Voice of the blues 

Jim Byrnes brings straight ahead blues to town Saturday Night

By Nancy Hyndman

Who: Jim Byrnes

Where: Millennium Place

When: Saturday, Feb. 23

If you want to play the blues, you have to do the time.

"Music is really a gift, and those of us that have some sort of an ear for it, they need to give back too. Like Ray Charles once said, ‘use it or lose it,’" notes Vancouver bluesman Jim Byrnes.

"These young guys in the industry feature really technically playing, with some flashy shots, but blues is really about experience," says Byrnes.

"Blues music is about the lessons learned, and I’ve had ups and downs through my music career and related areas. I was involved in an extremely serious car accident and was in Vietnam at one point. But you learn from those experiences. With something like pop music it’s more flash in the pan."

Blues music has always been a central aspect to Byrnes’s work experience.

"I grew up in a mixed race neighbourhood (in St. Louis), where Chuck Berry lived and Tina and Ike Turner performed at the local bowling alley. Musician Henry Townsend, who was born in 1927, grew up there as well and he taught me. The first blues show I ever saw was when I was 15 years old, which was Jimmy Reed at London House east. I was hooked on blues from a pretty early age," says Byrnes.

He’s had a multi-media career since long before computers were part of every-day life. He moved from St. Louis to Toronto in 1970. His musical career has produced three albums, starting with Burning in 1981. Burning received a Juno nomination in 1982 and was followed by I Turned My Night, released in 1987. Then came That River on Stony Plain Records, which captured a Juno for Best Blues and Gospel album.

A fourth, yet to be titled, album is in the works.

Byrnes has also appeared in television series – the latest was a small role on the Chris Isaak Show – and movies, including Mina Shum’s 1997 Drive, She Said .

Byrnes has simplified his sound with this winter show.

"Straight ahead blues, that’s what you get. I’m getting back to my roots, with less emphasis on the electrical guitar and horns, more on the acoustic sound."

Turn Back The Hands of Time by Tyrone Davis will be a highlight of his Whistler show.

"The concert won’t be quite as in your face as before – maybe I’m just getting old," he says.

The Jim Byrnes Band is Byrnes on vocals and guitar, Bill Runge on bass, Tim Hearsey on guitar, Dave Webb on keys and piano, and Randall Stoltz, of k.d. lang’s band Soulstream, on drums.

Wayne Kozak of Whistler-based Peerless Music, which is presenting Byrnes as part of the Peerles Concert Series, also joins the band for this show.

"I’ve been playing with Bill and Tim for over 20 years so we’re almost on a telepathic reference of meaning sometimes.

"This new album will be my focus through March, and I’ve been exploring recording technologies on home computer systems."

He is currently completing a film documentary that reflects on his music experiences.

"The film is about my musical journey, which started when I was 11 in St. Louis. We shoot footage there and in Vancouver, and we want to get Townsend on film.

"I think the project will have the combo feel of Buena Vista Social Club and Bob Dylan’s Don’t Look Back (Pennebaker’s classic look at Dylan’s 1965 UK tour)," says Byrnes.

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