Award-Winning Boogie Woogie Piano Player, Kenny 'Blues Boss' Wayne, To Release Spectacular New Album
By Eric Alper.
Canada’s multi-award-winning beacon of the blues Kenny ‘Blues Boss” Wayne has prepared his Hall of Fame talents for takeoff with the announcement of his new album, Blues From Chicago to Paris: A Tribute to Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon — available March 4th via Stony Plain Records.
The 17-track album pays spirited homage to the piano-pounding and bass-slapping bygone legends from a legend himself — all while serving as a rousing and riveting guide to the lively post-war blues scenes of Chicago and Paris.
“Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon were a team, and their styles worked great together,” Wayne says of the artists behind the release’s inspiration. “Out of many other blues piano players I’ve listened to, I found a unique playfulness between these two men, unlike the many other great blues pianists.”
Focused on the period when the two giants of the genre teamed up to tour the globe in the late ‘50s-early ‘60s, Blues From Chicago to Paris presents a robust collection of favourite songs, as well as the innovative tunes that have inspired and influenced artists ever since.
As was the case with his other most recent release, 2020’s Go, Just Do It, Kenny Wayne took on the role of producer once again for Blues From Chicago to Paris; he also invited bassist Russell Jackson, a veteran of the B.B. King band during the 80s, and drummer Joey DiMarco into the studio for the sessions.
Now 77, Wayne’s six-decade musical career began with him soaking up the sounds of gospel music from his father, a preacher. From there, his genre journey traversed through jazz, Latin, R&B, and soul, with explorations in swing, bebop, dance, and the standards, for good measure.
The JUNO Award-winner with multiple Maple Blues Awards and keyboard awards from Living Blues Magazine to his credit, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne was also inducted into the Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame in 2017.
Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne’s Blues From Chicago to Paris: A Tribute to Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon is available March 4th, 2022 via Stony Plain Records.
When it comes to appreciating Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne it is readily apparent that the artistic make-up of this performer covers an impressive scope of talents and expertise.
It is a rare combination of intertwined, and indeed, well-honed skills that paint the picture of a complete artist and one not so easily defined, despite his “to the point”, and appropriate handle “Blues Boss”.
Wayne became one of the beacons of the Canadian blues scene a couple of decades ago. His smooth yet robust piano playing, and cool and soulful vocals are injected into a canon of original tunes that can take his audience on quite the journey. With Wayne in the driver’s seat, it’s always about preparing for a multi-faceted ride, as the musical terrain can shift quickly thanks to a plethora of influences.
Wayne’s musical journey began with him soaking up the sounds of gospel music, as his dad was a preacher. From there it was into jazz and latin music, before the doors opened to R&B and soul. Living in Los Angeles, long before he would move to Canada, Wayne continued to wade into a variety of sub-genres including swing, bebop, standards and dance music.
“Gospel is the foundation for this gumbo. Venturing down different avenues was what I did,” states Wayne as he points to Duke Ellington, Ray Charles and Cal Tjader as major influences.
“Ray Charles could do it all so incredibly well, and soulfully. I also credit my dad for instilling in me, that: if you are going to do something, be successful at it.
The musical gumbo that Wayne refers to has simmered and marinated for a long time, with all the elements complimenting each other perfectly.
Now coming on the heels of his 2019 release, Go, Just Do It, is his sixth recording for Stony Plain Records, Blues from Chicago to Paris, a rousing tribute to two of Chicago’s postwar blues legends, the piano-pounding Memphis Slim and the bass-slapping powerhouse, Willie Dixon. These sessions focus on the period where those two giants teamed up to tour the globe during the late fifties and early sixties of the twentieth century. Their musical partnership didn’t last that long- as Slim settled in Paris living the life of luxury and Dixon decided to keep the home fires burning in the Windy City. However, their stint together produced some memorable recordings.
Memphis Slim and Willie Dixon were a unique team, and their styles worked brilliantly together.
“There was a unique playfulness between the two men,” says Wayne, who invited the rhythm section of bassist Russell Jackson, a veteran of the B.B. King band during the eighties, and drummer Joey DiMarco into the studio for these sessions.
Wayne’s allegiance to Slim and Willie doesn’t end with their combined accomplishments; he also delves into the individual catalogues of both of the Chicago blues greats.
“I love the sound of Willie Dixon’s Big Three Trio, which reminds me of the Mills Brothers singing the blues. These styles that incorporate refined musicianship and smooth vocal harmonies, are not heard in today’s blues. I guess it’s too old school, but that was the era.”
For these tribute sessions Wayne chose ten tunes from the Memphis Slim/Willie Dixon songbooks. Rock and Rolling This House, Reno Blues, Somebody Tell That Woman, Messin’ Round (With The Blues), New Way To Love and Stewball being a few that found a home in this set.
As was the case with Go, Just Do It, Wayne took on the role of producer for Blues from Chicago to Paris. He always gives a nod to the great blues guitarist Duke Robillard who produced the pianist’s 2011 release Old Rock On A Roll.
“Working with Duke was like taking a master class in production. It’s about having a different ear, listening to the engineers, technical things versus the way the musicians play. It’s like you are making suits, a little alteration here and there. You’ve also got to give players something they can feel when it comes to the arrangements,” says Wayne.
Blues from Chicago to Paris is another major achievement for Wayne who deservedly earns more critical acclaim and recognition with each passing year.
To date, the “Blues Boss” has won seven Maple Blues Awards, a Juno, three keyboard awards from Living Blues Magazine, and was inducted into the Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame in Cincinnati in 2017.
That Living Blues magazine, the bible of the blues, has decided to publish a cover story on Wayne coinciding with the release of Blues From Chicago to Paris, is another confirmation that this resident of Canada is a force on the international blues scene.
Now 77, Wayne continues to credit Canada for giving his career an incredible boost, and putting him on solid footing.
“I didn’t know what I was in store for me when I moved here, except that the people were great. My blues career started in Canada, and I think this country really helps people create their art, whether it is painting, theatre or music. Why would I leave? And when I go back to the U.S. these days I get more recognition than I’ve ever had,” says the man who tours the world and is respected by his peers and audiences alike.
Duke Robillard summed up the magic that is Wayne’s music succinctly a few years ago.
“Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne is a monster piano player, imaginative songwriter and soulful singer who captures the essence of old school blues and boogie, while simultaneously sounding totally fresh and contemporary.”
It’s much deserved high praise from Robillard for this kind, humble, grounded artist who has lovingly recreated this classic American music on Blues from Chicago to Paris, which is coming your way via Stony Plain Records, and making its way to stages from coast to coast and around the world.