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  • Writer's pictureThe Sound Cafe

Ken Wallis Chats With Gary Kendall About The New Release By The Maple Blues Band 'Lets Go'


By Ken Wallis.



The Maple Blues Band is a super-group, ten-piece band, featuring some of Canada’s most accomplished musicians. The band has performed for 24 years as the feature of The Maple Blues Awards presented by the Toronto Blues Society. The band has released a remarkable instrumental album and are planning on touring in the near future.


Ken Wallis interviewed Gary Kendall for the radio show BluesSource Canada. The following are excerpts from that interview, edited for clarity and length.



Ken Wallis

If you look up supergroup in a dictionary, you're going to come across The Maple Blues Band and joining us is bassist and band leader Gary Kendall. Gary, thanks for coming on the show.

Glad to be here Ken always good to see you. Always good to talk about music.


Ken Wallis

Tell us a little bit about the history of the band. How did it get started?


Gary Kendall

Well, the band started in 1999, it was the award show in ’99. Prior to that in late ‘88 where I was given the position of musical director band leader for the Maple Blues Awards, and I requested a large band. I wanted to be able to play all the different styles of Blues and that request was granted. So, I went about forming the band, I think in the beginning it might have been seven and now it's grown to 10 for the awards show.


I recognized very early on that there was an opportunity for composition because we needed instrumental music and rather than play covers, I decided that I was going to write music and include the band members as my co-writers. I would come up with an idea for a song and take it to the various band members and we would complete it and turn it into a piece of music. Over the years we compiled a dozen of them. They were released in ‘21 on an E.P. entitled Instrumentalz, and now with our Cordova Bay Records release, Let's Go, includes 10 more. I'm very proud of that. In the beginning we weren't called The Maple Blues Band, it was just a band that I put together for The Maple Blues Awards. It was being referred to as an all-star band and The Maple Blues Awards All-Stars and I thought this is going to get out of hand, I better put a name on this. So, I decided very early on that I would call it The Maple Blues Band and it was pretty direct.


We moved on from there and at the 2023 award show it was 24 years. We have plans of going further than just being the band that's at the Maple Blues Awards. Now we have a full-length record and it's going to be released in vinyl this summer as well as a cd and all the other formats. We're going to begin as a touring act. We've done a little bit of that over the years, we just want to explore that more.


Ken Wallis

Who's in the current band and who's on the album playing with you?


Gary Kendall

The current band is myself on bass and the founding member who's been with me from the very beginning, Pat Carey on tenor saxophone, he writes the horn arrangements. Teddy Leonard on guitar who's been there close to the beginning almost every year. I think there was a time when I used to change the band every year and I decided after a while not to do that, so Teddy's been there a long time. Al Lerman on harmonica, Jim Casson on drums and percussion. Jim in the beginning was the original drummer. Tom Bona subbed. Lance Anderson on B3 organ, piano and accordion. The rest of the horn section would be Howard Moore on trumpet, another one who started out as a sub for Chris Whiteley, who was originally in the band playing trumpet and Lance took over for Chris at some point. Alison Young on baritone saxophone and tenor saxophone. Recent additions to the band are Alison Young on baritone, tenor and soprano saxophones, Meirion Kelly on trombone.


In 2022 we started a mentorship program to expose a younger musician to not only the blues but to be playing in a big show and a big band so we brought in Roshane Wright, who's an exchange student from Jamaica studying at Humber College. We brought him in for the award show in ‘22. He did a fabulous job and we kept him for the recording sessions and brought him back again for the awards in 23.


Ken Wallis

Why the title Let's Go?


Gary Kendall

There's a song on the record that closes the record. It's called Let's Go and a lot of the songs, the titles come from phrases that are used in the awards. Let's Go is usually us in the dressing room where we get the knock on the door, five minutes, and I say let's go. So that's how that title came out. Then there’s Savona Shuffle. When Al Lerman lived in Toronto, he and Chris Whiteley and I wrote that song at his house on Savona Avenue, so it became Savona Shuffle. Zanzibar is a tribute to a time in Toronto where Yonge Street bars had mainly strippers as the attraction. They would have Hammond B3 players playing the bass pedals and a duo drummer. Zanzibar plays tribute to that sound of the B3 sound of Yonge Street during the 60s and 70s. Sumlin Around, that's a song that's kind of a tribute. The main lick is from Hubert Sumlin. I wanted to title the album after one of the songs and Let's Go seemed like a pretty good album title.


Ken Wallis

When I listened to Sumlin Around I just couldn't believe Teddy Leonard on guitar. He just tears into that song.


If you look at the credits, it's credited to myself, Teddy, Wayne Dagenais, Morgan Davis, and Hubert Sumlin. There was a night on a gig with my quartet and I just played and said to the other guys follow me. I've got that baseline from playing with Morgan Davis. He had this little instrumental that he would start out on the guitar. When I played that Teddy said to me well that's a Hubert Sumlin lick, that's not a Morgan Davis lick. I got the lick from Morgan and he got it from Hubert. There was a time when we were doing a jam and Teddy played it and I said to him save that. Every time we play, start off playing that lick. Hence Sumlin Around.


Ken Wallis

Your first single, Hey Nola, I assume that's for New Orleans?


Gary Kendall

Hey Nola, yeah, I wrote that. It all started with the baseline. I took it to the musicians who helped compose that, who were Michael Fonfara, Pat Carey, and Tom Bona were involved. I've never really been sure what Al Lerman contributed because he doesn't play on the track but he's included as a writer so he must have kicked in an idea. I think our music has a Toronto sound, the way we play is indicative of blues musicians who have come up in Canada and mainly in Toronto, but we've been influenced by the sounds from all over the world.


A lot of times when we want to get a groove for a song, we use the term let's put a New Orleans groove to it. You don't have to explain it, everybody immediately goes into a headspace where their interpretation is of playing like a New Orleans musician. So that's how that song came about. I had the bass line and by itself it was sort of interesting, but I really thought that maybe if we put some other stuff on top of this, it will pay respect and show how much we honour the musicians of New Orleans. I went to the writing rehearsal and just said okay, let's try to make this like a New Orleans kind of a thing and Michael Fonfara composed the piano part and then Pat Carey composed the horn parts and Tom Bona was the original drummer on it. Jimmy Casson did his thing to it.


One other thing I said was, I've been working with a newer New Orleans musician. Her name is Lynn Drury, a singer-songwriter. A lot of her songs had the guitar solo section use the same chords that were in the song, but kind of moved them around and went to another place. And that verse was never repeated, it was just the guitar solo. So I said to Fonfara how I liked that approach to songwriting. He put the piece together, the section that became the guitar solo. We said to Teddy when he came in, play over this. So that's kind of how it developed and it's our way of waving to the musicians that make up the scene in New Orleans.


Ken Wallis

It's a great album, very enjoyable. Gary, where can fans get a hold of the album?


Gary Kendall

It's anywhere that people buy their music, whether they stream or they go to a record store or they listen on YouTube. The easiest way to find it is to go to our record company, cordovabay.com or if you want to buy physical cds, you go to maplebluesband.com and they're available on our website. All of the information you would need to find that music is available there.


Ken Wallis

Well, I'm sure a lot of people are going to buy it because it's a fantastic album. You guys have been playing together for a long time and it shows. It's really a slick album. Gary thank you so much for your time, it's been great chatting with you again.


Gary Kendall

Thank you for your time as well Ken. The way I look at it is, releasing Let's Go is starting a new chapter for that band. We want to increase the amount of shows we do playing our instrumental music but at the same time because we've been such a great backup band over the years, playing with such a wide variety of other artists, we're open to some vocals in the show. Even though most band members can sing, we will add one or two singers to our show, each doing a couple of songs. We'll mainly focus on our instrumentals, but we really have enjoyed over the years being able to perform with such a wide variety of artists. We didn’t pick the special guests, they’re booked by the Toronto Blue Society and The Maple Blues Awards Committee. We had to take those guests and figure out how we're going to back them up. We have to become their band, and we want to continue some of that.


Cordova Bay Records: www.cordovabay.com




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