Lounge over Christmas. It'll be a blue, blue, blue Christmas.

Wes Mackey is a humble man. He's a blues man, you see. There's no space for egotism with the blues. The blues is pain played in 12 bars, sung with all the heart a blues man can muster. There's no machismo with the blues — there's only men like Wes Mackey, a blues man if there ever was one.

See, he has no aspiration to become the biggest or most renowned musician. He cares little for fame or glory. He's played alongside the greats — John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed to name a few — but he says that the highlight of his 50-year career has been what he's achieved within the past year.

You see he's brought the blues to five star hotels in cities where the blues is rarely heard — resort towns in Malaysia, in Russia, in Ireland.

"For me, it's a big accomplishment," Mackey says. "Where I came from, in the Deep South — picking cotton on the plantation, you know — to progress from that era and to put that (the blues) into five star hotels, to me, was a dream come true."

At 69 years old, Mackey has finally found his niche. He's now touring the world year round He's played dozens of festivals in Europe, where he's especially popular in blues circles.

He's now working on his third album, inspired by his life as a travelling blues man with each song written about a different town.

But Mackey's story is not typical of an American blues musician, though it certainly starts off the same. You see, Wes Mackey was born the son of a Baptist preacher in 1942, on a cotton plantation in South Carolina. These were the days when African Americans were still called Negros, when they had separate bathrooms and water fountains.

"You grew accustomed to that way of life, you know, of great segregation," Mackey says. "There were no Blacks then. There was white and coloured. There were two bathrooms then. There was the back of the bus. But it was a way of life and that's what it was so you got accustomed to it."

Mackey is uncharacteristically sanguine for a man who sings the blues night after night, but it was only natural for a young man with an artistic proclivity to gravitate toward the blues. It was all around him.

"It was a way of life," he says. "Everybody played the blues. Everybody listened to the blues."

He moved to Georgia in his late teens, playing in ensembles that would back up the Waters's and the Reeds when they'd pass through town.

"I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and it helped shape my life. Playing with those guys, I would briefly talk with them about life. It helped set my path for me," he says.

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