A Canadian Musical Icon: The Ken Whiteley Rave

Last night Toronto musician Ken Whiteley played right here on the Sunshine Coast and man was it ever a great show! He was accompanied on stand-up bass by Gabriola Island's own Dinah D., who's been with him for his entire tour of B.C. this month. Anyone who loves roots music would have loved this show. The man's a guitar and mandolin virtuoso, a damn fine singer and a hell of an entertainer too. It was quite the performance. And the first time I'd seen him play in about 12 years.

Ken's an old family friend and it was through the hard work of my aunt and uncle, Nancy and John, that we were lucky enough to have him play a show up here in Sechelt. Besides being an old family friend, Ken's also a Canadian musical icon and not just for his 8 years backing Raffi on all those classic kids albums. That may be what he's most famous for, but he's also worked with musical legends such as Lonnie Johnson, Leon Redbone, Stan Rogers, Tom Paxton, John Hammond Jr. and even Pete Seeger. He's been nominated for 6 Junos, he's won a Genie for his soundtrack work, he's produced dozens of albums by other artists... and he even briefly taught me banjo back in the '70s when I was a 5-year-old kid living right across the street.

Over the years Ken's released album after album of fantastic roots, blues and gospel music, both solo and together with acts such as The Whiteley Brothers (featuring him and his brother, Chris), Scarlett, Washington & Whiteley (with Mose Scarlett and Jackie Washington) and, sweetest of all to my mind, The Original Sloth Band.

It was exposure to this band of Original Sloths that is at least partly responsible for my love of all traditional/roots music today. As a kid of 4, 5 and 6 I used to accompany my parents to Ken and his fellow Sloth's shows in cafes around Toronto (before we escaped out here to the West Coast when I was 6).

I'm sure my love of all that great old-time music - from Jimmie Rogers to Robert Johnson to Hank Williams to Muddy Waters to Bill Monroe to Leadbelly to Woody Guthrie to Blind Willie Johnson to The Carter Family - also has something to do with being given a few John Prine and Johnny Cash records when I was about 6 or 7 years old, as well as attending a few barn dances out on the farm we lived on for a year or so when I was 5 and 6. And, obviously, being around the music of Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan as a kid would, you'd imagine, also have something to do with it.

But really it was Ken and The Original Sloth Band who made the biggest initial impression on me. I remember watching them live as they played what seemed like at least 20 different types of old-fashioned instruments and every kind of old-fashioned music, the stuff Bob Dylan calls "real music", blues, gospel, folk, bluegrass and jazz - the source of all modern American music.

And last night's show was, indeed, part blues, part folk, part gospel, part sing-along and part storytelling and stand-up comedy routine, with a little jazz thrown in as well.

Basically it was a perfect show... at least until my friend, and Ken's old roommate, Peter Corbett went and called Ken "an obscure Canadian artist from the East Coast", which almost set off a bloody riot.

And, no, for those of you wondering, he's not named "Whiteley" due to his long white beard. In his Original Sloth Band and banjo-teaching days, I can assure you, that long beard of his was as black as night. They say it just suddenly turned white one day after an infuriatingly-hard banjo lesson with some kid who simply wouldn't listen. Not sure if that's true or not, but the man certainly knows how to put on a show. See him if you get a chance.

Here's a little taste. It's a video clip for a song called "Mandolin". Check it out: "Mandolin" by Ken and Chris Whiteley

And here's the link to Ken's website if you want to take a look: KenWhiteley.com

Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Thursday, April 10th, 2008



And if you're interested in more music rants and raves click here: Music: General

And here: Music: Album and Concert Raves

And click here if you'd just like to see My Picks For The Best 15 Albums and 40 Songs of 2007


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