A hot tip for concert goers this year is the Dr Feelgood/Jimmy Bowskill show at the Harmonie on 5 February. As a taster, here is an interview I did with Jimmy Bowskill after his show at the Museumsplatz in 2010 supporting Joe Bonamassa and Jeff Beck.
Jimmy and Band have been hitting Europe hard in the last year, both supporting Wishbone Ash and alone. It’s been a hard slog as can be seen on the Canadian Blues Website (www.canadianblues.ca) under ‘Shifty’s Blog where bassplayer Wayne Deadder tells all. The reward though is that interest in the Band and its leader has skyrocketed in Europe, and the rocket has come to earth here in Bonn with Jimmy kicking off a triple bill with the two aforementioned demi-gods of the fretboard. Good reason to be big headed I would say, but Jimmy seemes unaffected by it all. I saw him watching as Bonamassa went through his set from backstage and the smile on Jimmy’s face was visible despite the distance between us and the fading light. Jimmy Bowskill is clearly not just a Blues Musician but also a Blues fan; and when I caught up with him after the show for a Blues Matters interview he was knowledgable about the past of the Blues and clearly focussed on his own ambitions for the future:
Was this a one off show with Joe and Jeff?
Theres nothing planned so yes, it was kind of a one off.
How did it come about?
We were touring with wishbone ash and met the promoter doing this show and he liked our sound so he asked if we wanted to Tour with Bonamassa and Beck.
And it helped having the initials JB too I guess?
The cover of your first CD has you in a Robert Johnson pose with a similar hat; so a good question to start with is – what were your first memories of hearing Blues music Jimmy?
First memories of the Blues? Jesus! Well I guess the first Blues I really heard was Robert Johnson. I’ve always been a bit of a historian you know so later there’s Hendrix, Zeppelin and that kind of stuff. But trace it back to the roots like Johnson, Son House, Charlie Patton.
When I heard that stuff it was life changing, you know. It just got me started.
But how did you continue? Did you get any formal musical training? I know Ana Popovic started formal Jazz training in Holland but left early because she felt she was learning notes and scales at the expense of losing a natural feel for the music.
I don’t have formal training. I’ve taken lessons from a few guys coming up, but I’m mostly self taught. I’m more of a feel player than anything – I’m not really a technical player; always just kind of done my thing.
Some formal training might help working with studio musicians though to explain what you want…
I guess it depends on what you’re playing and the musicians.
I’m thinking particularly with regards to your new contract with Thomas Ruf. He tends to choose the musicians back up his Artists on recordings – especially initially.
Well we do have a studio record planned – but I’ll definitely be doing it with my own band.
Have you chosen a producer? Mike Vernon recently produced Oli Brown and more recently Dani Wilde at Ruf.
He’s (Thomas Ruf) run a couple by us, but we’ve got something planned already. We want to do it in Canada. I’d kind of like to do it on my own, you know. The band I have is definitely a solid unit and I don’t like to branch out from that. We’ve toured a lot together.
Especially with Wishbone Ash in Europe. In fact Wayne (bassist Wayne Deadder) wrote on his blog that your gig here (in Bonn) with Wishbone Ash had one of your best audiences.
Wayne: They were with us right from the moment we walked out.
Jimmy: The crowd was awesome.
It would be great if you came back here as part of RUF’s Blues Caravan next year.
I haven’t heard anything, but that would be great.
I have to mention Jeff Healey of course. Is this story of you busking outside of his Toronto Club aged eleven until he came out to hear you true?
(Laughs) It is yeah!
I think you also said your father went down to Healey’s with you, so I’m wondering how much of an influence your parents were in the early days.
My dad’s a huge supporter. He’s always been there for me and it’s amazing to have someone I can totally trust to work with. Both my parents have always been very supportive. My Dad plays a bit of guitar and my Mum sings a bit you know, but they never really wanted to pursue anything themselves in music. My Dad got me started on guitar way back, when I was ten though.
So after the initial breakthrough via Healey did he continue to influence you?
Oh of course, big time. He was a huge supporter, of young acts in general. I had an open invitation to his club even though I was too young, you know. He was a humble guy, and he showed me, inadvertantly, to be true to myself. Just do what I do and have fun. The minute it goes to your head, that’s the minute you’re down, you know. And of course I picked up a lot of things guitarwise. He was incredible.
But you’ve developed your own sound since, which has been described as a retro style.
In fact the artwork on the new live CD is actually provided by Bob Masse.
How did you link up with Bob?
We were touring in British Columbia and he lives on this tiny island, ‘Salt Spring Island’ Very secluded.. So we came across a record shop full of posters actually signed by him. And we thought ‘Wow!’ Asked if they had a number for him and they did which was great because he was doing really heavy concert posters back in the day for the likes of Cream and Jimi Hendrix. Amazing, you know.
All your covers have had a retro look in some way though I think. ‘Old Soul’ with its Robert Johnson poze, Soap Bars is Stevie Ray style, and the self titled 2007 one has a car reminiscent of ZZ Top… Have you always had a say in things right down to the artwork?
Oh yes, it’s all up to me. I’ve always been a car guy so that’s where the 9 one comes from.
But it also relates to you’re customizing a six string into a nine string guitar?
Well, Big Joe Williams. He played a nine string guitar. It’s basically a six string but the first three strings, the bass notes, are doubled up. Giving you a thick, heavy sound? Yeah, and so the top strings sound like lead notes. I used it on the track called ‘nine’ which was our intro song tonight actually.
And you used a twin necked Gibson onstage earlier too. Was that a 12 string?
Yes, That’s the funny thing about electric 12 strings. It doesn’t have that chimey 12 string sound – it kinda sounds thicker, you know. It’s a fun guitar to play with.
How is the current Blues scene in Canada Jimmy? I’d read good things for example about Monkey Junk.
Yes, they’re buddies of ours. That’s Tony Dee, Steve Mariner and Matt Sobb. When we played in Cologne Steve Mariner came up to see us.
When will we see them playing in Europe?
They’ve done some one offs. Instead of touring they fly over for one show…
Who else would you recommend on the current Canadian Blues scene?
Steve Strongman (who opened for Buddy Guy on his Canadian Tour dates), Colin Linden is top notch. Gary Mason is the son of Dutch Mason (Norman ‘Dutch’ Mason. A Canadian Blues ambassador in the 1970’s known as ‘The Prime Minister of the Blues’). He’s in his early twenties and a real groove player. Plays with his fingers. Really cool.
You’re only 19 yourself Jimmy. Rather like Oli Brown with whom you share a very down to earth approach. Can you keep that enthusiasm?
I think so. I’m a Country boy at heart (laughs) A lot of people see Blues musicians as being old black men, but Robert Robert Johnson died young, only 27. The hits Muddy had in the 50’s he was only in his late thirties then. Listen to BB King. He wrote many of his hits when he was in his twenties. It’s totally a misconception that Blues is played by old black men. Anyone can have soul and play it right from the heart. I’ve gotten in my career, you know, you’re a young kid and you’ve never felt it. But it’s not that you have to experience pain. It’s just, it’s music from the heart. That’s what the Blues is to me.
I’m pleased to see a lot of young up and coming musicians playing Blues players right now, But how do you get youngsters to listen to the music?
I don’t know. We’ve managed. We have a bit of an edge to our sound for sure; and it does have a retro vibe. Also, we play on the heavier side of Blues – and that was a natural thing, we don’t try to do it, our sound is what it is.
Can old Blues styles survive with the modern Rock Blues? Yourself, Joe and Jeff were, to my ears, playing more Rock than Blues this evening.
It was there this evening. Joe Bonamassa played some Missippi John Hurt. Jeff Beck did ‘Rollin and Tumblin’. You can always play songs the way they were originally written but you’ll never nail that vibe or capture the original feeling of the song. If you’re gonna cover a song then you should do it you’re own way. Our last song today, ‘Broke Down Engine’ was written by Blind Boy Fuller back in the 1920’s, but we revamped it to be our own song.
Your never gonna capture the original vibe. It’s part of an era.
Hopefully people will hear a song like that and want to trace the original, because that’s how many current Blues fans have worked back. I know youngsters who’ve never heard of Jeff Beck. They will tell you the guitar God is someone like Slash.
Well Slash is really a Blues player big time. I heard him fill in recently for someone and it turned into a Killer Blues set. Really cool.
When will Blues Matters readers in the UK get to see you and the band?
We’re looking at some UK Dates soon. There’s a European Tour coming up in the Fall. We’ve already solidified Norway, Germany, Czech Republic. We’re travelling all over so hopefully we’ll get some UK dates, it would be really nice. We’ve never been there.
Even if it means playing to fifty people in a pub?
Well, you just gotta fight through it. Keep coming back and get more people. You have to buiild something. You can’t just expect it to be great.
You’re young enough to have plenty of time to work on it
(Laughs) I guess so.