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  • Writer's pictureKen Wallis

Ken Wallis Chats With Gary Kendall About The Passing Of Canadian Bluesman Dave Curry


By Ken Wallis.



On Saturday December 30th 2023 we lost one of the icons of the blues music industry. Dave Curry passed on after a heart attack. As the founder, guitarist, songwriter for The Mighty Duck Blues Band, Dave carved a career path that featured smooth blues and captured the hearts of a legion of fans. The first time I saw Dave play, I knew we were in the presence of a gifted and unique talent. 


The following are excerpts from the interview with Gary Kendall, edited and amended for clarity and brevity.



Ken Wallis

We're featuring the music of the Mighty Duck Blues Band in a salute to Dave Curry, who passed away in December and joining us right now is Gary Kendall, one of the initial members of the Mighty Duck Blues Band. Gary, great seeing you again.


Gary Kendall

Always good to see you, Ken. Thanks for doing this show dedicated to Dave Curry.


Ken Wallis

Tell us, how did The Mighty Duck Blues Band get started?


Gary Kendall

Well, Dave started the band, Dave and me, and Jim Casson and former band member Canada Dave Torosian. We've been working with Mojo Willie for a number of years, and that was winding down. We were up in Orangeville doing our final show with that band and it was just Dave and I. At the end of the night, he came over to me and he said. hey, I got this friend in Saint Catharines, he's got a bar called the Golden Pheasant. Nobody calls it that.  It's called The Duck. He wants a band. He wants us to come in there, starting in the fall with a four-piece band and special guests on Saturday afternoons. He said I'd like it to be you and Jim Casson and Canada Dave and myself. And, you know all of the people we would want for guests. So if you can handle booking the guests, we're good to go.


I said it sounds great to me and that was about 18 years ago. We started at the Duck and I remember it was Dave's gig. His life partner, his wife Denise, who has always been a very important component to The Mighty Blues Band, is our manager. They put it all together and with the late Jack Kizera, the owner of the Duck.


I pulled up to that place on the opening day and it was September. I looked at it from the parking lot and I'm thinking, man, this looks like those bars that I used to play in Northern Ontario. You do six nights, and you stay upstairs in the crummy rooms, Well, I didn’t t know about it all, and I opened the door. The place was packed and the club owner, Jack was standing right there to shake my hand as I walked in. I thought this has got some potential.


And the rest is history. It was Dave's band. Dave named it the Mighty Duck Blues Band, and he and Denise have been the ones to keep things organized. When we had to move to new venues, they found the new venues and worked with the owners and negotiated our deal and all of that stuff.


Ken Wallis

So what was it like working with Dave?


Gary Kendall

Well, Dave was like a great silent partner. He played really well, he was friendly, he enjoyed every guest we ever had, every special guest. He made them feel welcome. He put a lot of time into practicing the guitar. If he didn't know the special guest that was coming in, he would research, go online and find out everything he could about them. He was just a great guy. The band really worked as a collective. I had my role of booking and coordinating with the special guests. Jim Cason did all of the artwork. Jim and I collaborated on the promotion end, and Dave and Denise handled the business. It's always been a really good relationship and now that he's gone, we've decided we'll keep it going. The band was his passion. It was his thing.


Ken Wallis

Dave was such a fine guitar player, but hardly ever did you see him put on a guitar face, or grimace. He was just into the groove playing. It was marvellous.


Gary Kendall

And there was no showboating there. He sat in a chair on his side of the stage, and he just played really well. I remember very early in the life of The Mighty Duck Blues Band he was having problems with his back. He'd worked for years at General Motors, and I think he had injured himself in some way with whatever job he had there.He had taken an early retirement, and he came to me one day and said, I can't do this anymore. I said what are you talking about?  He said well, my back is giving me so much problems I can't stand up and play. I don't think I'll be able to do the gig anymore. And I said Dave, very early on when I used to go and see Muddy Waters, he was always sitting on a stool. You can sit down and play. He went oh yeah, OK. And that was it. From that point on, he sat on a stool, and he had his side of the stage. And he just did his job. He was great.


Ken Wallis

And after a few years together, you guys put out the album, Duck Soup. What brought that about?


Gary Kendall

As you just mentioned, we'd been together a few years, and it was time. And it was actually Jim Casson our drummer, he instigated it all, it was his initiative. We recorded it in his home studio, and he came to us as a band and he said, If you guys want to do this, I think I can record the band in my home studio, I've got an idea, I've got a plan, I'll produce it, and I'll organize it. Since we were a band that was playing a weekly gig backing up special guests, we thought, that'll be the focus of the record. We'll do a few songs of our own. Some of us might sing a song, Dave and I sang. We'll bring in some of our guests and we'll pick the material and we'll have them sing the material. We'll try to get as much original material as possible that we can write ourselves or go to some songwriters we know and get some songs.


Ken Wallis

And I believe Dave wrote some of the songs on the album?


Gary Kendall

Yeah, he did. Quite a few actually, he wrote the instrumentals Castaway, Duck Soup, he wrote one of his locals Do Gooder Blues, he wrote. Nobody's Home and he wrote Cha Ching, which featured Chuck Jackson on vocals. So yeah, he was a major contributor to that record. We all worked because it was a digital recording. We all worked separately, some of it was done online and then each of us would go to the studio and do our parts. Jim Casson told me that when Dave showed up, he couldn't believe how prepared he was and how focused he was. And, he said this is what I'm gonna play. And Jim had preconceived ideas about guitar parts and stuff, Dave said no, I'm going to do this and I've got it all worked out. Jim was very, very impressed with Dave's work in the studio like he had really nailed it. He'd put a lot of pre-production work in on his own. So when he showed up, he had it all there.


Ken Wallis

You guys had quite a number of guest artists that dropped in to play with the band and as a a fan sitting there, I was always amazed at how seamless it seemed. You guys just picked up with anybody. There must have been an awful lot of behind the scenes prep to that. 


Gary Kendall

No, not really [LAUGHs]. You know, sometimes the guests would send us a few songs, original songs to learn. I think we had set that at maximum of three and we needed them three weeks in advance. Well, they would send them like 3 days before most of the time. There was the odd one who would follow the rules, but yeah, we were winging it. And we were really good at covering up some of the mistakes because you don't know what's going on.


Essentially, that gig was go on stage, and put together a show from nothing. No plan, no set list, nothing. And we would go on and we would talk amongst ourselves and figure out what songs we were going to play of our own to open each set. So, we would play our three songs, we would bring up the guest. And then we were on the seat of our pants from that point on. The guests would just call songs and to this day it's still the same format. We tell the guests that you can take as long as you want to explain the song to us. The crowd knows that we're unrehearsed, they know that we do this, and they're amazed that we can pull it off. The crowd kind of likes that whole aspect of what we do. And so we make our guests feel very welcome and say you don't have to, put on a seamless show. You can turn around to the band and say here’s how it goes, count it in and boom we're in. There's a lot of communication on stage between the four of us, watching the guest, whoever it is and they give us good cues, but there's a lot of eye contact between us. If one person in the band is kind of lost and doesn't know where we are in a song, somebody else in the band kind of reels them in and kind of lets them know where we're at and we all come off looking OK.


Ken Wallis

One song that to me is always Dave Curry every time I hear it is Laying Pipe.


Gary Kendall

Oh, God, yeah, that's a crowd pleaser.


That David Wilcox song, I'd never heard it before, and when he brought it into the band some of us may have brought up David's version to learn our parts probably. But I wasn't familiar with it, and Dave’s arrangement was a little bit different than David Wilcox's song.  I was doing a show with Downchild and David Wilcox was on the bill, and I heard him do Laying Pipe. After hearing the original artist doing it. I thought, jeez, Dave Curry does a really good job on that. I'm sure if David Wilcox had heard Dave's version, he would have given him the nod of approval.


Ken Wallis

Is the band contemplating any kind of musical salute to Dave or some kind of remembrance?


Gary Kendall

Well, nothing has been planned. We've done little bits here and there because we continued on. The day that he had the heart attack, he was off to the hospital, we continued playing. We brought in his sub, Teddy Leonard and we finished that afternoon. We didn't stop. We continued on. He passed that day and we knew by the end of the day that he didn't make it. It was pretty hard and this was on the 30th of December. We had to come back January 1st and do the New Year's Day show and just continue on. 


We've spoken at the different gigs, we've mentioned Dave, we've done different things. There's a memorial for him on the 25th of January and we have thought about doing something at Joe Blo’s. But when you do a remembrance of somebody in a bar, it gets lost.  It just becomes a noisy bar gig and it kind of misses the point.


So for now we're just looking at coordinating with Denise. She's making the arrangements. His memorial will happen and we'll be playing recordings of his music and the songs that he covered. Some of the band members will be speaking during the ceremony. As far as an actual tribute to Dave Curry, we don't have anything planned yet. Not to say that we might not. We might do something down the road but no plans yet.


Ken Wallis

So is there one special moment that you had with Dave Curry that you would like to share with everyone?


Gary Kendall

There was one that I think about quite a bit. A funny one. Denise and Dave were inseparable, and they both were dependent on each other. Denise kept things organized. Let's face it, she was the driving wheel. We used to play at that place, The Bar Upstairs. We set up at one end of the room. We didn't have a stage. We're kind of on the floor, but with one end of the room with a banner behind us, advertising the show and all of that.


Well, Christmas time, where do they put the Christmas tree? Right over there on the side of the stage where Dave plays. It's taking up half of his space. No thought at all. Like, where we gonna put the tree?  Oh, we'll put It over there. And it was all covered with fake snow, fake white snow. We're about to start the afternoon show, let's go guys. So we all walk up to get in position. Dave has got on a nice sort of a black shirt and black jeans and stuff. Dave walks by the Christmas tree and it was all of that snow jumped off the Christmas tree onto Dave.


He must have got a little too close. He was covered, his whole front, his shirt, pants, boots. And he just kind of stood there and yelled 'Denise'.  Denise had to come up and clean him off.


But yeah, that that was a funny moment. But you know, you think about people like that. Like I would see Dave, and as musicians, you see each other when you're working together. And when you're not working together, you very seldom see each other. And we had a format with the Ducks where we would play from the end of September to the beginning of June every Saturday.


On occasion and regularly, Jim and I would be off on tour, but we had subs that took over. Dave was always there except for a few periods when he had to have surgery on his hands, and he had to take some time off. But Dave was always there. He was the linchpin of his band. And then the summer would come along and for years Dave and Denise had their cottage up north and they would spend the entire summer up there. There would be that big chunk of a year where, say, 35 days out of every year we would be together. And you kind of take that for granted as year after year goes by. This is a person who you're spending a lot of time with.


With Dave most our time spent together was on stage because on the breaks, Dave would be outside. He was a smoker, so he'd be outside with his buddies. I'm a non-smoker so I wouldn't be out hanging out in that circle, because it was just a cloud of cigarette smoke. So the only time we saw each other was on the bandstand really. That was our communication making music together and to not have him there now is tough.


Teddy Leonard, his long-time sub is with us now, so we can continue on. Teddy's fabulous and we have had a long relationship playing music together since the 80s. So that part of it is very seamless, but just not to have Dave and Denise there right now is something we're going to have to deal with and get used to. Moving forward with The Mighty Duck Blues Band, the decision is that in Dave’s memory we will keep it going as long as possible.


Ken Wallis

And I'm sure he would want that. Dave was a marvellous musician and a marvellous man, and I think we're all going to miss him, and I really appreciate your words that we can at least salute him.


Gary Kendall

Well, this is all great and this means so much to Denise. This is the first show that's been dedicated exclusively to Dave, but other radio shows have mentioned him and played a track from the record and stuff like that. Lots of online messages to Denise and to us so we can forward them over to Denise. It’s a difficult period for her and this really makes a big difference. They would always listen to your show, so to know that there's a remembrance for him on your show that's very important. It was a shock. So we're just trying to be there for Denise right now and sort of navigate. Doing the gig is the easy part.


Showing up at Joe Blo’s Saturday afternoons, just keeping the wheels turning, that's the easy part. Individually, myself, and Lorraine, Jim, and Teddy were brought in on that day. And Francis our sound man, and Eric Millette, who does the social media and the promotion work for Joe Blo’s, we've all been in this together, trying to figure out the best way to deal with it and moving forward was never a question. You know, this is Dave's band and Dave and Denise created this Blues series, and we're going to keep it going so that's the easy part. The other part off it is being reminded all the time that he's not there anymore.


Ken Wallis

Well, I'm sure everybody's going to miss him because he was a great guy and, Denise, we all send our love out to her because I know this is really tough on her. Hope to see you guys soon and all the best Gary.


Gary Kendall

Thank you, Ken, and enjoy the rest of the winter.





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