Motor City guitarist/singer Chris Canas talks about Johnnie Bassett, Oscar Brown Jr., and Detroit blues

“The Blues has saved my life and I just hope I can return the favor by educating people about it so they can have a better appreciation for it.”

Chris Canas: The Blues is Alright

Singer, songwriter, lead guitar and cornet player Chris Canas has a major musical background. It began as a toddler when his mother took him to his first Jazz and Blues Festival at Hart Plaza in Detroit.

Chris wants to help keep the "Blues" alive and kicking in the hearts of music lovers by adding a little new with the old. He crosses genres' with ease and embraces diversity in music. While mastering the cornet in the Farmington music program, he joined the jazz Band led by David Drake. He quickly fell in love with the guitar and the blues sounds it could make.
Being that his first love was blues guitar, he practiced almost night and day. The Chris Canas Blues Revolution has played to standing room only crowds at The Attic, Fifth Avenue and 411 Club. He also "jamed" with other musicians at the Tenny Street Roadhouse, Northfield Roadhouse, Cobo Joes and "Bakers Keyboard Lounge" in Detroit. He was given the honor to open for Oscar Brown Jr., and also play with Thornetta Davis. Although trained in traditional jazz, Chris enjoys the soul stirrings of the "Blues" and loves to write lyrics and music that inspire. The Chris Canas Blues Revolution can be seen blazing a trail in the Metro Detroit area and beyond. The front man, Chris Canas; self proclaimed soldier for the blues, has put together a who’s who of veteran musicians to help keep the blues alive in the hearts of all music lovers.


Interview by Michael Limnios

 

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?
I started playing the Blues when I was about 14, 15 years old. I use to have an old record called “The Simpsons Sing the Blues” then I heard “The Thrill Is Gone” and was enchanted from the first note to the last. I started with classical cornet then moved up to jazz when I was in 6th grade. Later I found a busted up 2 string bass in my Grandmothers garage and cleaned it up real good and started to learn that. My Mother figured if I was playing whole songs with the 2 strings why not upgrade to four. So I learned the bass on four strings so she decided “Let’s go to 6 strings”, so she bought me a Cherry red Squire and that was it from there.  My first idols were of course BB King, Bobby Bland, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Prince, Boyz II Men, and even D’angelo. I listen to vast array of music from Blues to Hip Hop and everything in between.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?
I have experienced a slew of different things in my life. From racism, sexism, politics, depression, eviction, having the gas shut off, trashy women, and even the clinically insane. It all makes you stronger as you go through and come out the other side like a shiny new penny. It ain’t worth much but at least it looks good. For any songwriter you have to look at the world a little bit differently. It takes a special view to have something terrible or even wonderful happen to you and weave a melody out of it so you can portray exactly what you felt at the time to a total stranger. Having someone understand precisely where you’re coming from is one of the greatest feelings in the world, especially when you snap them out of a funk.

 

How do you describe Chris Canas sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?
It’s very difficult to classify one’s own sound. I remember when I was first starting out people told me I needed to stick with a certain genre or sound. I never really agreed with anyone who believes you HAVE to have a specific sound and that’s the law. I love music as a whole and if Jazz, Blues, or R&B gets my message across better then that’s what it’s going to sound like. I have heard people describe our music as Urban Blues, Funky Blues, Soulful Blues, and even R&B. If I have to label my music you might as well call it Mortimer because there are too many influences and styles that I use. I love having dynamics in my show and I think that is the only way to describe my philosophy. If I don’t feel the sadness, happiness, and even the power in a song then it’s not being done right

 

From whom have you learned the most secrets about blues music?
Well I taught myself to play Bass, Guitar, Drums, Keyboard, and Saxοphone. I wouldn’t say one person has taught me the most but like I said before I have numerous influences. If I had to pick one person it would be BB King. I mimicked every note and almost every single song he has ever put out there when I was first getting into blues and I have since expanded on what I heard Mr. King do. The internet is one of the easiest and best ways to learn a thing or two about the Blues. I am a youtube junky sometimes.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The best moments are when I got to perform at the Detroit Jazz Festival, Kalamazoo Blues Festival, Painesville party in the park, Mohican Blues Festival with Joe Bonamassa, The International Blues challenge in Memphis TN 3 times, and numerous other festivals. Worst moment is when I had to perform at a strip club and there weren’t really a lot of people there. What made it worse was my Bass player watching my Drummer get a lap dance.

 

What is the “feel” you miss nowadays from the “old Detroit blues”?
I miss the raw juke joint feeling you get when you’re at a little rundown bar and the band is playing some stomping shuffle and everybody is just dripping sweat because there’s no air-conditioning but nobody cares because they are enjoying the Blues. The Attic in Hamtramck used to have that feeling. It’s hard to play for people who have no interest and it’s even harder to spark an interest in the Blues to people who don’t already listen to it. There are some who are still carrying that Old Detroit Blues sound with them and hopefully this new generation can get into it like the good ole days. I think it’s slowly rising from its ashes. Guys like Bonamassa, Lang, Gary Clark Jr, Doyle Bramhall and others are keeping it going.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
I think my most interesting period is when I am in creation mode. It is usually in the winter time when I get the most musical ideas, artistic vision, and I’m just playing almost night and day. My last album I basically wrote in a weekend and fined tuned it on stage and in practice sessions. I usually create the entire album before I give it to the band to practice so we can have a seamless studio session.

 

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Keep with it no matter what people say to you, and don’t change unless YOU want to. I have had numerous people tell me things like “You need to growl more”, “You should have a second guitar”, or even “You should let me do all your booking”. A lot of people in this industry are only out for themselves and it gets real tiring when everyone is always telling you what the right way to do something is and what the wrong way to do something is. I usually just filter out all of the crap and take away what I can. Never let life stop you from creating the music you love, and think outside the box

 

Why do you think that DETROIT BLUES continues to generate such a devoted following?
Partly because Detroit is the birthplace of Motown, you can hear that same Soul throughout the music we create.

 

What characterizes the sound of MOTOR CITY BLUES?
It’s Powerful, upbeat, and smooth blues. Almost like a good whiskey, there is a certain swagger that Detroit Blues seems to carry around.

 

Are there any memories from the road with the blues, which you’d like to share with us?
Well, I distinctly remember trying to get to the Slippery Noodle Inn in Indiana. It was about 104 degrees and our air-conditioning went out in our vehicle. On the way I got really sick and had to pull over a couple of times to take care of myself. Once we got there and started to play the crowd just was so enthusiastic that it cured my illness. We also had a blowout on the way down to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN and had a horrible time trying to get down there on time. That’s just a couple of quick memories that come to mind.

 

Which memory from Oscar Brown Jr. and Thornetta Davis makes you smile?
Oscar Brown Jr. is just amazing. The way he and his Pianist performed and played off of each other was pure magic. Thornetta Davis is also utterly amazing and when she’s feeling it she makes everyone else around her feel it. She used to have me sit in with her and I think she knew I was shy so she always made me sing a song or two until I was comfortable. I owe a lot to Brett Lucas, Chuck Bartels, and Julian Van Gundy as well.

 

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?
Johnnie Bassett once told me “Don’t let other people tell you what your Blues is supposed to sound like, they don’t what you feel inside” and I never have.

 

What is the difference between Blues, Jazz, and Rock feeling?
Having a Bluesy feel for me is adding a little mood to whatever you’re doing. A Jazzy feel is like adding a little class to what you’re doing. Rock is adding a little attitude to what you’re doing. They can all be mixed and matched and that is where the genres begin to blend together. I love them all individually and combined.

 

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Best jam I ever played in was The Tap Room in Ypsilanti, MI. I basically grew up there and it’s where I first started playing the Blues. I had been going there since I was about 15 years old and I found the first recruits while playing there. I experienced and learned so much from there that it will always have a piece of my heart. One of my most memorable gigs would have to go to the Blues by the Bay festival in Tawas, MI. We hit a certain groove and the crowd was just on fire. You could tell they loved the Blues as much as I did because they were hanging on every note, so we all knew we better note hit any wrong ones.

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
My one wish for the Blues is to keep on living. It exists in all of us and all forms of music and my hope, dream, and mission is to make sure people can love it as much as I do. The Blues has saved my life and I just hope I can return the favor by educating people about it so they can have a better appreciation for it.

 

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
The Blues means the world to me. For me it’s like a panacea, meaning it’s good for whatever ails you. It’s my therapy, my core, my religion if you will.

 

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage and what compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?
I feel me and the people have a great connection. We usually let people know during the opening song that it’s a family affair. They love to come up and sing a long or even shout out requests. They understand we are not egomaniacs and we are there to make sure they as well as ourselves are having a good time. One of the biggest compliments as a songwriter is when someone asks you about a song you performed and it is one of your own. One of the best compliments as a performer is when you make someone’s night and evoke true emotions out of them.

 

Which things do you prefer to do in your free time? What is your “secret” DREAM? Happiness is……
I like to read, watch movies, play games, play sports, swim, cook, build computers, and I am currently seeking a Paramedic degree. I try to keep pretty busy and having 2 kids definitely helps out with that.

 

Which of historical blues and jazz personalities would you like to meet?
BB King, Buddy Guy, Gary Clark Jr, Eric Clapton, Eric Gales, Jonny Lang, Eric Johnson, Travis Tritt, Derek Trucks, George Benson, Prince, and a slew of others.  


The Chris Canas Band - Official Site

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