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20 Questions With Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne

The singer-pianist revisits his past, names his heroes & shares a joke.

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Being born in Canada is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done. But Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne has done something even smarter — he moved up here from his United States homeland a long time ago. Since then, he’s never looked back. The hard-working jump-blues and boogie-woogie pianist and singer just released his latest single and video — a timely cover of Percy Mayfield’s classic I Don’t Want To Be The President (learn more about it HERE). And today, he shares his answers to my goofball queries to wrap up my celebration of Canadian artists. Thanks for reading:

 


 

Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base, other details you’d like to share (height, weight, identifying marks, astrology sign, your choice).
My name is Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne. I’m 75 years young (ha ha) based out of beautiful Kelowna, B.C., Canada! I am an Afro-American Canadian born under the Scorpio sign. This is why my music has a sting.

What is your musical origin story?
I started my musical interest and journey from a gospel music background, as my father was a minister at Jones Methodist in San Francisco and Enterprise Methodist in Compton, Calif. My first lesson was from my choir director and organist Sir Jules Hayward in San Francisco. At that time, I was 8 years old and my desire was to hear him play some boogie-woogie on the church pipe organ. He promised me that If I did the lessons to his liking, he would grant my wish. A year went by and it was time to witness boogie-woogie on this huge pipe organ. That night after my lesson was the big moment, the boogie-woogie began, and he forgot to flip the outside speakers off and of course the whole community heard what was going on. That coming Sunday at church, my father mentioned to the congregation that there were complaints about some strange music coming from the church at night and looked straight at me and then looked at the choir director. Nothing was mentioned after that event but that was my first love of the boogie-woogie and still is today! It was also my first time hearing that style on an organ.

What do we need to know about your latest project?
What I am presenting on my current album Go, Just Do It! is diversity. There are many shades of the blues from traditional, funky, rockin’ and soul/R&B and jazzy styles. I tried to bring them all to the table.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I believe that no two people are the same, but they can be similar. I probably remind people that I sound like this person or that person. We definitely all learn from each other. Many people have been brought up in a church or studied classical but for me listening to big bands, Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Errol Garner, I believe I came up with something slightly different than other blues artist. The old blues players would always say “we make our own gumbo stew.” Nowadays there’s a real shortage of Afro-American boogie-woogie piano players. Most of them mostly are European descent. They all are doing a great job keeping that style alive.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
You can learn a lot by listening to an artist’s music. There sometimes is a message on why one chooses a song to record. I like telling a story from the first song to the last song. Usually, I try to get your attention on the opening song before I take you on a musical journey. I try to end with what brought me to this level and that would be a boogie-woogie song. My musical journey is more on the lighter side of life because that’s how I’ve lived. Lots of humor and some things to think about.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and/or first gig you played and what you got paid?
My very first songs were mostly instrumentals. My first song with lyrics was called The Other Side. My manager at that time suggested that I write a song about saying goodbye to one thing, then saying hello to something else (i.e. goodbye high school, hello college, goodbye to a loved one, hello to heavenly father). Ironically without hearing any music by Jimi Hendrix, my song sounded very similar to his song Angel. My first gig was in a restaurant nearby my house and in the back was a gambling joint. People would come and have a bite to eat and then head to the back where there was a curtain draped in front and a peephole to see who was coming in. Sometimes we’d get lucky and a big tip from a gambler trying to show off. It never got raided either. My trio performed on Fridays and Saturdays for four hours and we were paid $100 for the band for two nights. Now, in 1961, according to a lot of guys who travelled the South, that was a lot of money. Their stories were that they would play all night for $5. So I was getting $34 as the band leader and the other two received $33. I registered the Kenny Wayne Trio and I opened up a bank account at Bank of America and paid the guys by cheque.

What is the best/worst/strangest/most memorable performance you gave?
My best performances have been in Europe (France, Russia, South America). The people of all of those countries came out in droves to see and hear me play and I’m talking about a large gathering. Meeting and greeting them after the performances were the most memorable. The worst performance happened when I was 16 years old, and I was with the backing band for the legendary bluesman Jimmy Reed in Los Angeles. I had persuaded my father to attend the show. He was reluctant because he was a church minister. However, the venue was at a place where I celebrated my 16th birthday party, so the venue wasn’t the issue, it was the music and drinking. At that time you brought your own drinks and paid for the setup (a glass or a soft drink with ice). After the band played two warmup songs, Jimmy Reed came on stage and in the middle of that song, a fight started right next to my parents’ table. Blood was on my mother’s new dress and my father had enough. He came to the stage and grabbed me off the piano and we exited out the back door in the kitchen. That ended my blues career for almost 30 years. My father would always remind me that if I enjoy playing music, I should play music like Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, and perform in concert halls and not juke joints. It was easy for him to say that but it was hard to make that a reality.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I love touring and seeing different parts of the world and meeting different people and learning about their country. I would like to revisit some places that I didn’t have much time to explore. Sometimes a tour schedule doesn’t allow you to see much of the country.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
Living, I would say Herbie Hancock (although I met him in Spain), Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones. There are lots who have passed on such as Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Amos Milburn to name a few.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I love African, Latin and Brazilian music.

What are your favorite songs/album/artist right now?
I love songs by Stevie Wonder and his albums. I love Keb Mo and Bonnie Raitt.

Who would you be starstruck to meet?
Beyonce, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, George Duke, Elton John.

What’s your favorite joke?
Here’s an old one that I heard from a church elder: One Sunday morning, Satan walked into the front door of the church. People saw him and began to scream and run, except for one elderly man sitting by himself holding a cane and a bible. Satan came up to him and asked, ‘Why are you not running like the others; aren’t you afraid of me?’ The man said ‘No.’ Satan said, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ The said ‘Yes’. Satan said, ‘So why are you not running scared like the others?’ The said, ‘Because I’ve been married to your sister for over 40 years.’

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I’d love to have the power to heal people and with that I would heal anyone who had an illness

What skills – useful or useless – do have outside of music?
Listening to what people are saying

What do you collect?
Nothing, I’m not a collector — but if I did, it would be vintage cars.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
Cornbread and a spinach salad.

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
I do Facebook but I don’t Tweet.

Tell us about your current and/or former pet?
I have a little dog named Teeara and she’s a Papillon breed and she’s so smart and cute.

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
When I was young, I wanted to be in the military. I grew up in the Boy Scouts and Explorers and started up the Sea Cadets in Compton. I was fascinated with West Point and Annapolis, but I didn’t have the grades to be considered. The two Ms, music or military. I chose music.

What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were ever given?
The worst advice was being told “the music business is too competitive and requires too much luck.” The best advice was given to me by Linton Garner (brother of the great Errol Garner), who said, “Whatever things that you want in life, you have no control over its pricing. You do have control over how you market yourself so that you can afford to pay that price.”

Watch I Don’t Want To Be The President above, listen to Go, Just Do It! below, and keep up with Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne via his website, Facebook and Twitter.