Interview with Canadian poet of blues, Paul Reddick: The search for expression of the mystery through art

"Everything has its affect, especially pain, pleasure and desire."

Paul Reddick: Ride Like The Wind

Melding poetry, mystery, darkness and light, along with an extensive knowledge of the history and traditions of blues music is what makes Paul Reddick on of the most popular figures on the blues and roots music scene today. For over 25 years he’s been writing and performing his eclectic brand of blues, bringing the art form to new frontiers with his rapacious, deep vocals, masterful harmonica playing and song writing. As the unofficial poet laureate of Canadian blues, words are his weapon of choice and when he sings, it is near impossible not to listen and get lost within the songs, right alongside him and illustrating what the influential UK magazine Mojo described as his “wayward brilliance.”

A devotee of pre-war blues and classic artists such as Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf, Reddick formed his innovative band Paul Reddick & The Sidemen in Toronto in 1990, developing a cult-like following in the clubs and venues on the circuit at the time and spent a the better part decade touring across Canada and together they released four albums. Following the trajectory set forth by The Sidemen, Reddick continued to re-work blues traditions on his solo recordings; Villanelle (2004), Sugarbird (2009), which earned Reddick a Maple Blues Award for Songwriter of the Year, and his seminal recording Wishbone (2012). Reddick is also the creator and benefactor of The Cobalt Prize for Contemporary Blues Composition. The intention behind the Cobalt Prize is to promote blues music through exploration of its form. Entries are judged on their ability to creatively utilize blues traditions within the broad contemporary musical landscape. Paul Reddick will release his debut CD in Stony Plain Records, Ride the One, on May 20. Produced by Colin Cripps (Blue Rodeo) and recorded at Union Sound Company in Toronto, Ride the One showcases 11 all-original songs and includes a backing band that features special guest Steve Marriner of MonkeyJunk. 


Interview by Michael Limnios

 

Paul, when was your first desire to become involved in the music?

I have always liked blues, all of it.

 

What made you fall in love with the blues and what does the BLUES mean to you?

It is a place I visit in songs, I live to go there.

What were the reasons that you started the Roots Blues and literature researches and experiments?

I love both things, Poetry and Music, and they are a natural fit of course; poetry’s ability to express so much in so few lines, as does Blues and Roots music in so few notes. The poem forms offer a way of altering song forms as well. I enjoy the unexpected surprises in exploring and experimenting with that.                                                               (Paul Reddick / Photo by Jen Squires)

"Every acquaintance has been important to me, good and bad, and continues to be. I do prefer meeting people who are passionate and kind. I’ve never really had advice that has been a guiding principle, except perhaps that perfectionism can prevent us from taking chances."

What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture? What touched (emotionally) you from the blues poetry?

I don’t know about Blues culture, but the music has always affected me by its natural emotional tensions, it seems to represent the mysteries of the heart so well to me.

How do you describe your music and progress? What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician and songwriter?

It a beautiful journey, a search, across a musical and emotional landscape that continues. Everything has its affect, especially pain, pleasure and desire.

Are there any memories from ‘Ride the One’ studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I love going into the studio for the tremendous focus and teamwork that exist there. The Ride the One recording is the greatest example of that that I have experienced; the generosity, talent and commitment by all involved was very moving and humbling for me, as well as being musically fantastic.

Tell me about the beginning of The Sidemen. How did you get together and your most vivid memory?

I met the guitarist Kyle Ferguson at a jam in 1991 and we formed the band and began playing immediately. Every gig was good, it was always amazing to me.

"The Blues scene in Canada has always been good, it has had a great history, from the east to the west, and at present there are many young musicians carrying it forward in their own voice. I think it is an exciting time now, despite the challenges all musicians face in making a living."

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Every acquaintance has been important to me, good and bad, and continues to be. I do prefer meeting people who are passionate and kind. I’ve never really had advice that has been a guiding principle, except perhaps that perfectionism can prevent us from taking chances. 

Are there any memories from Colin Linden which you’d like to share with us?

He is a fantastic musician, and knows so many great musicians and artists, we had dinner with Ethan Coen in New York once.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

It is too heavy to move.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

All good, every minute, playing music is great, not playing is less great.

 

Do you remember anything funny and interesting from the recording time and sessions?

It is a fantastic time of focus and fun, it is a vacation in creativityland.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

I have toured and played for many years and I love every minute.

"I don’t know about Blues culture, but the music has always affected me by its natural emotional tensions, it seems to represent the mysteries of the heart so well to me."

How do you get inspiration for your songs and who were your mentors?

I read books, poems, listen to music, remember things. I don’t really have mentors, but I like hearing great songs, no matter who or what.

Which of historical personalities of Blues and poetry would you like to meet?

Blind Lemon Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.

What was the relation between: music, poetry and blues music?

They are tools of expression for art, they go together very well. They are powerful.

What characterize the philosophy of blues and poetry?

The search for expression of the mystery through art.

How can the Poetry & Music to treat the “prison” of spirit and mind?

They are the keys for the door out.

From the musical point of view are there any differences between: Sonny Boy Williamson era and modern Blues?

They were a lot better.

"I hope Blues continues to evolve and grow through wide open creativity, especially songwriting. It has unlimited potential."

Why the sound of harmonica is connected with the blues? What are the secrets?

It used to be a cheap instrument, and portable and very expressive. Can’t tell you that. I signed a contract with the Harp Devil.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I don’t miss anything; it’s all there on records. I hope Blues continues to evolve and grow through wide open creativity, especially songwriting. It has unlimited potential.

Make an account of the case of the Blues in Canada. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

The Blues scene in Canada has always been good, it has had a great history, from the east to the west, and at present there are many young musicians carrying it forward in their own voice. I think it is an exciting time now, despite the challenges all musicians face in making a living.

What is the impact of Blues music and literature to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I don’t know about that stuff; to me music exists for every person in the world regardless. I believe we all try to enjoy and celebrate music in some way. It is one of the things we all share, as with all the beauties and mysteries we are all lucky enough to experience in our lives.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would like to travel back and spend a day with my Father when he was the same age as me. I had a dream about that recently. I think that would be a fantastic thing.

"I love both things, Poetry and Music, and they are a natural fit of course; poetry’s ability to express so much in so few lines, as does Blues and Roots music in so few notes." 

How you would spend a day with Bob Dylan? What would you like to ask Robert Johnson and Leonard Cohen?

I would probably take them fishing and talk about women, travel and the seasons.


Paul Reddick's official website

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