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  • Writer's pictureErin McCallum

Behind The Curtain: Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne

Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne

Regular readers of this article are likely aware of its purpose; the goal is to bring people something more about the artists at the core of the Canadian Blues Collective.  That ‘something more’ offers insight and information that cannot be found in the regular press release or biography of the featured artist. The enterprising content is uncovered by following a method that includes having a strong knowledge of the artist prior to engaging in a direct conversation; the remaining curiosities - after knowing the entirety of an artist’s career - serve as a cornerstone to the discussion. Looking within an artist's biography is what brings the reader ‘behind the curtain’ - and the insight people are seeking can only be provided by the artists themselves via an investigative interview. It is also standard practice for the artists who are featured in this column have a name and professional record that are accessible and identifiable to anyone who reads this monthly exclusive.  It is always encouraged for readers to learn more about the artists featured in “Behind The Curtain” via other platforms; it is impossible to provide an artist’s full biography within the confines of one instalment, and the main purpose here is to provide insight that can’t be found elsewhere.  For this issue, the artist in question is long-time Blues pianist and singer, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne.


     This edition of “Behind The Curtain” should start with full disclosure: Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne is an American artist who has firmly planted roots in Canada for more than two decades.  Although he isn’t Canadian by nationality, he has very much been at the core of the Canadian Blues Collective for longer than some careers as a professional Blues player last. Born in Spokane, Washington, USA, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne’s professional record started in 1962, and has remained active since. To offer readers context, it makes sense to know that Wayne’s first introduction to music was playing Gospel, and he has played a variety of genres over the course of his career prior to embracing the Blues as his full-time focus. Wayne has received recognition for his musical contributions; of note to Canadians, he had three JUNO Award nominations (“Best Blues/Gospel Album in 1997, and “Best Blues Album” in 1999 and 2000), and was presented with a JUNO in 2006 for his album “Let It Loose” (Elecro Fi). There are more awards and recognitions that can be mentioned, however; the aforementioned provides enough information to justify this particular investigation.


      In knowing that Wayne hails from (and began his career as a professional musician in) the United States, the first curiosity was in knowing what led him to Canada – it’s a fair question, given the population difference and origins of Blues and Roots music as we know it today.  Wayne’s answer provides insight that, perhaps, tells a story more encompassing than the personal journey he shares:


      “I learned my beginnings and style in the US, and that’s been very helpful in my journey.  I started with The Gospel, and that’s really the root of everything. When I came to Canada, it became much more focused for me with the Blues. When I first started, I didn’t look at the Blues as a very viable thing; most of the guys I know who were playing the Blues also had a day job.  When I was playing the Blues in the States, I didn’t think much of it – it wasn’t a music that was treated as its own focused artform – it was just the thing we were doing. I didn’t think I had to explain it to people, or that it was an artform of music that had its own focus, or that anyone was interested in knowing about the thing we were just doing.  Canada is a great country, because it supports all genres of music, through grants and initiatives…people in Canada encouraged me to go more in depth with the Blues, and it started to get some attention.  I knew that focusing on the Blues was never going to make me rich and famous, but I also knew it was part of me.”


      Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne starts to bring a focus of his own to readers, as he shares his journey through his own lens. Understanding his roots and personal philosophy about music of the Gospel, it made sense to ask him why he arrived at – and embraced – the Blues as his primary focus:


      “I can probably explain about when I went into the Blues by telling a story.  When I went to France, I was curious as to why there was so much attention being paid to the Blues – people were interested in the artform. Playing the Blues in the U.S. wasn’t like that because that’s where it came from.  It was interesting to me, because we weren’t explaining it in the U.S. when we were doing it; the way it’s delivered tells people what Blues is when you’re in the place it comes from. The interest in learning about the Blues and where it comes from was something new to me.  I felt a connection to that, and a reason to play the Blues, knowing that it’s an artform that people want to know about. The whole idea that people were interested in the music and it’s history, like I say, was very new to me.  People were interested in my Blues story, and I found it very touching, so I thought, maybe this is my mission – telling my story. When we go out, travelling the world playing the Blues, we are not there as tourists – we are going there as ambassadors.


      Knowing that Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne has remained focused predominantly as a Blues performer for decades (Wayne also possesses strong musical capabilities in genres such as Gospel, Funk, Boogie Woogie, and more), it made sense to ask him why he continues to remain steadfast in his commitment to the genre. His response:


      “The reason why I’m playing the Blues… When you get to your senior years, you come back to your roots; it’s almost like ‘coming back home’.  You don’t want to stay at home all the time, but, you do want to come back after going out into the world and experiencing it.  The Blues, to me, is like going back home. 


      In learning about the parts of Wayne’s story that uncover more about his decision to focus on a career dedicated to the Blues, he provides an understanding that the music is part of his personal purpose as well.  What’s been put on the record here, provides readers with the exclusive insight this column promises, however, the conversation itself provoked one more question.  It made sense, given what’s been learned in this investigation (and in knowing Wayne’s history as both an ambassador and lifelong player of the Blues) to ask him one final question that is discussed amongst members of the Blues community around the world. In context to the changing landscape of all music in the past generation, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne was asked: Is the Blues alive and well?


      “Yes.  The Blues is alive and well.  Maybe not in its purity, but the Blues shows itself in everything you hear; Funk, Rap, R&B, Country – it all comes from the Blues.  The ingredient of the Blues is all in the mix; it’s just a matter of what flavour you’re looking for.  Of course, the Blues itself is going to change with generations; where the Blues came from is not what is happening today, and the people who play it from all over the world are playing it through their perspective, so, of course it changes. The way I think of it is like this: If we can think of the Blues like a train…If someone from today was to see a train from 100 years ago, they would know it’s a train, but it would look, and run, a bit differently.  They might not be familiar with the coal or the steam that made it go forward, but they know what it is. Today, the train is different; it runs and looks different than it did 100 years ago, but it’s still a train, and people can still get on it and get to where they are going. I think it’s ok that the Blues has evolved that way. Just like with a train, it has changed with the times. The Blues is a way of telling a story, and the people telling their story through playing the Blues are telling it through their experiences and resources today.” 


      In answering that last spontaneous question, it’s fair to say that Wayne’s analogy also addresses a common plea to “keep the Blues alive” - based on his response, one can arguably assume that Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne thinks the Blues never really needed saving.   


As this edition of “Behind the Curtain” draws to a close, I trust that readers of all varieties have gained something more about the artist of mention, and it inspires further investigation.  Every artist featured in this column has a professional record that cannot be covered here, so it is always encouraged to find out about the music and career that substantiates these conversations.  In Kenny “Blues Boss Wayne’s case, there’s something to extrapolate beyond his career highlights, and there’s much to learn about his professional record outside of this column.  This article is a regular monthly contribution, published exclusively in the Sound Café magazine with the intention of providing a deeper insight into the Blues artists who are at the core of the Blues music Collective. 

Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne

Erin McCallum

Touring blues musician, Erin McCallum's formal post-secondary education was in media studies (news, radio), graduating from Humber College in Ontario, she went on to be mentored by Canadian News Hall of Fame inductee, Robert Holiday, and she is a regularly published writer in music and investigative journalism, having focused on music for the last six years. Erin has an exclusive monthly column in The Sound Cafe featuring musicians and industry professionals from across Canada who work predominantly in the Blues & Roots genres. 

Photo Credit: Nick Harding.

Erin McCallum. Big Voice. Big Sound.

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