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Behind The Curtain: Pat Carey

By Erin McCallum.

For those who are regular readers of Behind The Curtain, it is well-known that every offering delivers the promise of providing something more than the featured artist’s bio exhibits. This is accomplished by having a strong foundational knowledge of the artist prior to heading straight to the source, and then investigating any curiosities that remain. When heading into each investigation, there are always curiosities about the artist of mention, and quelling them allows this column to take shape in a way that offers unique insight. It is always encouraged for readers to seek information about the featured artist via other resources; a complete bio within the confines of this column is impossible. Featuring artists who are recognizable within the Canadian Blues Collective is a fair way to give people that peek ‘behind the curtain’; it allows interested parties to discover what resides beyond the press release, and the bio, and gets straight to the exclusive content. This month’s edition stays true to those objectives. In this feature, one of the most identifiable saxophonists in Canadian Blues music, Pat Carey, offers the exclusive insight readers seek…

To offer readers a brief introduction, Pat Carey has been a professional saxophonist (baritone and tenor), clarinetist, and vocalist since 1977. His bio provides undeniable evidence that he’s been steadily involved - and accomplished - in the music business for the duration of his career. With a list of projects he’s worked with, covering a wide variety of genres and artists (for context, Carey has worked on projects with artists ranging from Mel Torme to Queen Latifah), Pat Carey has been, and remains, one of the most recognizable saxophonists in Canadian Blues music. With 3 JUNO Awards, 7 Maple Blues Awards, a nomination for a W.C. Handy Award, and a Jimmy Lewis Lifetime Achievement Award (and this is an incomplete list of the awards and recognitions attached to Carey’s name), it is a fair conclusion that Carey’s contributions have been noteworthy. All information on Carey’s recognitions and participation in music is easily accessible, and, as aforementioned, it is recommended that readers and listeners conduct some independent investigation to find it. The purpose of this investigation is to look within Pat Carey’s bio to discover what the nucleus might be that has driven such an accomplished career.

Carey’s long-lasting career - and the achievements within it - provides an undeniable conclusion that he has been successful in the music business, by most people’s measure. This truth is the source of interest and curiosity to justify an objective, in-depth, investigation. More specifically, there’s merit in discovering what ingredients form the recipe of Carey’s success, and by taking a look ‘behind the curtain’, readers can gain insight. Parts of an exclusive conversation with Pat Carey are put on the record, providing readers with the information they require to arrive at something more in-depth than the most obvious facts already supply.

In preparation for the direct conversation with Carey, it made sense to approach those who have worked with him in a professional setting prior to an on the record discussion; learning from musicians with first-hand experience often allows the investigator to enter the conversation better equipped to ask the questions required to discover something enterprising. The conversations themselves will remain unquoted here, however, all who were questioned offered the same synopsis when discussing Pat Carey as a professional musician: Pat Carey is just as skilled and professional behind the scenes as he is on stage. This consensus was enough information to begin the conversation by asking Carey what he thinks makes for a solid professional relationship in a band environment. His reply:

“A lot of people forget that when you are in the music business, music is a business. The professionalism is that you have to be on time, you can’t go to work “messed up”, you have to be cordial, and you have to be consistent, and reliable in your playing. The expectation, like any other profession, is that you have to be professional.”

In an effort to discover more about Carey, understanding his musical origins is important – it makes sense to know what influences paved the way for Carey emerge on the music scene as a seemingly “packaged pro” in 1977. In his own words, he provides exclusive insight:

“My father and my mother were both extremely musical. My father was both a doctor and a performing musician. We (Pat and his siblings) were all trained to play the piano, and so, music was something that we grew up with, and it was something we all had access to learn from early on. So, music has always been part of my life, and I grew up with it. We moved to Winnipeg in September of ’77, and it was shortly after that when I started playing professionally.”

As the conversation continued, Carey’s account of his early professional years offers readers clarity on what paved the way for his versatile resume:

“When I first started, there were almost no Blues bands playing where I was from, so, playing in everything from Big Bands to fashion shows to doing studio work is what I did. Whatever was there to play is what was played – it was music. I think Winnipeg was a great place for music at that time – I’m not quite sure exactly how to describe it, but, it was really creative place where a lot of original music was made…I didn’t even know what a clone (cover) band was in those early years, because they didn’t really exist where I was from in Winnipeg – people were all just playing and creating music, and there was something really organic about it. I feel very fortunate for that because there really was a chance to play everything.”

In learning about Pat Carey’s earliest years as a professional musician, it’s a fair assumption that he entered the Blues Collective with a strong capacity to deliver what listeners hear today; in continuing the conversation, the story gets told, first-hand:

“I got all of that experience in my early years in Winnipeg, but it wasn’t until I was further into my career that I started playing Blues. I came to Toronto in 1984, and that was when I started playing Blues and Roots music – and it was a departure from my regular approach to music up until that point. It’s a different way of playing, but that’s where the experience of being able to play the music in front of me with a professional approach has been important.”

When asking Carey what his greatest lesson has been over the course of his career, he cites a piece of advice offered to him by Canadian Blues icon Donnie Walsh of Downchild (The Downchild Blues Band):

“When I first started touring in Downchild, we would play 6 nights a week, and Donnie was on fire every single night. I asked him ‘How do you do that every single night?’ Donnie gave me the best piece of advice I think I’ve ever been given; he said, ‘Try to be the best you can be each night.’. That’s a piece of advice I have never forgotten, and it’s true; if you go out and be the best you can be every time you go on stage, you can be consistent, and deliver.”

The ingredients to Pat Carey’s career in music have certainly come into focus, and there’s insight into a philosophy that has guided him to success, however, it makes sense to find out more. When asked what the biggest challenge about being a full-time professional musician, Carey offers this:

“The hardest thing about being a full-time musician is not knowing what is coming next. For example, last year, things were just tapering off from being closed down due to the pandemic – live music was just starting to come back, and yet, Downchild had its busiest year. You never know what could be in front of you, so being able to be consistent and professional in an unpredictable environment can be challenging.”

As the conversation came to a close, only one curiosity remained about the ingredients that form the recipe for Pat Carey’s career: uncovering what he thinks lends to his longevity in an ever-changing music landscape. When asked what keeps him actively involved as a full-time musician after a generation of playing, touring internationally, being cited in comprehensive books (“History of Rock Sax”), a versatile work history, and all of the accolades that come with the success of his career, Carey offers an answer that can also apply to the earliest parts of his career:

“With respect to longevity in the music business, you have to have passion for the music, and I still have lots of that. Also, what it comes back to is being professional - if you want to have longevity as a professional musician, act professional, be reliable, and be consistent. You have to be able to accomplish what is put in front of you, and deliver the best you can, every time you do it.”

In investigating the career of Pat Carey via research and direct conversation, it’s a fair conclusion that every piece of information uncovered has served as an important ingredient in the recipe of his success as a professional career. Each component revealed in this edition has served as an important role in the creation, development, and maintenance, of Pat Carey’s successful career. In examining those instrumental pieces of his story, one could easily conclude that without all of those ingredients, Pat Carey’s recipe would likely have a much different flavour.

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 biographical foundation that cannot be covered here, so it is always encouraged to find out about the music and career that substantiates these conversations. In Pat Carey’s case, there is a lot of information to find via other sources beyond this exclusive offering. This article is a regular monthly contribution, published exclusively in the Sound Café magazine with the intention of providing a deeper insight into the Canadian Blues artists who are at the core of the Blues music Collective.

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.

Erin McCallum. Big Voice. Big Sound.

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