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20 Questions With Paul Reddick

Canada's Poet Laureate Of The Blues on Covid beards, cool cats & cussing out Jr.

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Back in August, Paul Reddick penned a love letter to Italy with his tellingly titled latest album Alive In Italia. Today, Toronto’s Juno-winning blues singer, songwriter and harmonica master takes up his pen for a far less enjoyable task — my ridiculous questions. If that doesn’t give him the blues, nothing will.

 


 

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 Paul Reddick, I live in the east end of Toronto. I am a recent new member of the COVID beard society.

What is your musical origin story?
I am on a lifelong journey exploring and discovering what I think of as the beautiful blues landscape. I write lyrical blues-influenced songs, I also sing them with my band and add a little harmonica playing here and there.

What do we need to know about your latest project?
I have had a few projects on the go lately. The primary one is a new live album with a band made up of Canadians and Italians. It is called Alive in Italia. The Italian band are known as The Gamblers. It also features the two guitarists, Steve Marriner and Tony D from the Canadian band MonkeyJunk. I have been lucky enough to tour in Italy for many years, and this record is a document of one beautiful night among many I have experienced there. I’m very happy with the sound and the look of this record, it has been a lot of fun putting it together. I look forward to going back to Italy again to perform as soon as we are able. I have also recently released six music videos recorded in Toronto at a place called Sauce on Danforth. I’ve been having fun releasing them every Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. to echo what was once a regular gig there. I’m very proud of these videos, they are beautifully shot, very cinematic, and I have a fantastic band backing me up. They reflect the very intimate approach we take to playing at that venue. I am a strong believer in intimate settings, they create a lot of intensity in the performance, a lot of subtlety and honesty.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
I hope what sets me apart as a blues artist is that I don’t try to reproduce or emulate the music that has already gone by. I feel very strongly about expressing music in my own voice and In my own style, using the language and feel of blues to inform my songwriting. I also place great deal of emphasis on the lyrics, which are influenced by the music of poetry. I find the deep emotions found in the blues and poetry go together very well, they are an endless source of sparks. I initiated a thing called The Cobalt Prize, which is promoted by the Toronto Blues Society. It encourages musicians to be artists and to write blues songs in their own voice.

What will I learn or how will my life improve by listening to your music?
I hope that what I do is honest, that it comes across that way. I immerse myself in the songs, in music, in that beautiful place. I hope a listener might join me in that surrender to beauty and the possibilities that music offers. I think it’s important to remind ourselves of the fundamental importance of music, I think of it as an extension of nature, of time, of love. There are endless things to discover

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played and what you got paid.
The first songs that I wrote were with a Toronto band called The Sidemen. We still play together once in a while. We made several albums, the best of which was called Rattlebag in 2001. I am planning to rerelease it next year on its anniversary. In the early days of the early ’90s, we used to have some pretty scrappy gigs. We did a regular Sunday spot at a bar called The Silver Dollar, where we were paid with a pitcher of beer.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you gave?
One time The Sidemen drove to a gig in Winnipeg from Quebec City nonstop, that was about a 35-hour drive. We ended up at a crunchy old hotel doing a gig for several people who preferred Skynyrd. That’s how it goes sometimes. It was a beautiful drive though.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you’ve seen another artist give?
I would say most performances I’ve seen are always worth it in some way. I remember seeing the great harmonica player Junior Wells at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto. He wasn’t having a very good night and didn’t seem very interested in trying too hard. I was very young and I went by his dressing room and he said something to me like ‘Get out’, and I said to him ‘Why don’t you do your fucking job?’ He lunged at me to kill me but he was restrained by his band. I was certainly a fool. Of course wish I had been  more respectful. He was in fact a very great and generous and miraculous person, that Junior.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?
I want to keep playing music and writing songs for the rest of my life.

What living or dead artists would you collaborate with if you could?
I would like to work with Willie Dixon and Lefty Frizzell. Of course Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan and Tom Waits would be nice to talk a little turkey with too.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
I love the late great singer Lhasa de Sela, she was one of the greatest ever, her album The Living Road is one I often turn to for reassurance.

What are your favourite songs / albums / artists right now?
I love Bob Dylan’s new record Rough and Rowdy Ways of course, and I’ve been listening to the archetypist Anthology of American Folk Music again. Cowboy songs. Haydn piano sonatas. He’s a good guy, Haydn.

How about some other favourites: Authors, movies, painters, you name it.
I love the films of Jean Renoir, Jim Jarmusch, Wes Anderson. I enjoy reading dated mystery novels, I’ve been also been reading a book on the life of the outsider impressionist painter Paul Cezanne recently. Those guys were crazy.

Who would you be starstruck to meet?
I think I’m pretty easily starstruck, so most of the stars likely. Those meetings are usually fleeting, memorable and underachieving.

What’s your favourite joke?
Did you hear about the explosion at the cheese factory? All that was left was debris.

What do you drive and why?
I ride my bike most of the time, I don’t have a car anymore. I love riding that thing so much. You can go so many places. Toronto just installed a bunch of bike lanes on the major routes, it has been so exciting and inspiring. It is a very positive change.

What superpower do you want and how would you use it?
I would like to be able to fly, of course. I would follow the spring migration of the song birds from Central America to northern Ontario. I would reveal the secrets to scientists so they could help keep those birds safe.

What skills — useful or useless — do you have outside of music?
I have a lot of plants. Not too many but quite a few. I love them. I’ve always had an interest in plants since I was a kid. Something about them makes me day dream. I recently went and visited a couple of silver maple trees that I planted when I was 11. They were just twigs then, now they’re big strong trees 80 feet high.

What do you collect?
I’m not really a collector, most of the things I have are things that feed my imagination I suppose. Books, music, art prints; maybe I have too many colourful coffee cups.

If I had a potluck, what would you bring?
I will bring devilled eggs.

What current trend or popular thing do you not understand at all?
I suppose the online trends of youth, I don’t know much about that. That is their world, and I don’t think it’s any of my business. I also don’t recall being invited.

Tell us about your current and/or former pets.
I had a cat named Levon; my son Sam named him after Levon Helm. He was the coolest cat ever. It was a privilege to know that cat.

If you could have any other job besides music, what would it be and why?
I don’t think I really want another job other than playing music. I guess I have devoted so much energy to it at the expense of learning other things though. I might like to be a novelist or a botanist, maybe a cigar roller in Cuba perhaps.

What’s the best advice and/or worst advice you were given?
I have always appreciated and been affected by encouragement, I’ve always hated and been affected by discouragement as well.

Listen to Alive In Italia below, watch Paul Reddick and his bandmates play Live @ Sauce above, and keep up with him on his website, Twitter and Facebook.

Photo by Scott Doubt.