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Ken Wallis Chats With Harrison Kennedy



It’s a real thrill when you get an opportunity to talk with an iconic musician like Harrison Kennedy. He not only captures your attention on stage, but also in conversation. He’s been there and done it all. From his early years with The Chairman Of the Board, to his Juno award for album of the year, he has gathered accolades and admirers wherever he goes. He is not only loved in his native Canada, but is loved internationally, around the world.

Ken Wallis interviewed Harrison Kennedy for the radio show BluesSource Canada, which can be heard on our podcast page from Thursday October 27th. The following is an edited transcript of that interview.



Ken Wallis

Harrison Kennedy has a brand-new album out. It is called Thanks For Tomorrow, and we're thrilled to have Harrison join us. Harrison thanks for coming on the show.


Harrison Kennedy

Thanks for having me, I appreciate it.


Ken Wallis

The title of the album intrigues me, and I'm sure everybody has their own interpretation of what it means, but what does it mean to you?


Harrison Kennedy

I'm like a traveler. I go around, I play in different countries. I meet people all over the world and I'm impacted. I'm impacted by them and what I feel. The last couple of years with Covid of course, being actually locked down in France, I couldn't get out because of Covid. Then finally I did get out and listening to people's stories, I started to write. And this title came to my mind because I felt that it's time, it felt apropos to talk about hope, so I came up with Thanks For Tomorrow today, because for me every tomorrow happens in the moment. When you get there it's just another moment, it's another today and I felt like being positive. I felt like the whole album was about love, about affairs of the heart and of course I talk about a woman in it, but in a larger sense it's for everyone

.

I did this album for everyone because when I started out in music Ken, in Hamilton Ontario, I had a blues band. We were called the Bishops. But the nature of the business determined that in order to work and to reach more people, I had to expand myself, reinvent myself on a level of being believable. So, I did R&B, I did Rock, I did Country and I fell in love with all those things. It's like Ray Charles likes country and we wrote one that won a Grammy.


The reason why I left The Chairman Of The Board is because they wanted to put it out on someone else. We put it over on the B side and we wrote the A side and someone else copied it and they used our background singer for the tune called Patches, which was huge and the person that put it out won a Grammy. That was it for me because I realized that it wasn't about the artist. I said, well, if it's not about the artist, then there's no point in me being here and that's why I left. They had me figured out as a wild child kind of a rocker, the Canuck in the group and I just feel comfortable with all genres.

So that's why in this album I do everything in it. I've decided to just be myself wherever I feel comfortable and I very fortunate to get some phenomenal players starting with Jesse O'Brien who just lives above three blocks from me. And these other guys, I worked with them on the last album which won a Juno and they're just great guys to work with. The studio where I worked was fantastic. Everybody's very comfortable with one another so we did this for a couple of years, and Thanks For Tomorrow is the result of it. It's the upside of the downside of the Covid lockdown, we spent a couple of years writing it and I love it for that.


Ken Wallis

Steve Strongman told me a terrific story when he was doing his album with you and the song I Like To Ride. He said that he just started playing some riffs and you started singing and you went through the song and Steve turned to you and said I've never heard that before, who wrote that? And you said we just did. You made it up as you went along. That's amazing.


Harrison Kennedy

Yeah, I can do that, I can do that right now. I can write a song right now as I sit here. I guess it’s one of my gifts, I don't think about it too much actually. I started thinking of a new song yesterday, it's called I Love Coffee. I think it saved my life. It helped me get to where I was going. I was driving all night. Kind of things like that, you can put a groove behind it. Steve Strongman, I love this guy. I don't like him as much as I used to because I took him golfing and he killed me. This guy can hit a ball forever man. I just love this guy, I love hanging with him, and I love his new album. It was a pleasure for me to bring him on board and I've got ideas to write other songs with Steve.


Ken Wallis

You've got a couple of other guests on your album.


Harrison Kennedy

Colin Linden is another guy I love. He started out here in Hamilton. I remember when I first met him, he was a tech in one of the stores downtown and he was just teaching guitar.


When I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which I no longer have, I just had another test done and it's I'm in a safe zone. When I found out that I had it, and I told people, he was the very first person to send me money. It costed twenty thousand dollars at the time, and I didn't ask him. I wasn't expecting it. I looked at my PayPal and there was money, a thousand dollars from him. It's just his heart as a person. I mean I love his playing but more than that, I respect his playing and I just respect him as a man. It's the same thing with all these guys that I'm playing with. I respect them as men who follow the edict of my mother. She put this in my brain as a kid. When I was still in bed at 10 o'clock on a Saturday morning, she asked me if I was sick. I was 12 years old, I said no I'm not sick. I worked really hard at school all week. I'm sleeping in. She said oh really? Do you know how far the market is from here? And I thought why is she asking me a math question? I said about two miles mom. She says well I just came back and carried two bags of groceries. We don't have a car right? I said no and she says well I've got laundry on downstairs, and I'm thinking about doing dinner. I'm gonna count to five and you're gonna get up. She looked at me and she said four. I jumped up out of that bed. I never messed with my mother, and she said son I'm gonna tell you something. You find something to do, or I'll find something for you. She said I'm going to tell you something, the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. I never forgot that. They (musicians) work hard for us, they're just gentlemen and they're open, they're creative. It's just a blessing.


Ken Wallis

And Ruthie Foster too.


Harrison Kennedy

Ruthie's like that too. I did a tour with her in Europe, her and I and Eric Bibb and Michael Jerome Brown, another guy that is awesome. We did the tour and then one day I was at the Juno Awards, and this fella came up to me and said Ruthie Foster is going to do a tour across Southern Ontario, and I said oh that's nice, I really like her. He says she wants you to open for her. I called her when I was doing the album and I asked her would she mind singing on the opening tune, and she said you got it. And what's lovely about the modern day, man you can do things, you don’t have to pay for a plane, you can just do it online. I went to Jessie, Jessie got in touch with her, we laid the tracks down, and she just kicked butt. Good ole Ruthie, love her. A real love fest.


Ken Wallis

You've performed with a multitude of musicians, anyone stand out in your mind the most that you really enjoyed working with?


Harrison Kennedy

It was kind of not scheduled, of course. I was on stage in Detroit. I was singing and I saw these two people coming to the stage, this is 1968. I think I was singing with The Chairman Of The Board, and I saw these two people get up, and everybody was there, Aretha Franklin was there, The Four Tops, everybody from Motown was sitting there. And I see these two people getting closer and closer, and then I recognize it's one fella being led, it's Stevie Wonder. And I said little Stevie Wonder, god he's like about six foot two, I'm six foot. He gets up on the stage and he starts talking to me when I'm singing. I'm singing I'm Feeling All Right Hey Hey. I said do you know this tune? He said yeah I know it. I said well take the next verse and I'll play the harp. I got a lot of jobs playing harmonica down there, with Marvin Gaye, and so I started playing the harp and I was in the key of G, which to me was like the top of my range. He came in an octave above me, and I thought this is heaven. That was a thrill.


The other time I had a thrill was when I was sitting behind Ray Charles on the plane, and I started stuttering because I was so excited. I said excuse me sir, I really appreciate and love your music. He said what's your name son? I said Harrison Kennedy. Well he says the first time I met Nat King Cole I was like that too (stuttering). Nat King Cole told me that we stand on the shoulders of giants. And Ray said so where are you going? I said I'm going to California. I'm going to be singing on Soul Train. He said what's the name of the group? I said The Chairman Of The Board and he went oh Give Me Just A Little More Time. He was doing a radio show in Vancouver and someone says I didn't know that you knew Ray Charles. I said yeah, I opened for him for a week. He almost got me fired because we were drinking wine in the back when my band was just playing the intro for me. He says well he just said that you're his favourite blues singer in Canada.


Ken Wallis

Harrison you should write a book! You've got some great stories. Your album is fantastic, where can folks get a hold of it?


Harrison Kennedy

It's on Amazon. I guess Electrify Records would probably be the best place to go, Andrew is a man who has me right here in my heart. He would have all the information of where to get it. And another person who’s just been phenomenal for me and helping me so much, and I have to mention her name is Sarah French. It’s just great teamwork, with the people that took the photographs, and did the write-ups and a woman from the Calgary Blues Fest did a beautiful writeup on the album. It's just people like that that I care for and I respect. It's just been phenomenal.


Ken Wallis

I caught you at the Hamilton All-Stars and that was a fabulous show.


Harrison Kennedy

My hat's off to Steve Strongman who puts that together and he puts the people together and we have fun.


Ken Wallis

And it shows too. Harrison, I’ve got to thank you so much for your time.


Harrison Kennedy

Well thank you very much Ken and I was excited waiting for this. I still get excited about this.


Ken Wallis

When I talk to an icon like you, I'm surprised I'm not stuttering.


Harrison Kennedy

You're part of the team, and we need you, and I'm so glad that you are part of the team.

Ken Wallis

It’s been great chatting with you.


Harrison Kennedy

Okay buddy, okay all the best, you take care of yourself, be safe.




Website: www.harrisonkennedy.ca

Facebook: www.facebook.com/harrison.kennedy.7

Website: www.electrofi.com