Post Festival Blues 

Big Dave McLean and Johnny Tornado comin’ by the Boot

Who: Big Dave McLean & Johnny Tornado

Where: Boot Pub

When: Monday, April 25

It seems every year at the end of the World Ski & Snowboard Festival Whistler gets the blues.

Last two years it was Honeyboy Edwards who came to play for the post-fest remnant living amongst the tumbleweeds that blow through the deserted Village Stroll.

This year Big Dave McLean is coming to town.

You might think the Canadian prairies are a far cry from the southern U.S. regions of blues legend, but it’s where Saskatchewan-raised, Winnipeg-based McLean has carved out his Juno-award winning career playing and singing the blues the old-school way – Mississippi Delta and 1950s Chicago-style – for going on four decades now.

The husky-voiced McLean says he grew up listening to the great folk artists of the ’60s – Dylan, Guthrie, Seeger – and playing a bit of harmonica. His older brother introduced him to the blues/infused folk of Leadbelly, which piqued his musical interest and started him collecting blues records.

In 1969 McLean and his older brother roadtripped to the Mariposa Folk Festival where he heard John Hammond play. It would turn out to be a seminal moment in the musical life of Big Dave McLean.

"John Hammond blew my mind," he recalls. "I’d never heard anything like it. The music was just infectious. It grabbed my stomach and twisted it."

Post show, McLean, who describes his age at the time as "18 or 19," saw Hammond taking five under a tree and approached his new hero.

"I had my $5 guitar with me and I asked him if he’d just show me something very quickly," McLean says. "He was such a gentleman. He showed me how to play a tune and I got hooked ever since."

McLean has since purveyed his initial fix into a lengthy career. Currently on the roster of Alberta-based roots label Stony Plain Records, he’s also become a mainstay of 17 of the past 20 Winnipeg Folk Festivals, which he credits as allowing him to meet and perform alongside many of his musical heroes included the great Muddy Waters.

"I had the pleasure of playing with Muddy Waters a few times and he actually became a friend of mine," McLean said. "I’ve had the pleasure of meeting half of my heroes and actually being able to play with them and talk to them…. The list could go on and on and on, but Muddy Waters would be the top of my list, and John Hammond, who also has been a friend for over 35 years."

It’s a friend and fellow bluesman named Johnny Tornado that will accompany McLean on his jaunt to Whistler on Monday.

"The first time I met Johnny he was playing guitar with Dutch Mason, The Prime Minister of the Blues. Dutch is one of my heroes too," McLean notes. "Johnny and I hit it off right away. I told him jokes and he laughed. We struck up a friendship right there. I like people who laugh at my jokes."

McLean liked the Tornado enough to write a song for him, the aptly titled "Johnny Tornado" which appears on his most recent Stony Plain recording Blues From The Middle . It’s described as "a deliciously enchanting detour into country swing" with McLean revisiting his folk roots with a turn at the mandolin.

But for the most part, McLean says Boot goers can expect good old country blues from the acoustic duo.

"Traditional blues, early Chicago and Mississippi blues from the 1930s up to today." McLean pauses, chuckling his raspy bluesman chuckle. "A little more ‘B’ than ‘R’."


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