The blues may be almost a century old, but that doesn’t mean it belongs in a museum.
The old standards of the Delta players, Chicago style and more recent Northern blues are all songs open to a musician’s own style and interpretation.
That’s just what Jim Byrnes does so that his music doesn’t feel old and dated, but fresh, new and pioneering.
“It’s gotta be live,” he said. “It’s gotta be now.”
Byrnes grew up in St. Louis, where one neighbourhood bar had Ike and Tina Turner as the house band. He learned to play guitar as a teenager, and the road of his adult life led to Vancouver in the 1970s. By 1981 he put together a house band that played more than 300 shows a year.
At the same time, Byrnes established himself as an actor, well-known for roles in Wiseguy and the Highlander series.
Byrnes returns to the music with two shows at Diners Rendezvous June 23-24.
Joining Byrnes at the Rendezvous shows is Steve Dawson, who produced Byrnes’s last five albums, including the latest one to be released in September.
“Steve makes it sound like there’s four guys playing,” Byrnes said.
The two musicians met during taping of Byrnes’s television show and Dawson returned the favour with an invitation to share a corporate gig.
“We had such a good time working together,” Byrnes said. “We love so many different styles.”
The collaboration began in 2004 with his return to recording after eight years with Fresh Horses, which won the Juno Award for best blues album. The gospel-tinged House of Refuge followed, as did another Juno Award, plus My Walking Stick and Everywhere West.
The new album will be a bit of a surprise, said Byrnes, as he and Dawson reached way back into the country music cannon for songs from the likes of Hank Williams and Marty Robinson. Complete with Byrnes’s own spin, of course.
“We’re talking the real-deal, wagon wheel,” Byrnes said.
The old country, gospel and blues music are all related, he said.
“There’s a similarity to all this music,” Byrnes said. “It’s gotta live, it’s gotta be now.”
To capture the living feel of the music, the musicians sat in the room playing as engineers recorded their efforts – on tape.
With technology, musicians no longer need to be in the same city as they send sound files over the Internet. Although gadgets like auto-tune, which can almost remove any trace of an imperfect note, are sending people back to a more organic sound.
Byrnes said that’s one reason why the blues, in all its forms, continues to be popular among new and old fans.
Byrnes continues to work in the film industry as well, having completed a few movies of the week and voice-over work for commercials and documentaries. He most recently acted in the sci-fi show Sanctuary.
Byrnes said Nanaimo holds a special place in his heart as although it was where he was involved in a car accident more than 40 years ago, it was also where he spent much of his rehabilitation and forged lasting friendships that exist today.
“It’s a really special place for me,” Byrnes said.
He said he’ll see old friends and hopefully make new ones during the concerts, set for June 23-24 at Diners Rendezvous. Bill Johnson opens the show June 23, while an acoustic Lazy Mike and the Rockin’ Recliners do so on June 24.
Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets $35/advance; $40/door. Please call 250-740-1133 for tickets.